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I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would revamp military policies on sexual assault

Nov 23, 2020

How should the armed services handle such claims?


Only 20 years old, Vanessa Guillen [pronounced GEE-yen], an Army Private First Class stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, was murdered in April by a fellow military member who Guillen was likely about to formally accuse of sexual harassment. She had been missing for more than two months by the time her remains were discovered. The suspected murderer committed suicide as law enforcement closed in on him for apprehension.

The Army’s internal investigation of Guillen’s case interviewed hundreds of people but found no credible evidence of sexual harassment. Nevertheless, the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen went viral as a military-specific version of the famous #MeToo hashtag, in which people shared their personal stories of sexual harassment or sexual assault through social media to destigamtize such experiences.

Guillén’s story received much attention, including President Donald Trump meeting with her family. It also shined a light on what many considered outmoded and ineffective military policies towards sexual offenses.

What the legislation does

The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would institute several reforms, including:

  • Explicitly listing sexual harassment as a crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the official constitution for military law. While rape and sexual assault are both listed, sexual harassment is not, although it could still be potentially prosecuted under other vaguer provisions.

  • Requiring the Secretary of Defense to establish a process by which a servicemember can lodge a sexual harassment compliant confidentially.

  • Moving legal decisions on whether to prosecute a sexual offense outside of the existing military chain of command, instead to an Office of Special Prosecutor established within each branch — including the creation of such an office in any branch where it does not yet exist.

The House version was introduced on September 16 as bill number H.R. 8270, by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA14). The Senate version was introduced the same day as bill number S. 4600, by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

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