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Guillen family & attorney meet with lawmakers, hopeful for 'I am Vanessa Guillen' Act

Vanessa Guillen
Posted at 8:24 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 16:49:02-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen's family and their attorney met with members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, advocating for reform on how the military handles sexual assault and harassment.

These meetings come over a year after Guillen's death. She had reported sexual harassment at Fort Hood twice before her death, but those reports never made it through the chain of command.

Now, the "I am Vanessa Guillen" Act hopes to take sexual assault and harassment cases out of the military chain of command and to empower victims to speak up. The bill was originally introduced last year but never made it to a vote. It was reintroduced in May.

"A lot of them don't trust their commanders, don't trust the system. Because it's broken, it's been proven broken. It's been proven as a failed system," the Guillen family's attorney, Natalie Khawam, told 25 News from Washington, D.C.

The changes outlined in the bill are now a part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House of Representatives on Thursday evening.

Congressmen Pete Sessions, District 17, and Roger Williams, District 25, voted against the bill, while Congressman John Carter, District 31, voted in support of it. The bill is now headed to the Senate.

Khawam and Spc. Guillen's sister, Mayra, met with four senators on Thursday: Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

"They actually wanted to learn more about who she was as a person, so it was a good experience and I'm hoping for their full support in this," Mayra Guillen said.

Guillen's family and Khawam also hope to get an amendment from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) added to the NDAA. Khawam says the amendment would allow victims of sexual harassment and assault to file claims against the Department of Defense.

"You gotta put teeth in that bill," Khawam said. "You gotta make sure that 'hey, you do something wrong, you're gonna get bit."

Guillen and Khawam said that Sen. Gillibrand told them she is committed to getting the claims amendment added.

They want to continue sharing Vanessa's story with lawmakers and hope to see reforms passed by the end of the year.

"You know, just to think that if this had been in place at the time when Vanessa was struggling with sexual harassment, her murder may have been prevented," Guillen said.