EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Members of the Texas Legislature who authored the state’s “Vanessa Guillen Act” that would protect survivors of sexual assault in the military hope the U.S. Congress quickly passes a federal version.
“I hope that the passage of this bill provides some small degree of healing to the family, and really to all sexual assault victims and survivors,” Texas Sen. Cesar J. Blanco told KTSM 9 News.
Blanco authored the Texas bill and said he’s grateful to Gov. Greg Abbott for signing the legislation into law.
“Some live in fear and are at risk for sexual assault and we need to change and make sure there’s no risk of sexual assault,” Blanco said. “And as you know, Texas is leading by example by passing this bill. Congress needs to follow suit and finally pass a federal version.”
Blanco’s legislation covers only the Texas Military, which is operated by the Adjutant General of Texas, the state’s senior military official who is appointed by the governor. The Texas Military is made up of the Texas Military Department, the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), the Texas Air National Guard (TXANG) and the Texas State Guard (TXSG). The Texas Military is an agency that is part of the executive branch of the Texas government.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been working for almost a decade to change the way the military justice system handles allegations of sexual assault within its ranks. The bill has been blocked and sidelined by members of the Armed Forces Committee, but the Senate decided last week to bypass the committee and go straight to vote.
“20,000 sexual assaults estimated by the United States Department of Defense,” said Gillibrand. “And the number of convicted — of any, was 156 last year. Very few are convicted out of an estimated 20,000.”
Christian Alvarado, convicted of sexually assaulting two women that include Pfc. Asia Graham, became one of those statistics last week when he was convicted on multiple charges and counts of sexual assault.
Nicole Graham, Asia’s mother, said she hopes the federal legislation is passed, which would remove the military chain of command from handling allegations of sexual assault.
“If it’s handled outside the unit,” Graham said, “then there’s no favoritism.”