House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congress members introduced the Vanessa Guillen Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act in a press conference on Wednesday. If passed, this bill would require military officers to turn over sexual assault and harassment allegations to independent military prosecutors. Previously, the sexual assault allegation protocal in the military was to submit all allegations up the chain of command.
Guillen, an Army specialist and native Houstonian, was sexually harassed by an Army supervisor, but didn’t feel comfortable reporting the crime, according to her family.
The same supervisor who assaulted Guillen, killed her and took his own life in pursuit with local authorities.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier started the press conference stating some statistics on sexual assault in the military and the lack of action of prosecutors. And according to Spier, since 2016 more Fort Hood soldiers have died by homicide than in battle.
“We’re here today because each year 20,000 service members are sexually assaulted and another 100,000 are sexually harassed,” Spier said. “We’re here today because only one-third of those sexually assaulted feel comfortable reporting it for fear of retaliation.”
Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar honored the Guillen family and Army soldier Asia Graham. Graham, who died a year after her attack, was raped on the Fort Bliss Army base in 2019.
“Either we are a country of justice for all or we do not, either we believe that victims deserve due process or we do not, the time has come to finally address theis and recognize the monumental failure,” Escobar said.
Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia also emphasized the importance of the bill.
“This is not just about Vanessa Guillen but it’s about all soldiers feeling safe on military bases,” Garcia said.
Vanessa’s sisters Lupe and Mayra Guillen also spoke in honor of their sister.
“When are we going to start protecting the victims and not the victimizers,” Lupe Guillen said. “The system that we have now failed my sister so it’s up to us to change that.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said since Congress wrote the military justice structure it is their responsibility to fix the problems within the system.
“ When we are looking at how we protect the men and women in the armed services so they can do their jobs this bill is necessary,” Gillibrand said. “ There is no greater problem in the US military right now then the scourge of sexual assault.”
Gillibrand also called out commanders in the military for their lack of action.
“The fact that our generals, our admirals, our service secretaries are still against this reform is shocking,” Gillibrand said. “Today is the first time we have a secretary of defense that agress sexual assault shoudl be taken out the chain of command. That’s a big deal because it’s a recognition that the chain of command is not inviolent.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thanked Democrat and Republican representatives for being bipartisan on this bill and said Guillen’s story reminded her of a lot of women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Vanessa, this lovely young woman, so patriotic, wanted to serve our country. It wasn’t a job for her, it was a patriotic joy and then it turned into this,” Pelosi said.
Lawmakers also said this bill has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate and look forward to passage.