Vanessa Guillén’s family vows to keep seeking justice for women in military after Fort Hood firings

Vanessa Guillén’s family wants the military to reform how it handles sexual assault investigations to make them more independent 

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 09 December 2020 00:10
Vanessa Guillen's sister demands truth about her death after soldier died at military base
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The family of Vanessa Guillén, a soldier brutally assaulted and murdered at an Army installation in Texas earlier this year, vowed to keep fighting for reform for women in the military and demanded those responsible for Vanessa’s killing be put in prison.

Their pleas follow a wave of firings and a damning investigation released on Tuesday that found a “toxic culture” and “permissive environment for sexual assault and harassment” at Fort Hood, the Army’s second biggest US installation, which houses 36,000 soldiers.

“Wherever you are Vanessa, you are alive. You're here today,” Lupe Guillén, her sister, said at a livestreamed Houston press conference on Tuesday. “Your legacy is going to keep going, hopefully with the act that we’re trying to pass. You know that as sisters we’re going to fight for you. Because that’s family to us. But not only for you, for every other female soldier that's going through the same process.”

Vanessa Guillén disappeared from Texas’s Fort Hood and was brutally killed by a fellow soldier with a hammer, dismembered, then buried in a riverside grave. Ms Guillén was also sexually harassed on base, but didn’t report it to officials.

Her family has urged the government, including during a July meeting with the president, to pass a law that would put independent officials in charge of investigating sex crimes in the military. Under the current system, military commanders are responsible.

Vanessa’s death sparked a broader conversation about sexual assault and gender violence in the military, what the family’s lawyer called a ““#MeToo movement for the military” at the Houston press conference.

“I said this was the last piece of the puzzle that we needed to accomplish,” said Natalie Khawam, the Guillén family’s lawyer, at the press conference. “Vanessa’s memory, and what happened to Vanessa, has created such incredible change in the military community and in our country at large. We have so many people who come out and speak—their voices are heard now.”

On Tuesday, Army secretary Ryan McCarthy announced the results of a Pentagon investigation into what went so wrong at Fort Hood.

"I have determined the issues at Fort Hood are directly related to leadership failures," Mr McCarthy said. "I am gravely disappointed that leaders failed to effectively create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect, and that failed to reinforce everyone's obligation to prevent and properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault," he added.

The Army fired at least 14 different leaders, including a general, for systematic leadership failures involved in setting the tone for what happened at base.

At their event, the family made it known it wasn’t entirely satisfied with the Army’s response to the tragedy. Lupe Guillén pointed out how it took the Army nearly 8 months before the Army secretary spoke with them directly, and Gloria Guillén, Vanessa’s mother, said she wouldn’t be satisfied until people were put in prison.

“For me, what just happened is a step, lacking in ways,” Vanessa’s mother said in Spanish. “I want jail, and I want them to discover the truth of what really happened,” she added.

She blasted the Army for allowing a culture at Fort Hood that saw her daughter treated like a “cockroach.”

In addition to the Army’s official review and disciplinary process, an independent civilian investigation found a dangerous culture of sexual assault and harassment at Fort Hood, where numerous women told them they were assaulted, but far fewer reported what happened to them.

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