By Roxanna Jarvis
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia and 87 other congressional members this week expressed support for a letter to Department of Defense’s Inspector General Sean O’Donnell by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Jackie Speier that urges an independent investigation into the disappearance last April 22 and murder of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, a soldier at Fort Hood in central Texas.
According to the federal criminal complaint filed, Guillén was struck in the head by Aaron Robinson with a hammer while in Fort Hood’s armory. Robinson, with the aid of Cecily Aguilar, then disposed of Guillén’s body, where she was mutilated and burned. Remains were found nearby the base in Bell County, identified as belonging to SPC Guillén.
The letter sent by Rep. Garcia and the other congressional members not only discusses the murder but points out the increase in sexual assault cases in the military.
“The U.S. military has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the young women and men that take an oath to defend our country. In SPC Guillén’s case, she was tragically failed by the Army,” wrote Rep. Garcia.
Garcia also mentioned the 3 percent increase in reported sexual assault cases from 2018 to 2019. Those who are less likely to report, claimed Garcia, are disproportionately women of color who fear retaliation, like SPC Guillén.
The family’s lawyer, Natalie Khawam, noted in a press conference last Wednesday that SPC Guillén reported the sexual harassment to her sisters Lupe and Mayra, her mother Gloria, her friends, and other soldiers on the base. SPC Guillén did not report the sexual harassment formally, because the sexual harassment was coming from her superiors. She did not want the action of reporting to ruin her career.
“Character assassinations occur every day,” explained Khawam “She was just afraid to do so, like many other victims.”
Khawam further explained that the agency alleged victims report to is not independent, but internal. The people part of the internal review process is also in the same unit as the alleged victim, causing obvious concern. “It’s biased. It needs to be fixed–the system is broken,” charged Khawam.
Rep. Speier and Sen. Gillibrand, in their letter to IG O’Donnell July 2, addressed the concerns of the military’s internal review process of sexual harassment and assault claims, as well as its apparent disregard of such acts—a pattern, they allege, that is not limited to the single case of SPC Guillén.
“We are gravely concerned with the appearance that the Army was able to marshal significant additional investigative resources after her family began a social media campaign with the hashtags #IAmVanessaGuillén and #FindMySister,” wrote Gillibrand and Speier. “If the Army must rely on relatives, not commanders or comrades, to take the initiative in locating missing soldiers, there is something fundamentally broken in the institution.”
Gillibrand and Speier called for a thorough, independent investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General to find out the facts about SPC Guillén’s disappearance and murder.
Fort Hood commanders spoke at a news conference Monday, confirming that the remains found last week in Bell County were positively identified to be Guillén’s.
“All of us here, as part of Vanessa’s Army family, know that our pain pales in comparison to that being endured in the Guillén family,” said Fort Hood Senior Commander Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt.
Efflandt noted that the Army would complete the ongoing investigation on Guillén’s sexual harassment and act, as necessary. “Please know, that every person who raises their right hand to serve their family and their country in uniform deserves to be safe and treated with dignity and respect,” added Efflandt.
It has been over 60 days since Guillén’s disappearance and still no disclosure on the sexual harassment investigation.
In last Wednesday’s press conference, SPC Guillén’s younger sister Lupe spoke: “They lied to our faces in the past, which is two months,” she said through tears. “They don’t protect our servicewomen and men. How can this just happen, and they let it go under the rug as if it was nothing?
“I want justice and I want answers! Take my word that we will not rest. We will not stop and we will keep fighting,” Lupe concluded.
Guillén’s family is pushing for legislation that will provide for an unbiased, independent review and investigation on reports of sexual harassment and assault in the Army.
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