Story at a glance
- Vanessa Guillen went missing in April after reportedly telling her mother she was being sexually harassed by a fellow military member.
- Since then, a suspect has been arrested and another is dead; meanwhile, remains have been found but not confirmed to be Guillen’s.
- Inspired by her story, many current and former military servicemembers are sharing their stories with the hashtag “I Am Vanessa Guillen.”
Before Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier from Houston, went missing, she told her family that she was being sexually harassed by one of her sergeants at Fort Hood.
Her mother says she asked for the name to report the harassment, according to a website set up by the family, but that Guillen did not give her one, knowing that the U.S. Army had not believed other female soldiers who had reported sexual harassment. Now the Texas Rangers have found partial remains that her family believes to be hers, although authorities have not officially identified them yet.
But while her voice may never be heard again, dozens of women in the military are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media under the hashtag “I am Vanessa Guillen.”
My name is Tiffany & #IAmVanessaGuillen I was sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, raped, & physically threatened, while at my first base, 12 yrs ago. I didn’t report it until 2019. I am one of the many faces of military sexual trauma. #MilitarySexualTrauma #FindVanessaGuillen pic.twitter.com/NaWTXcxk0s— Tiffany Blankenship (@TiffanyClarissa) July 1, 2020
#IAMVANESSAGUILLEN— lupe carreon (@lupecarreon) July 1, 2020
The first time happened in basic training by fellow trainees, airborne trng. by a fellow trainee. Duty station by two NCOs. PLDC by an instructor. Verbal harassment, physical assault with attempted rape, rape, held against my will with attempted rape pic.twitter.com/1gq8krGJ2V
With permission from my mom (who doesn’t have a twitter but is heartbroken this is still happening) we fight and pray for #vanesaguillen and I share her story. From my mom, #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN pic.twitter.com/yXhSYSUzdH— erin (@Carns_ne_asada) July 1, 2020
The U.S. Military has long been criticized for its handling of sexual assault. In April, the Defense Department reported 7,825 sexual assault reports involving service members as victims or subjects and 1,021 formal sexual harassment complaints in the previous fiscal year. There were also more than 2,000 restricted reports, in which survivors confidentially disclose an assault without starting an official investigation. Sexual assault is an underreported crime, and some on Twitter said they had not reported for the same reason as Guillen.
As a female in the military, I can say with complete confidence I do not know a single female in uniform who has not been sexually assaulted or harassed in some way. Victims don’t report for this exact reason. #iamvanessaguillen #weallarevanessaguillen— Mads (@mburkhard_) July 1, 2020
On Wednesday, the Pentagon said one suspect in Guillen’s disappearance had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and another was arrested by the Texas Rangers. During a press conference, Guillen’s sister said she had spoken to the now-deceased suspect and that he was dismissive and “laughed in her face.”
“They didn’t keep my sister safe. They always try to cover up for each other. Why? My sister is a human too. She deserves respect. She deserves to be heard. Because if this could happen to my sister, it could happen to anyone else,” she said through tears. “My sister did not do this to herself, someone did it.”