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.”

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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.  

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.”

 

Published on Jul 01, 2020