Human remains discovered in Fort Hood, Texas on Tuesday, are now increasingly suspected to belong to missing soldier Vanessa Guillen. The 20-year-old was a Private (first class) in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, and had been missing for over two months. Partial human remains were discovered near Leon River in Bell County. Some more remains were recovered from a shallow grave nearby.
Guillen had gone missing after telling family members that her superiors were sexually harassing her, but she feared reporting the abuse could lead to retaliation. She was last seen in the parking lot of her barracks at Fort Hood on the morning of April 22.
On Wednesday, lawyer Natalie Khawam who represents the Guillen family told reporters, “Vanessa did report the sexual harassment to her family. She reported it to her sisters, she reported it to her mother, she reported it to her friends, she reported it to other soldiers on base.”
According to Khawam, in one instance of sexual harassment, one of Vanessa’s superiors had walked into the shower when Vanessa was showering and watched her. She had demanded an investigation by an unbiased, independent agency. Khawam has also demanded a Congressional enquiry into an alleged cover up of the circumstances that led to Guillen’s disappearance and possible murder.
Also addressing the press, an emotional Lupe Guillen, Vanessa’s sister demanded answers, “How could this happen on a military base? How could this happen when she was on duty?” A livid Lupe said, “They take sexual harassment, sexual assault as a joke,” adding “My sister is no joke. My sister is a human being and I want justice.”
Shortly afterwards there were calls to shut down Fort Hood. Meanwhile, hundreds of women soldiers have come out as survivors of sexual harassment and even rape on Twitter using the #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN hashtag.
“I was at my first duty station 11 yrs ago. I was sleeping, Drunk Marines kicked in my barracks door and raped me. I finally locked myself in the bathroom and they yelled no one will believe you, you are a new female, we will get away with this,” tweeted a woman identifying herself as Emily.
Another woman identifying herself as Tiffany tweeted, “I was sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, raped, & physically threatened, while at my first base, 12 yrs ago. I didn’t report it until 2019. I am one of the many faces of military sexual trauma.”
Yet another survivor shared, “In 2006 I was brutally raped by a member of the United States Coast Guard. I was locked up in a closet for reporting the rape. I was blamed, shamed, and eventually lost my career.”
Meanwhile, a DNA test has been ordered on the remains that were discovered and results are awaited. In another development, a man identified as Specialist Aaron David Robinson, said to be a key accused in the sexual harassment of Guillen, was found dead by suicide on Wednesday according to the Killeen Police Department. Two other suspects, including possibly a woman, are said to be in custody.
At a news conference on Thursday, Senior Special Agent Damon Phelps of the U.S Army Criminal Investigation Command told reporters, “While law enforcement agencies attempted to make contact with the suspect in Killeen, Texas, Specialist Robinson displayed a weapon and took his own life.”
Also, on Thursday, Khawam came up with more information as to how Guillen may have been killed. She told reporters that Guillen was hit with a hammer during an altercation with the now deceased Robinson, whose advances Guillen has spurned in the past. The altercation may have taken place in the armory room, and that her remains were subsequently dismembered. The incident reportedly took place on the day before she was going to file a formal complaint against Robinson. But all this points to not only a wider culture of sexual harassment and abuse of women soldiers, but also suggests that the impunity and frequency of such crimes can be attributed to an elaborate culture of hushing up cases and blaming survivors.