Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Texas soldier, went missing in April 2020 mysteriously. Her body remains were discovered a couple of months later and a fellow army mate was charged with her murder. Now, the deceased soldier’s family is seeking $35 million in damages.
More than two years have passed since Guillen’s murder. A lot has happened over the course including President Joe Biden signing an Executive Order that established sexual harassment as a specific offense under the UCMJ.
Her case is seen as a huge step in the right direction for sexual assault victims in the U.S. military. Guillen’s family has now filed a lawsuit against the government. Read on to know more.
Vanessa Guillen’s Family Files a $35 Million Lawsuit Against Government
Vanessa Guillen was a soldier in the U.S. Military positioned at Fort Hood. She was killed inside the armory by another soldier named Aaron David Robinson. Guillen’s family says Vanessa was also the victim of abuse, assault, rape, and wrongful death.
Approximately two years after her death, Vanessa Guillen’s family filed a lawsuit against the U.S government seeking $35 million in damages.
BREAKING: the family of slain Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the U.S. government. The lawsuit says Guillen was harassed at Fort Hood, and told her family she didn’t report it in fear of retaliation. pic.twitter.com/wloxFtXKFO— Erica Simon (@EricaOnABC13) August 13, 2022
The lawsuit comes after a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal decided in San Francisco on Thursday, August 12, 2022, that an Army colonel could proceed with a lawsuit against a former Air Force General over a sexual assault allegation.
“From October 1, 2019, to April 22, 2020, SPC. Vanessa Guillen suffered mental anguish, fear, emotional distress, physical injury, and death as a result of sexual harassment, r*pe, sodomy, and physical assault. Further Vanessa Guillen and her heirs have lost her livelihood and income to the date of her natural death,” the lawsuit states.
What does Vanessa Guillen’s attorney say about the lawsuit?
Natalie Khawam, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Vanessa Guillen’s family said, “This will be an opportunity for every victim to feel not only like they have a voice but that they can be made whole.”
“Historically you couldn’t sue the DOD if you’re a victim of sexual harassment/assault due to the DOD’s broad misapplication of the Feres Doctrine, a 1950’s Supreme Court decision that never included or addressed sexual assault, yet the DOD continued to use that case to evade accountability,” she told CNN.
“This week the 9th Circuit held that sexual assault is not incident to service, and therefore the Feres Doctrine should not apply to service members who are sexually assaulted.”
“Our service members deserve the same rights and protections we all have. They have been denied these basic protections for too long. They signed up to take a bullet for our country, not to be sexually assaulted while serving. The 9th Circuit’s ruling is a major step in seeking Justice for Vanessa, and all victims of sexual assault,” Khawam added.
Vanessa Guillen Murder Case: Everything you need to know
Vanessa Guillen, 20, was stationed at Fort Hood, a U.S. Army installation in Bell County, Texas. She was killed (bludgeoned to death with a hammer) inside an armory by another soldier, Aaron David Robinson.
Guillen was last seen around 1:00 PM on April 22, 2020. After that, she went missing for more than two months. On June 30, 2022, some of her dismembered body remains were found buried along the Leon River by Army Investigators.
Upon hearing about the discovery of Guillen’s body parts, Robinson fled Fort Hood and fatally shot himself. Law enforcement was attempting to apprehend him nearby, in Killeen, Texas.
Cecily Aguilar, a local woman who was identified as Robinson’s girlfriend, was taken into custody. She is alleged to have assisted Robinson in dismembering and burying Guillen’s body. On July 2, 2020, she was charged with one federal count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
Vanessa’s mother, Gloria Guillen, had also revealed that Vanessa was sexually assaulted repeatedly by an unnamed army officer. She had advised her to report the incident to officials. However, Vanessa didn’t report it due to the fear that it would go in vain.
Who was Vanessa Guillen?
Vanessa Guillen was born in Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, Texas, on September 30, 1999. Her parents originated from Zacatecas State in Mexico. Guillen attended Hartman Middle School and graduated from César E. Chávez High School in 2018.
She was among the top 15% of her class. Vanessa played soccer, loved to jog, and enjoyed sports and learning. She joined the United States Army in June 2018 and trained as a 91F, Small Arms and Artillery Repairer.
Guillen was brutally murdered in April 2020 by a fellow army mate. She was advanced from Private First Class to the rank of Specialist on July 1, 2020, posthumously.
Why was Vanessa Guillen killed?
A document from the Texas Department of Public Safety was filed on May 19, 2022, which revealed why Vanessa Guillen was killed by Aaron David Robinson in April 2020. It was filed in federal court and confirmed the motive behind the murder.
The document describes an interview with Cecily Aguilar, the only person charged in the case. When the authorities asked Aguilar why her boyfriend Robinson killed Guillen, she told the authorities that he did it because of violating the Army’s fraternization rules.
“Guillen saw Robinson’s cell phone lock screen, which contained a picture of Aguilar,” states the document. “He told her he was worried about getting in trouble for violating the Army’s fraternization rules since Aguilar was still married to another soldier and he hit Guillen in the head with a hammer.”
Aguilar, who was indicted with 11 counts by a grand jury in July 2020, was dating Robinson, despite being married to another soldier, Keon Aguilar.
this article originally posted on bareillycollege.org
Guillen’s Murder Case led to positive developments for Sexual Assault Victims
Vanessa Guillen was also forced into silence because she feared the consequences of speaking out. The lawsuit filed by her family mentions at least two incidents of sexual harassment faced by the young soldier at her base camp.
“Prior to a Regimental Field Training Exercise in September 2019 a higher up solicited my sister to participate in a sex**l act, which she translated from English to Spanish a “threesome”…The second incident occurred when Vanessa was conducting personal hygiene during the Regimental Field Training Exercise in the same time frame,” reveals her sister Mayra Guillen.
These unfortunate events severely impacted Vanessa’s mental health to the point where she repeatedly thought about killing herself. Her horrifying murder shed light on the perilous environment in which women soldiers worked.
After this incident, several military personnel and former soldiers have come out to speak about their own experiences of facing harassment in the base camps. They are using the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen for the movement.
The tragic case has inspired the Military Justice Reform Bill. It will now strip all authority from military commanders and will instead provide independent prosecutors with the agency when allegations of sexual assault and other heinous crimes are made.