Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Vanessa Guillén bill; would change how military prosecutes crimes

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 11:40 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (KWTX) - A bipartisan group of Congressional members Wednesday announced legislation that will change the way the U.S. military prosecutes crimes, including sexual harassment and assault.

The bill takes assault reporting out of the chain of command and instead hands it to military prosecutors. It’s named for Vanessa Guillén, a soldier murdered at Fort Hood, Texas after she reported sexual harassment.

For years, lawmakers have called for military commanders to be taken out of assault prosecutions.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a long time advocate for military sexual assault victims, said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is the first head of the Pentagon to agree with the change.

“We’ve had every Sec of Defense since Dick Cheney saying we got this man, we got this. We have zero tolerance for sexual assault. Today’s the first time we have a secretary of defense who agrees sexual assault should be taken out of the chain of command. That’s a big deal,” Gillibrand said.

“Today we announce, the bicameral, bipartisan Vanessa Guillen Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act. Today we are announcing that the time has come. We are here today because each year 20,000 servicemembers are sexually assaulted and another 100,000 are sexually harassed. We’re here today because only 1/3 of those sexually assaulted feel comfortable reporting it for fear of retaliation and only 1% of those sexually harassed feel comfortable reporting. We’re here today for the servicemembers who have spoken out or who have suffered in silence because the message and culture in the military has been clear: shut up, suck it up, and don’t rock the boat,” Congresswoman Jackie Speier said at the podium.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also showed her support. “We will bring this bill to the floor. It will pass in the House. I hope that it will succeed in the Senate as well,” Pelosi said.

Two of Guillén’s sisters were also present during the announcement.

“Vanessa Guillén was afraid to report it. But eventually the command did nothing about it. Someone had to suffer in order for us to realize what was happening - and that someone was Vanessa Guillén. Someone always had to suffer for someone to care but that stops now and that stops with us and that’s why we’re here today,” Lupe Guillén said.

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