In the wake of Vanessa Guillén’s murder at Fort Hood in 2020, the young soldier’s family members have fought to make the military safer — specifically for survivors of sexual assault. As the new Netflix documentary, I Am Vanessa Guillén, points out, the Army claims they “have no evidence” that she was assaulted by Aaron David Robinson, her alleged killer. However, an investigation found that she did previously report harassment by other soldiers, per The Texas Tribune, though “[her] supervisor and other officials failed to report the harassment up the chain.”
This is the kind of obstacle that Guillén’s sisters, Mayra and Lupe, aimed to break down with the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act of 2020, which was named after the hashtag assault survivors used to share their stories following Guillén’s 2020 disappearance. The bill would “[include] allowing a member to confidentially allege a complaint of sexual harassment to an individual outside the immediate chain of command of that member.” Despite receiving support from then-President Trump, it did not reach the floor for a vote.
The momentum didn’t stop there, though. Though the Guilléns were advised by lawmakers that the current version of their bill did not have enough support, “provisions” of the act were included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which took effect Jan. 1, 2022, per The Texas Tribune. President Biden signed the NDAA into law.
Among other initiatives, the NDAA “requires that a formal complaint alleging sexual harassment committed by a service member against another service member be investigated by an independent investigator.”
Later in January, Biden signed an executive order that “strengthens the military justice system’s response to gender-based violence,” citing Guillén’s “brutal murder” as inspiration for the political step. “The Guillén family’s leadership and determination in advocating for change underscored the need for military justice reform,” the order reads.
Additionally, the order “establishes sexual harassment as a specific offense under the [Uniform Code of Military Justice]” and “strengthens the military justice response in prosecuting cases of domestic violence, and fully implements changes to the military justice code to criminalize the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images.”
Mayra responded to the news on Instagram with a simple, “We did it.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org.