April 22 marked two years since the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen from Fort Hood, Texas.
Guillen continues to be remembered through her family, friends and activists around the world who share her story. Her untimely death changed the way the military handles sexual assault and harassment issues in work environments. Changes made to the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program aim to mitigate toxic work environments that make reporting difficult and aim to educate.
Born and raised in Houston, Guillen left her home at 18 to enlist in the United States Army. Her mother, Gloria Guillen, shared that her daughter sparked an interest in the military at a young age. Her mother said that Guillen had always been athletic, perfect for the military scene.
Her sister, Mayra Guillen, has continued to advocate for improvement on sexual assault misconduct reporting since her death. The Senate passed the “National Defense Authorization Act” which will now make sexual harassment a crime under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
The act aims to reduce conflicts of interest and protects victims of sexual harassment. Her sister was pleased with the act, hoping to bring change for those that need it. “I’d rather my sister be honored than forgotten,” she said.
Guillen was last seen April 22, 2020. Her disappearance was reported the following day. On April 24, 2020, the Criminal Investigation Command asked for the public’s help in search for Guillen on and near Fort Hood. Her body was eventually found on June 30, near Leon River in a large box that came from her company’s arms room.
A charge was made against Spc. Aaron Robinson on July 2, for the murder of Guillen. Robinson was detained, but somehow got away and committed suicide before an actual arrest could be made. His girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, was the only person charged in connection to Guillen’s murder.
Released court documents revealed Robinson confessed to Aguilar that he repeatedly struck Guillen on the head with a hammer, resulting in her death. After placing Guillen’s body in the box, Robinson picked up Aguilar from her job and drove to the lake where they dismembered and burned Guillen’s remains.
Aguilar has since been indicted for her involvement with the murder, facing 11 criminal counts.
Before she was murdered, Guillen reported two incidents where she was sexually harassed to her company, but no action was taken. A total of 21 of Guillen’s leaders were fired or suspended after an investigation was launched to see how sexual assault and harassment incidents are handled within the unit. Sexual harassment complaints against Robinson were also made by other Soldiers with no action taken by the command.
The death of Guillen has opened the eyes of many, especially in the military. Reform was needed in order to make environments for all Soldiers better.
Survivors in the military will now be allowed to report SHARP related incidents outside of the military through the “I am Vanessa Guillen Act” where protection against relation will also be offered.
Although Guillen’s time in the military was cut short, her story lives on forever. Her death transformed the way sexual assault reporting is handled within the ranks and proves how important it is to intervene when needed. The month of April is dedicated to bring awareness to sexual assault, but awareness and change does not have to end there.