WACO, Texas — After the murder of Vanessa Guillen in 2020 following her claims of sexual assault, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and activists went to work to make sure it didn't happen again. They introduced the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, calling for change.
"For too long we've been told status quo would change, but guess what? Status quo has not changed," Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa said. "When members of the military are sexually assaulted, they aren't getting the justice they deserve."
Some of the bills made it into the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, including more security for service members and a new Safe Helpline military personnel can call if they are victims of sexual assault or harassment instead of making the claim in person.
"While there's no doubt those are important advances, this bill does not reform the military justice system in a way that will truly help survivors get justice," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said.
"We were happy to see the aspects of the Vanessa Guillen Act make it in, but what we didn't see was the wholesale change we were hoping to see in regard to how military justice engages significant felony military behavior," Vice Chairman of the League of United Latin American Citizens Leonard Gonzales said.
LULAC was part of the big push to change the sentencing for felonies to come out of the commander's hands and into an outside prosecutor, but Gonzales told 25 News the way the military investigates and punishes criminal activity is still inside the military.
"If they make a choice to prosecute or not prosecute because they like somebody or those biases enter into discussion, I think that's totally inappropriate," Gonzales said.
Gonzales said he still hopes to see that change made sometime in the near future so service members like Vanessa Guillen can be heard and protected.