Women veterans advocates, lawmakers call for change in wake of Fort Hood murder

In the wake of Army Spec. Vanessa Guillén’s murder, women veterans advocates mobilized in Washington, D.C., to call for systemic change in how sexual assault and harassment are handled in the U.S. military.

Guillén allegedly had told her family she was being sexually harassed, but she was afraid to report it to her chain of command. She was murdered on April 22 in the armory where she worked on Fort Hood. The 20-year-old soldier was missing for over two months before her body was discovered, dismembered and covered in cement, in a shallow grave.

“For those who want to make the military a career, reporting is a career-ending act,” U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier said during the July 21 Justicia for Vanessa, DC Day of Action. “For years we have thrown millions of dollars at the problem. The results haven’t changed. They’re only getting worse.”

U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia also spoke during the event and said that for Guillén “The Army was her dream. That dream was shattered because the Army failed to keep her safe. They failed to meet the very basic bargain between the armed services and our young men and women who enlist.

“We have to make sure this never happens again.”

In the weeks following her disappearance and murder, the #IAmVanessaGuillén movement exploded online, with hundreds of women veterans and servicemembers beginning to share their own stories of military sexual trauma (MST) for the first time.

Women veterans advocates and allies gathered for the event on Capitol Hill and across from the White House to share their stories of MST. One of those was MST survivor and U.S. Navy veteran Violet Williams, a member of American Legion Post 96 in Brunswick, Md.

“The military reporting process is broken,” Williams said. “It leaves many survivors without justice.”

But, said Williams, “If things don’t change, women will never be safe in our military. Time and time again, women survivors are ignored by their commands. It is time for that to change.”

The reporting process for sexual harassment and sexual assault should no longer rest within a servicemember’s chain of command, Williams said. “Inside commands, you see favoritism,” she said. “You see senior servicemembers who protect their friends, protect people they’ve had a beer with. Holding these investigations inside the command does not give the female servicemember and sexual assault survivor justice.”

It is long past time to make these changes, said Williams.

“We need to come together as veterans to ask for change – demand change,” Williams said. “It is past time, and we all need to come together in support of Vanessa Guillén and all of the other military sexual assault survivors to change this process.”