Private Vanessa Guillen went missing after informing her family she had been sexually assaulted while on duty. Her remains were found after a two month-long search.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Private First-Class Vanessa Guillen, aged only 20 years old, was reported missing two months ago at the Fort Hood Army Base in Killeen, Texas, on April 22. She went missing shortly after she confided in her family she was being sexually harassed by an unnamed sergeant. She said she felt unsafe while on-duty. On Monday this week, a group of 30 volunteers searching for the Private discovered human remains and items believed to be linked to her in an undisclosed area, The Daily Mail reports. During the desperate search for Guillen, the Third Cavalry Regiment commander also launched an investigation into her sexual assault allegations. To highlight the prevalence of sexual assault in the force, other army women shared their stories via Twitter using the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen.
One veteran Coast Guard member posted, "My name is Morgan and #IAmVanessaGuillen. I was 18. It was at my first duty station. He was 45. 'It’s just because you’re fresh meat.' 'It will stop eventually.' 'You’ll get a dishonorable discharge if you snitch.' Your voice will not be silenced." She was of course, referring to Private Guillen. Another former Coast Guard member added, "'In 2006 I was brutally raped by a member of the United States Coast Guard. I was locked up in a closet for reporting the rape. I was blamed, shamed, and eventually lost my career. Help find #VanessaGuillen and prosecute all involved in this cover-up."
However, it wasn't just two women who shared a similar experience to Guillen. Hundreds of women came forward and the hashtag went viral, bringing attention to a much-overlooked problem in the United States Army forces. A Navy member shared, "This is not a new thing, but it's been silenced for so long. I was raped while on a Navy ship in the middle of the ocean. If I had reported it I was told they would throw me overboard and my body would never be found. That was 30 years ago." "In my almost four years in the Navy, I’ve been sexually assaulted one time and sexually harassed about six times," one user shared; this time, there was thankfully some recourse for the pain she endured. "Every time I spoke up to anyone that was higher than me, they helped so much. I was blessed. Not all [women] are."
As per a fact sheet compiled by Protect Our Defenders, a non-profit organization that works for military sexual assault and harassment survivors, a daunting total of 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted or raped in the year 2018. At the time, more than 75 percent of victims did not report the crime. A third said that they did not report what had happened due to fear that they’d be ignored or that the process would not be fair. Less than half of the victims claimed that they "felt well supported by their chain of command." This is, evidently, a systemic problem in the armed forces and must be brought to the swift attention of those at the top. It's time for these victims to receive justice and to put a stop to assault.