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Viewpoint: “I am Vanessa Guillén” reopens conversation about military’s response to sexual violence

Viewpoint: “I am Vanessa Guillén” reopens conversation about military’s response to sexual violence - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

FILE - In this July 30, 2020, file photo, a banner with the image of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén and #IAmVanessaGuillén is displayed before the start of a news conference on the National Mall in Washington. The death of Guillén, who was slain by a fellow soldier at the Texas Army base where they both worked, has been classified as "in the line of duty," according to a report by U.S. Army officials. The results were presented to the Guillén family on Wednesday Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

More than two years after the murder of Vanessa Guillén, the woman who helped dispose of her body has pleaded guilty to three counts of making false statements and one count of accessory after the fact, NBC News reported Tuesday.  

Cecily Aguilar faces up to a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. 

The details about Guillén’s murder were revealed through a documentary titled “I Am Vanessa Guillén,” which released on Netflix on Nov. 17. 

The documentary describes the events following Guillén’s death at Fort Hood on April 22, 2020.

Guillén was murdered while serving in the Army during her stationed service at the Fort Hood military base. She was bludgeoned, dismembered, burned and buried by fellow soldier, Aaron David Robinson.  

The day Guillén’s remains were found, Robinson was being held for breaking COVID-19 protocols. Robinson read about the finding of Guillén’s remains and texted his girlfriend, Aguilar, stating “they found the pieces.”  

Army Criminal Investigation Division leaders failed to inform the soldiers watching over Robinson that he was a suspect in Guillén’s murder. Robinson then escaped and when confronted by police at least six miles from Fort Hood, he shot himself and died. 

Details about her death caused concern among her family. 

Guillén’s older sister Mayra and younger sister Lupe were at the forefront of demanding answers for their sisters death with the help of Natalie Khawam, who was hired as the attorney for Guillén’s case. 

From the time Guillén stop responding to her family to when authorities found her remains was about two months. 

The Army didn’t provide frequent updates on the search, which made their investigation fishy.   

Fort Hood disregarded the family’s concerns as they were conducting their own investigation of Guillén’s disappearance. The lack of communication and transparency created an uproar from family, friends and supporters as they stood outside of Fort Hood to demand answers. 

Seeing the traction this caught was remarkable as celebrities like Salma Hayek, Kim Kardashian, Becky G and Baby Bash publicly spotlighted Guillén’s disappearance and the injustices of Fort Hood. 

What I found most important from this documentary was how it highlighted Mayra and Lupe’s efforts to turn this tragedy into the driving force for creating and passing the Vanessa Guillén Act. President Joe Biden signed the act into law under the National Defense Authorization Act in Dec. 2021. 

During the process of going back and forth from Washington D.C. and Houston, you get to see how different Mayra and Lupe’s personalities are and how they were beneficial in getting the support needed for this Act. 

Mayra had many meetings with members of congress while Lupe spoke at many events to express her distress with the injustices that her late sister dealt with. 

Hearing Guillén’s mother, Gloria, go through her stages of grief is hard to watch. No mother should ever have to bury their child. Her motherly instinct knew that something was wrong with her daughter months before her passing.

Guillen confessed to her mother that she had been sexually harassed by her supervisors in 2019.

Following her disappearance, the Guillén family revealed these allegations publicly as they felt the Army didn’t address the sexual harassment.  

Fort Hood said those allegations were never credible. Months later those same people came out and said how they blatantly ignored Guillén’s complaints of sexual harassment while stationed on Fort Hood. 

The military has a history of negligence in protecting women who serve. Women stationed at Fort Hood face a higher risk of sexual assault in comparison to the average woman in the Army, according to a RAND Corporation analysis

One of the unsung heroes who showed an immense amount of persistence in getting justice was Khawam, Guillén’s attorney. She was determined to put pressure on the chain of command at Fort Hood and on members of Congress to get the answers for Guillén’s suspicious death. 

You can see that the relationship between Khawam and the Guillén family was genuine as they both wanted change on behalf of Guillén and many others who dealt with sexual violence in the military.  

This documentary emphasized the flawed system that the military has not corrected.

The abuse of power that superior officers partake in and how they use that power to sexually harass and assault members of the military, specifically women. 

I found it puzzling to see the difficulty in getting members of Congress to get on board for the “I am Vanessa Guillén Act,” since the act wanted to improve the military’s response to reports of sexual harassment and assault by: 

Guillén’s death ignited a conversation that desperately needed to be brought to the surface. Our politicians should emphasize the importance of protection against service members who have dealt with sexual violence while serving their country. 

Fort Hood dropped the ball on Guillén’s case. They have a history of neglecting cases of sexual violence and violence in general on their base so change is necessary.

Vanessa Guillén deserves to be alive right now. The country she was serving let her down and as a society, we should never forget the atrocities done by Fort Hood. 

About the Author

Raul Trey Lopez
Raul Trey Lopez is a communication senior at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. He is a first-generation college student. In his spare time, he likes listening to music. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in journalism while also maintaining his family flooring business.

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