Fierce

Almost Two Years After Her Death, Senate Passes the ‘I Am Vanessa Guillén Act,’ Marking the Beginning of a New Era

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Almost two years after the death of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, her family is finally finding a modicum of justice. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act.” Now, all it needs now is for President Biden to turn it into law.

The “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act” asked for soldiers to be able to report instances of sexual assault outside of their chain of command. Vanessa Guillén was reported missing in April 2020 after confiding in her loved ones that she was being sexually harassed at work. Despite her cry for help, she was murdered by a fellow solider and her remains were found on June 2020.

In the months following her death, the U.S. military was widely scrutinized for the harassment and violence within the organization as well as the culture of permissiveness that allows it to happen. Guillén became a symbol of women everywhere — and especially Latinas — who feel overlooked by the justice system.

After the bill was passed, Vanessa Guillén’s sister, Mayra Guillén tweeted: “THE BILL HAS BEEN PASSED…this is a bittersweet feeling. The loss of my sister created the biggest military law change in history. I awaited so long for this day. All our work payed off.” She added that there was “more to come.”

Mayra Guillén’s followers flocked to her profile to celebrate the win. “It’s sad to say but your sister did not die in vain this is what Vanessa purpose was all along and also thanks to her family who pushed this change,” wrote one supporter. Another wrote: “Through your grief, and hardship, you worked so hard to advocate for your sister and in the process are helping so many. You are so strong, and loved. Thank you for being so vulnerable, yet so grounded. Sending so much love!”

“The bill is now heading to President Biden‘s desk and will finally become a vehicle for justice for all victims of sexual assault and harassment in the military while transforming the institutions culture it — will ensure that what happen to Spc. Vanessa Guillén never happens again to another soldier,” wrote TX Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a key sponsor of the bill, on Twitter.

At the announcement of the passing of the bill, Guillén’s sisters Lupe and Mayra Guillén, who spearheaded the reform campaign, spoke.

“Someone had to suffer in order for all of us to realize what’s happening and that someone was Vanessa Guillén,” Lupe Guillén said. “Someone will always have to suffer for someone to care, but that stops now, and it stops with us because that’s why we are here today. Because no matter how much developing or funding the SHARP program receives, it’s ineffective.”

SHARP — Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program is the Army’s anti-sexual harassment program, which has been criticized in recent years for failing to protect its members.

Because of the bravery and persistence of the Guillén family, it looks like many service members — men and women — will be a lot safer when they’re serving our country.

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