House to vote on ‘I Am Vanessa Guillén’ bill

The House will vote on a bill seeking to overhaul the military justice system in response to the death of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday after a meeting with Guillén’s family.

“Justice is needed for Vanessa, and for the many service members facing an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in our armed forces, too often in the shadows,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“I gave the family my commitment that this important first step to combatting sexual harassment and assault would come to the House Floor for a vote, but the Congress will not stop until we have finally, fully ended this epidemic – in the military, in the workplace and in all places,” she added.

The bill, dubbed the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, was introduced Wednesday by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) at a news conference outside the Capitol building alongside Guillén’s family and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The legislation would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault and harassment charges in the military away from commanders and give it to independent military prosecutors.

It would also make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, create a confidential system to report sexual harassment and require the Government Accountability Office to study how different military branches handle missing service members.

Guillén, whose 21st birthday would have been at the end of this month, went missing from Fort Hood, Texas, in April before some of her dismembered remains were found at the end of June.

Another soldier who was a suspect in her death, Aaron David Robinson, shot and killed himself when authorities attempted to arrest him. A civilian woman, Cecily Ann Aguilar, is awaiting trial on charges that she allegedly helped Robinson dispose of Guillén’s body.

Before her disappearance, Guillén told her family that she was being sexually harassed by a superior. Her disappearance and death inspired others to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and assault in the military, fueled by the social media hashtag “#IAmVanessaGuillén.”

Her death, as well as several others at Fort Hood this year, has sparked several Army investigations. Lawmakers also announced last week they are investigating Fort Hood.

“This particular piece of legislation is going to transform a tragedy into change, not just ordinary change, but tectonic change,” said Speier, who added the bill has 73 co-sponsors.

“I say to the Guillén family: You have our promise that we are going to make sure that Vanessa’s life has not been lost in vain,” Speier added later, turning to address the Guillén family directly.

Speier said the bill would get a vote either in the next few weeks before the House recesses in October or when Congress returns after the November election.

While Guillén’s death is the latest impetus for pushing to change how the military decides to prosecute sexual assault, some lawmakers in both parties and advocates have pushed for changes for years. They argue the current system discourages victims from coming forward and that commanders do not have the proper legal training to make prosecutorial decisions.

But the Pentagon and other bipartisan lawmakers have opposed taking the decision to prosecute outside the chain of command, arguing doing so would undermine the military justice system.

Tags Jackie Speier Nancy Pelosi

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