US Sen. Hirono and Colleagues Reintroduce I Am Vanessa Guillen Act
US Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) — along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) — reintroduced the I am Vanessa Guillen Act.
The legislation addresses sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military by removing decisions about prosecuting those cases from the chain of command; requiring independent investigations for sexual harassment outside of the chain of command; and creating a standalone punitive article for sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
The bill also was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), along with more than 170 members of Congress.
The legislation is named after Specialist Vanessa Guillen, a soldier stationed at Fort Hood who went missing in April 2020 after facing sexual harassment and whose remains were found two months later. Her murderer, a fellow Army soldier, committed suicide while being pursued by investigators. A subsequent Army investigation determined Specialist Guillen made two reports of sexual harassment against a separate superior in the months prior to her murder, but a supervisor failed to initiate an investigation.
“Vanessa Guillen’s story underscores why we need a stronger, more effective response to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military,” Sen. Hirono said. “The I am Vanessa Guillen Act shifts prosecutorial decisions for sexual harassment and sexual assault outside the chain of command and requires sexual harassment allegations to be investigated outside the immediate chain of command. These changes are in line with the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Independent Review Commission’s preliminary recommendations.
“I have advocated for years to change how the military addresses sexual harassment and sexual assault, and it is past time for us to make necessary changes that respect survivors and restore faith in the military justice system by passing the I am Vanessa Guillen Act.”
The I am Vanessa Guillen Act would:
- Shift prosecutorial decisions for sexual harassment and sexual assault cases outside the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor established within each military service.
- Create a standalone punitive article for sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused to investigate all claims of sexual harassment.
- Implement the recommendations of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee Report to strengthen the independence and effectiveness of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program.
- Require both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Comptroller General to conduct separate evaluations of the military services’ sexual assault prevention and response programs.
- Establish a process by which servicemembers can make claims for negligence against DoD in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
“One year after the senseless murder of SPC Vanessa Guillen, and after two damning reviews, the need for fundamental reform of the military’s approach to sexual assault and sexual harassment has never been more urgent,” said Rep. Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “Military leadership has had decades to solve this problem, yet continues to fail. Toxic command climates, rampant sexual violence, lack of accountability and retaliation against survivors continue to worsen.
“Congress must enact these reforms this year to achieve justice for Vanessa Guillen and all survivors of sexual violence. We must send a message to all servicemembers about the nation’s expectations for their conduct and the culture of the military. Congress must pass the I am Vanessa Guillen Act this year.”
Senator Hirono has been a longtime advocate for reforms to the military justice system. Since 2013, she has cosponsored the Military Justice Improvement Act, legislation that professionalizes how the military prosecutes crimes like sexual assault.
In 2017, the Senator questioned the commandant of the Marine Corps about addressing sexual assault and the mistreatment of women in the military. The following year, the Senator secured the passage of a measure aiming to close a loophole in the UCMJ which allows convicted abusers to purchase firearms.