AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Decisions on whether to prosecute members of the U.S. military for sexual assault or sexual harassment would be handled outside the chain of command under a measure members of Congress proposed Wednesday that is named for a Texas soldier who was slain by a fellow soldier.
Reps. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, and Markwayne Mullin, a Republican from Oklahoma, said their bill would make sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The bipartisan bill, which has at least 73 cosponsors, also would move prosecution decisions of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases out of the chain of command and instead go to a new chief prosecutor at each branch of the armed forces.
The bill is named I Am Vanessa Guillen after the hashtag that was used by military sexual assault survivors to denounce their experiences on social media when Spc. Vanessa Guillen went missing in April. According to a federal complaint, Guillen was bludgeoned to death at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas. Her body was found on July 1, when a fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, was confronted by police and died by suicide.
Guillen’s family has stated multiple times that Guillen was sexually harassed on the base by a fellow soldier, who they said was Robinson. According to Natalie Khawam, who represents the Guillen family, Guillen told her mother that a soldier of a higher rank walked in and watched her while she was showering.
A coalition of military sexual assault survivors along with Democratic and Republican members of Congress joined Speier, Mullin, the Guillen family and Natalie Khawam, who represents the Guillen family, to present the bill at the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. Army officials said in July that they had found no evidence that Guillen had been sexually harassed by Robinson after Guillen did not formally file a report on the harassment. Officials said they had evidence that Guillen did face other kinds of harassment by other people at the Central Texas base.
In July, U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy ordered an independent review of command climate at Fort Hood and said the investigation into the harassment claims were ongoing. In August, McCarthy said Fort Hood had of the highest rates of murder, sexual assault and harassment in the Army and in September ordered that the investigation into Guillen’s case be expanded to the command’s response from the day she went missing to the day she was found.
LaPorta reported from Delray Beach, Florida. Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.