All of the appropriate people are mortified and deeply concerned about the death of 20-year-old Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
This includes military brass that hold decades of service, along with ranks and medals that showcase their esteem; the Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, enlisted inspector generals and a whole cadre of others long tasked with preventing and investigating sexual assault within the U.S. armed forces.
They’re also all too late.
Guillen’s lovely young face is the subject of murals across her hometown of Houston, massive installations of painted grief often including Our Lady of Guadalupe and angel wings. She’s become a symbol of the extensive dedication to military service long exhibited by the nation’s Mexican American citizens. She’s an icon of the community’s pride and, too often, it’s sorrow in not being seen as equal to other Americans, simply by virtue of ethnicity.
Guillen disappeared from Fort Hood in Texas in late April. She, like so many other female soldiers, told her mother and sisters of sexual harassment that she allegedly faced on the base. And, like so many others serving past, present and likely unfortunately into the future, she also told them that she didn’t feel like she could report it up the line, through her chain of command.
Guillen’s body, or rather what remained of her butchered and burned body, were found in late June. By July, a fellow soldier shot and killed himself as civilian police closed in. Officials believe he killed Guillen by pummeling her head with a hammer, and then spent days trying to get rid of her corpse, helped by his girlfriend, who is the only one who might actually pay a price through criminal courts.
Now, investigations are being ordered. The latest is a non-military, consultant-driven deep dive into the culture amid the command staff at Fort Hood. It’s an attempt to understand why a soldier like Guillen might have feared being retaliated against for speaking up, more than she feared whatever may have been occurring.
Guillen’s family deserves whatever peace more information via a formalized study can provide. President Trump will meet with them ahead of a march in Washington in Guillen’s honor on July 30. But Army officials shouldn’t need to be informed beyond the missteps that might have occurred particular to the case.The U.S. military already knows that it has a problem with sexual assault and harassment in its ranks. It’s been told so for years by its own studies, by Congressional hearings and outside agency reports given by Protect Our Defenders and the Service Women’s Action Network. Now, the LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, is joining the chorus.
A new push is afoot for federal legislation allowing for more independence in investigations.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) and former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) led efforts in 2013 to press for reforms, with some real success.
Sen. Gillibrand is still involved, as are Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Tx) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). Note, they are all female.
Men also suffer from harassment and assault as evidenced by statistics that showed 20,500 service members sexually assaulted or raped, including 13,000 women and 7,500 men in 2018, according to Protect Our Defenders.
The U.S. military is stellar in its historical role of leading; integrating its forces by race and ethnicity, developing and implementing technological advances, stepping up in times of natural disaster, let alone foreign peacekeeping roles.
And yet, at this most basic level of performance — ensuring the safety of those who step forward serve — it fails to control its own ranks.
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