Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén (U.S. Army photo)
Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, co-led the reintroduction of the I am Vanessa Guillén Act in honor of the late Spc. Vanessa Guillén and the many survivors of military sexual violence who have bravely come forward in the wake of her disappearance and brutal murder.
This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, and Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), along with co-leads Reps. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Jason Crow (D-CO), and 168 additional co-sponsors.
The I am Vanessa Guillén Act would revolutionize the military’s response to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault by making sexual harassment a standalone offense within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and moving prosecution decisions of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases out of the chain of command, as well as establishing a process for compensating servicemembers who survive sexual violence when the military has been negligent.
It also reforms the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), along with her colleagues Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), introduced the companion legislation in the U.S. Senate Thursday.
Spc. Guillén’s brutal murder became the catalyst for long overdue change when her family refused to let her case be neglected by Army leadership at Fort Hood. This month, the Army’s internal investigation found that Spc. Guillén was sexually harassed by her platoon sergeant and that her command was aware of the allegation but did nothing. Last year’s Independent Review Committee report found that the Army’s sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response programs had failed at Fort Hood, and the I am Vanessa Guillén Act incorporates recommendations from the independent review.
“More than one year ago, the unspeakable tragedy of Spc. Vanessa Guillén’s murder shocked our nation and shed new light on the epidemic of unchecked harassment, assault, and retaliation throughout our armed forces,” Congresswoman Escobar said. “Vanessa’s memory sparked a movement for justice and accountability that I am honored to carry forth through the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act. I look forward to working with my colleagues, Chair Speier, Secretary Austin, and the Biden administration to advance this bipartisan legislation and put an end to this toxic culture in the armed forces and protect those who bravely put their lives on the line for our country.”
“As a father, veteran, and Texan, the murder of Vanessa Guillén hit close to home,” said Congressman Tony Gonzales. “The handling of this sexual assault case is not unique to the Army and there needs to be significant improvement to the way the sexual assault harassment and assault claims are handled throughout the Armed Forces.”
“One year after the senseless murder of SPC Vanessa Guillén, and after two damning reviews, the need for fundamental reform of the military’s approach to sexual assault and sexual harassment has never been more urgent. Military leadership has had decades to solve this problem, yet continues to fail. Toxic command climates, rampant sexual violence, lack of accountability, and retaliation against survivors continue to worsen,” Chair Speier said. “Congress must enact these reforms this year to achieve justice for Vanessa Guillén and all survivors of sexual violence. We must send a message to all servicemembers about the nation’s expectations for their conduct and the culture of the military. Congress must pass the I am Vanessa Guillén Act this year.”
“The issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue – it’s an American issue. We must strengthen the military’s ability to protect its most important resource, which is the people who willingly sign-up to protect all Americans,” Congressman Mullin said. “The I am Vanessa Guillén Act will also encourage survivors to come forward to report sexual assaults and sexual harassment and to provide justice. This is about protecting our men and women in uniform and I will keep fighting so no family has to go through what the Guillén family has gone through.”
“With the reintroduction of the I am Vanessa Guillén Act, we want to make sure that transformative and comprehensive reform happens for how the military treats victims of sexual assault within their ranks,” Congresswoman Garcia said. “This is a step in getting justice for Vanessa. And progress has been made but we need to do more. Vanessa Guillén, a daughter of immigrants who wanted to serve her country, has forced the most powerful military in the world to change and be better. I want the Guillén family to know that we stand with you and will continue fighting until the bill becomes a law.
“Our military servicemembers risk their lives for our nation, and in return, it’s our country’s obligation to ensure their safety,” Congressman Balderson said. “I am proud to once again support this legislation, which takes important steps to ensure survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military can tell their stories without fear of retribution as they seek the justice they deserve.”
“In basic training I was taught everything from marksmanship to the chain of command, but preventing sexual assault was not a priority,” Congressman Jason Crow said. “The military failed Vanessa Guillén and we will continue to fail our service members until we create a system and culture of accountability. It is Congress’ role to decide what sort of military our nation will have and we must pass the I am Vanessa Guillén Act to protect our women and men in uniform.”
“Vanessa Guillén’s story underscores why we need a stronger, more effective response to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military,” Sen. Hirono said. The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act shifts prosecutorial decisions for sexual harassment and sexual assault outside the chain of command and requires sexual harassment allegations to be investigated outside the immediate chain of command. These changes are in line with the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Independent Review Commission’s preliminary recommendations. I have advocated for years to change how the military addresses sexual harassment and sexual assault, and it is past time for us to make necessary changes that respect survivors and restore faith in the military justice system by passing the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act.”
Specifically, the I am Vanessa Guillén Act would:
- Move prosecution decisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases outside of the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor within each military service;
- Create a standalone military offense for sexual harassment;
- Establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused;
- Require both DoD and GAO to conduct separate evaluations of the military services’ Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs;
- Reform and professionalize the Army’s SHARP program by establishing civilian leadership and ensuring that victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators are full-time positions and report to an independent chain of command; and
- Establish a process by which servicemembers can make claims for negligence and seek compensatory damages against DoD in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
The 173 cosponsors of the I am Vanessa Guillén Act are: Reps. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Cindy Axne (D-IA), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Ami Bera (D-CA), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Anthony Brown (D-MD), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Andre’ Carson (D-IN), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Katherine M. Clark (D-MA), Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Tom Cole (R-OK), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Jim Cooper (D-TN), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Angie Craig (D-MN), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Jason Crow (D-CO), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Sharice L. Davids (D-KS), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Val Butler Demings (D-FL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), Bill Foster (D-IL), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), John Garamendi (D-CA), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Mike Garcia (R-CA), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Tony Gonzales (R-TX), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Garret Graves (R-LA), Al Green (D-TX), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Josh Harder (D-CA), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Kevin Hern (R-OK), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), William R. Keating (D-MA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Daniel T. Kildee (D-MI), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Ron Kind (D-WI), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Annie Kuster (D-NH), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Brenda L. Lawrence (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Susie Lee (D-NV), Mike Levin (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Kathy E. Manning (D-NC), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Betty McCollum (D-MN), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Grace Meng (D-NY), Kweisi Mfume (D-MD), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Joseph D. Morelle (D-NY), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Frank J. Mrvan (D-IN), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Marie Newman (D-IL), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Deborah Ross (D-NC), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-WA), David Scott (D-GA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Darren Soto (D-FL), Abigail D. Spanberger (D-VA), Haley M. Stevens (D-MI), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Dina Titus (D-NV), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Lori Trahan (D-MA), David Trone (D-MD), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Peter Welch (D-VT), Susan Wild (D-PA), Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL), John Yarmuth (D-KY), and Don Young (R-AK).