The disappearance of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, 20, and subsequent reports of sexual harassment led to national discussions on the treatment of women in the military. She was last seen alive in Fort Hood, Texas on April 22 and her remains were found near the base on June 30. This week Fort Hood announced that after an investigation they concluded that Guillén’s death was ‘in the line of duty.’
“This determination establishes that the Guillén family is entitled to a variety of Army benefits for Vanessa’s service to our nation. Typically these benefits include compensation to immediately help the family with expenses, funeral with full military honors, the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, and final pay and allowances,” they wrote in a statement.
Following the discovery of Guillén’s remains police moved to arrest Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, who shot and killed himself. Suspect Cecily Aguilar was dating Robinson and she’s been charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Texas. She confessed that Robinson beat Guillén to death using a hammer and they later dismembered her body and set it on fire before burying it in three separate places, according to the affidavit. Aguilar pleaded not guilty and is due in court Nov. 30.
Guillén family attorney Natalie Khawam said during that press conference that there were at least two alleged incidents of sexual harassment including when Robinson walked in on her showering. The other incident was when a superior verbally assaulted her in Spanish making vulgar remarks. According to Khawam Guillen told her family she didn’t want to report the sexual harassment out of fear of retaliation.
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command launched an investigation into allegations that Guillen was sexually harassed while Fort Hood officials denied that there was any “credible information” to support the allegations. Her family has called for a Congressional investigation into her disappearance and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) declared the military is not doing enough to protect enlisted women.
“We are asking all women especially Latina women or their families: Do not enlist in the army until we have assurance they will be protected and taken care of when they serve our country. And right now I just don’t believe the military is capable of doing that because of what happened to Vanessa Guillén,” LULAC’s National President Domingo Garcia said during a press conference in July.
With a national spotlight on her case, #IAmVanessaGuillen was trending on social media where women in the military shared their own experiences with sexual harassment during their enlistment. The “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act” is a bipartisan bill aimed at creating a more confidential reporting system. It would also make sexual harassment within the military a punishable crime and permit sexual harassment or assault survivors to file claims within the Department of Defense for compensation.
“The fact is Vanessa Guillén could be any one of us, any one of our Latinas and women serving in the military, completely unacceptable that it occurred,” LULAC CEO Sindy M. Benavides said during a press conference in July.
According to an Associated Press report, Guillén is one of 28 soldiers stationed at U.S. Army base Fort Hood that have died so far this year, based on data provided by Fort Hood officials.