Specialist Guillen was last seen alive around noon on April 22 in the parking lot of her squadron's headquarters at Fort Hood. Her dismembered and burned remains were found two months later.
The tragic case of Vanessa Guillen, the Fort Hood soldier whose disappearance and murder sparked calls demanding changes in how the military handles reports of sexual harassment and assault, struck a chord with many women serving in the military. It triggered some of their worst fears in soldiers and encouraged them to talk about their own sexual harassment and sexual assault experiences under the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen. Now, they've spoken out about their ordeals on camera for a special Dateline report about sexual harassment in the military.
According to The New York Times, Specialist Guillen was last seen alive around noon on April 22 in the parking lot of her squadron's headquarters at Fort Hood. Her car keys, room key, ID, and wallet were found in the armory room where she had been repairing small arms and artillery. Two months later — in June — her dismembered and burned remains were found near the Leon River in Bell County, Texas, and on July 2, the Army said she had been killed by another soldier, Specialist Aaron Robinson. A few days before the charge was announced, Specialist Robinson killed himself with a pistol as the police approached.
She was a 19-year-old soldier. Authorities say she was killed by a fellow service member. Following the death of Vanessa Guillén, women in the military are denouncing sexual harassment and assault within their ranks... #IamVanessaGuillén #JusticeForVannesaGuillén pic.twitter.com/YP7FAEf3Cs— Brut America (@brutamerica) July 7, 2020
While specialist Guillen's family revealed that before her disappearance, she told family and friends that a fellow soldier had sexually harassed her, Fort Hood officials stated that she did not make an official report about sexual harassment. However, as the case drew attention from lawmakers, celebrities, and public figures, both male and female soldiers spoke out about a culture of sexual harassment and bullying at Fort Hood which they said was ignored by the leadership. The Army then expanded an investigation into Specialist Guillen’s killing to include the entire chain of command at Fort Hood around the same time a bill named after the late soldier was introduced in the House of Representatives. The #IamVanessaGuillen bill requires sexual harassment complaints involving service members to be sent to an independent investigator.
"We know that in this case, the Army has failed Vanessa."— VICE News (@VICENews) August 4, 2020
We look at #metoo in the military and whether the death of a Fort Hood soldier will lead to actual change in how the Army handles reports of sexual harassment and assault. #VICENewsTonight, 11pm ET on @VICETV. pic.twitter.com/E2U51eksMc
According to ABC News, 7,825 reports of sexual assault in all branches of the military were made in the fiscal year of 2019. This extremely worrying number followed a dire warning from then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018 when he said that there was zero tolerance for sexual assault. "While battlefield casualties are a reality of war, we will accept no casualties due to sexual assault in our military family," he said at the time. Now, other soldiers have spoken out about the sexual harassment they faced in the military in a Dateline episode that aired Thursday.
In the special report, former Army Captain Melissa Bryant said that sexual harassment was common in her military career and that it wasn't just coming from her superiors, reports PEOPLE. She shared a troubling exchange with a subordinate soldier which she said left her feeling powerless. "I had a soldier make comments toward me," she recounted to journalist Andrea Canning. "I told him, 'Hey, you really need to cut that out.' And he said, 'Why? What are you gonna do about it?'" And in my mind, I realized, 'I'm not gonna do anything about it.' That was the lowest point for me."
"It was a horrible realization," added Bryant, who now works as an advocate for veterans. "This is someone who's reporting to me who's essentially taking away my authority and my agency as a woman and also as an officer — in saying, 'You're not gonna do anything about it.'" Ryan McCarthy, the Secretary of the Army, also addressed the alarming prevalence of sexual harassment in the military, telling Canning: "The trends are going the wrong way, and the numbers are very high. And that's really tearing at us as an institution."