A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) on Wednesday introduced the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act” to reform the way the military handles sexual harassment cases after the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén.
The bill, spearheaded by Speier and Mullin, would allow for sexual harassment cases to be handled outside the military chain of command, which aims to eradicate situations in which a commander personally knows the perpetrators or victims and could not act impartially. The cases would instead be handled by a special prosecutor who reports to the deputy defense secretary.
It would also make sexual harassment a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, give military prosecutors the authority to determine whether sexual assault charges are brought to court martial, and require a review of how the military investigates missing persons.
Speier said at a press conference on Wednesday that the legislation would bring “not just ordinary change but tectonic change.” “What we have been doing is not working,” she added.
The Pentagon has fought for years against taking the handling of sexual assault and harassment cases outside the chain of command, arguing it would lessen a commander’s influence and ability to instill good order and discipline.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results,” Mullin told Breitbart News in a brief interview before the press conference.
“This changes the way we treat sexual harassment cases inside [the Department of Defense]. And it’s going to give those victims a peace of mind that people aren’t just going to be transferred and get moved out.”
“Vanessa’s life ended in a tragic way, but it’s going to protect people’s lives for years to come,” he added.
Before her death, Guillén, 20, had told her mother she had been sexually harassed by multiple fellow soldiers at Fort Hood but that she did not want to report it to her commander out of fear of retaliation and ridicule. Guillen later went missing in April and was found dead in June.
A fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, had lured Guillen to an armory room where he was working and bludgeoned her to death with a hammer, dismembered her, and buried her by a river, according to Robinson’s girlfriend Cecily Aguilar. After authorities tried to apprehend Robinson, he fled his barracks, shot, and killed himself before he could be taken into custody.
Guillén’s family is furious that Guillén did not feel that she could report the sexual harassment to her superiors, which may have raised an alarm and saved her, and they have fought to change the way the military handles sexual assault. The Guillén family met last month with President Donald Trump, who pledged to help them get to the bottom of what happened and why it took so long to find her killer.
“Enough is enough,” said the Guillén family’s lawyer Natalie Khawam, who has previously worked with Mullin to get legislation passed to protect service members from medical malpractice. “The buck stops here. Shame on anyone who doesn’t sponsor this bill.”
The name of the bill — “I am Vanessa Guillén” — has become a rallying cry among female veterans who have become inspired to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment while serving in the military.
“This is the military’s Me Too movement,” Speier said. “The status quo is unacceptable.”
Lucy Del Gaudio, an Army veteran and military sexual trauma survivor who worked to bring the bill about, called the day a “whirlwind of emotion.”
The Guillén family met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday before the press conference, and she said she is committed to bringing the bill to a vote in the House this year.
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) hailed the bipartisan efforts on the bill thus far. “It’s incredible that we are able to come together.”
“The Army and Fort Hood failed her,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). “Enough is enough.”
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) added, “Failure is not an option.”