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The family of Vanessa Guillén, the 20-year-old Army specialist bludgeoned to death by a fellow soldier at Fort Hood, has filed a $35 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Army.
The suit filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act was filed on Friday, a day after the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled that the sexual assault case of a former army colonel against a retired air force general could proceed.
Previously, the military was protected from claims for damages related to sexual abuse, as it was believed that they were included in a military doctrine which stated that soldiers could not sue for victims of training or fight.
In the case of the Guillén family, their lawyer Natalie Khawam informed the military that Guillén had been the victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault while on duty and that his murder in April 2020 inside the armory of the Killeen military base was the result.
“Why would anyone think, ‘Let me sign up and serve our country, fight for our country, take bullets, be maimed, die for our country’, but when it comes to something ‘As horrible as a sexual assault or something like that, you have no recourse?” Khawam said.
If the military denies the complaint, Khawam said she plans to file a federal lawsuit in California because Guillén told her mother she was sexually harassed in 2019 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin where she was conducting field training exercises in San Bernardino County. An army investigation confirmed these details.
Guillén joined the military shortly after her 18th birthday in 2018 and was thrilled, according to her family in Houston, that she was stationed at Fort Hood, just three hours away.
The Army report and an affidavit from Guillén’s sister, Mayra Guillén, detailed how Vanessa’s personality changed drastically in the fall of 2019 when she revealed to her family that she had been sexually harassed by her fellow soldiers, including an incident in which a supervisor flashed a light on her while she was washing up in the woods during training.
On another occasion, a supervisor asked Guillén in Spanish to participate in a “trio”. Guillén informally reported several incidents of sexual harassment by a superior in his unit, but management failed to take appropriate action.
The heavily redacted Army report includes several examples of how other soldiers knew Guillen was being targeted and harassed.
Khawam said his legal team spoke to several friends and family members who said Guillén had been sexually assaulted. No other details were provided.
Before her disappearance on April 22, 2020, Guillén had told her family that she had thoughts of self-harm but she refrained from reporting the assaults for fear of reprisals.
A Texas Department of Public Safety report that was accidentally released and later sealed by a judge, states that Guillén was not killed by someone who harassed or assaulted her. In it, he details the motive for the murder at the hands of Army specialist Aaron Robinson, who committed suicide as police moved in to arrest him.
Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, who was also accused of helping to hide Guillen’s body, told authorities that Guillén had seen Aguilar’s photo on Robinson’s phone and that he feared Guillén don’t recognize her as another soldier’s wife.
The DPS report said Robinson told Aguilar he was afraid he would get in trouble for violating Army fraternization rules and, as a result, attacked Guillén.
Two months after Guillén disappeared, his remains lay about 20 miles from Fort Hood in Belton.
Guillén’s death prompted the passage of the “I am Vanessa Guillen Act” which removed military commanders from sexual assault investigations. The measure was part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Last week, an analysis by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica found that US Army soldiers charged with sexual assault are half as likely to be detained before trial as those charged with offenses such as consumption and distributing drugs, disobeying an officer or burglary.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can receive confidential help by calling the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s toll-free 24/7 hotline at 800-656-4673 or by visiting their hotline on line.
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