Congressional leaders from El Paso fight for military sexual assault reform

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso lawmakers at the state and federal levels are leading legislative efforts to combat sexual assault in the military.

On Friday, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar joined Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, and a coterie of other Congressional representatives to introduce the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, created to transform the military’s response to sexual violence and missing servicemembers. 

The bill comes in the wake of the disappearance and murder of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen.

“The unspeakable tragedy of Specialist Vanessa Guillen’s murder has shed new light and revealed to the American public the epidemic of unchecked sexual harassment and assault that too many service members have suffered,” said Escobar.

The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act promises to:

  • Move prosecution decisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases outside of the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor within each military service
  • Create a standalone military offense for sexual harassment
  • Establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused
  • Create a confidential reporting process for sexual harassment that is integrated with DoD’s Catch a Serial Offender database
  • Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the military’s procedures for finding missing servicemembers and compare with procedures used by civilian law enforcement and best practices
  • Require both DoD and GAO to conduct separate evaluations of the military services’ Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs
  • Establish a process by which servicemembers can make claims for negligence and seek compensatory damages against DoD in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment

“Specialist Guillén – and all servicemembers – deserve respect and justice, and it’s our obligation to protect those who bravely put their lives on the line for our country. We can’t continue the same approaches that have failed victims. Congress must respond to this moment of reckoning with new solutions to tackle this epidemic and pass the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act,” says Escobar.

The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act will reform sexual harassment reporting and investigating in the military, while also transforming the prosecution of sexual harassment and assault by allowing independent prosecutors — within each military service — to bring charges.

Servicemembers who have been harassed or sexually assaulted will be able to seek monetary compensation claims against the U.S. Department of Defense.

The bill earned bipartisan support from Republicans like Congressman Will Hurd.

“We must work to ensure what happened to Vanessa Guillén never happens again,” Hurd said. “The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act of 2020 will protect soldiers like Vanessa by ensuring independent investigations occur in assault and harassment cases. This will better safeguard our soldiers from retaliation and help prevent these atrocious acts from ever happening in the first place.” 

The introduction of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act follows statewide policy efforts led by Texas Sen. Cesar J. Blanco. 

Blanco’s “Vanessa Guillen Act” was approved in April by the Texas House Committee on Defense and Veterans Affairs that aims to protect soldiers in Texas from military sexual assault, while also providing avenues for justice and resources for survivors. 

“Sexual assault has no place in our society and Texas can lead by example in stomping out sexual assault in our state military by sending the Vanessa Guillén Act to Governor Abbott’s desk,” said Blanco.

Both the federal and state bills named in Guillen’s honor have the blessing of her family.

“I was very fortunate to receive the blessing of the Guillen family. This bill is named after her,  whose disappearance and death highlighted the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the military,” said Blanco.

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