“She’s now an American hero” - Vanessa Guillen bill could change how the military handles sexual harassment

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 2:54 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The family of the slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen was in Washington, D.C. Wednesday for the introduction of the bipartisan I Am Vanessa Guillen Act. It is a bill the family and their attorney Natalie Khawam are hoping will better address sexual harassment claims in the military.

“She’s now an American hero that will save lots of lives,” said Mayra Guillen, Vanessa’s sister.

The legislation is another step in the formation of a national legacy for Vanessa Guillen, who told her mother in February she was being sexually harassed by a superior.

The Guillen family and attorney Natalie Khawam joined with lawmakers Wednesday for the introduction of the legislation. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) are spearheading the effort in the House.

Some of the keys in the 29-page bill include making sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and mandatory independent investigations of sexual harassment rather than a soldier’s chain of command handling the claim. The Department of Defense would pick the independent investigator from inside DOD, but Mullin says the investigators tapped will have experience with sexual harassment cases. Speier says the legislation is overdue and now is the time to capitalize.

“The voices of those survivors have never been louder or more clear. This is the military’s #MeToo moment. And we are going to take full advantage to amplify it and to cause the kinds of changes that we believe should take place,” said Speier.

The bill has a group of 73 bipartisan cosponsors. Speier and Mullin are optimistic the House will pass the legislation by the end of the year as they have a commitment from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that a floor vote will happen soon.

President Donald Trump sat down with the Guillen family weeks ago and expressed openness to supporting legislation. The White House would not say whether he is going to put his signature on the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act now that the text has been released.

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