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Beyond the Verdict: Vanessa Guillén's Legacy Sparks a Call for Reform

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August 18, 2023
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Outside of a courthouse in downtown Waco, Texas, a group of veterans gathered to bring awareness to victims of military sexual harassment and assault. Simultaneously, Cecily Aguilar was inside the courthouse, being sentenced to 30 years in prison for her role in the horrific murder and dismemberment of U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillén.  

The judgment has brought a small amount of peace to the family of Vanessa Guillén, but their efforts for accountability are far from over. 


Vanessa Guillén told her family that she had been the victim of sexual harassment. However, those were not merely allegations. In fact, an Army investigation concluded that not only was she the victim of sexual harassment, but that her leadership failed to act. Furthermore, the investigation concluded that her murderer, Aaron Robinson, had a history of harassing other soldiers in the unit. However, the same investigation claims Robinson had not harassed Guillén. 


Because of the admitted errors by leadership, and the inconsistency surrounding the situation, the Guillén family has elected to pursue their wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. Army. According to the Standard Form 95 filed with the Department of the Army, Office of the Judge Advocate, the damages are listed as $10 million under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and a personal injury claim in the amount of $25 million, for a total of $35 million.


Guillén’s family states that Vanessa felt demoralized after being harassed while on rotation to Fort Irwin. However, Vanessa Guillén was determined to honor her oath and returned to duty. They also claim the U.S. Army failed in their responsibilities to Vanessa.


Among the many other claims in the lawsuit, the family states that Vanessa both feared and suffered retaliation for reporting being sexually harassed. The lawsuit also states the family believes she was sexually assaulted during her career. As a result, the mental distress from both the incidents and the fall out of their discovery, led her to become emotionally distraught, and suicidal.  


The family claims that this type of failure is all too commonplace in the Department of Defense. They have spent the last 3 years insisting the military needs to be held accountable. Other advocacy groups, such as the Pink Berets, have made it their mission to be the voice for those who have felt silenced. 


According to their website, their goal is to, “help those who struggle with their invisible injuries, and emotionally charged wounding to experience a fresh perspective of themselves, their lives, and the act of limitless possibilities. Our hope is to re-inspire in our clients the motivation, willingness, and courage to excel to their best selves so they can continue to live the life they were authentically meant to lead. As a holistic treatment program, we work closely with each client, listening carefully, and guiding her on the pathway toward recovery so she can be empowered.”


However, the group highlights the extreme importance of stopping the trauma before it happens. This begins with leadership, and individual troops holding themselves, and each other accountable. 


To hear more of this discussion with the Pink Berets, listen to our podcast episode below.

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