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Vanessa Guillén's sister says her $35 million lawsuit against the Army shows it can't hide sexual violence in its ranks anymore

Business Insider India logo Business Insider India 20-08-2022 Sophia Ankel
Vanessa Guillén's sister says her $35 million lawsuit against the Army shows it can't hide sexual violence in its ranks anymore © Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images Vanessa Guillén's sister says her $35 million lawsuit against the Army shows it can't hide sexual violence in its ranks anymore
  • The family of murdered US Army soldier Vanessa Guillén filed a $35 million lawsuit against the Army.
  • Guillén's sister, Mayra, told Insider she hopes the lawsuit "opens the door for justice."

The sister of Vanessa Guillén, the murdered US Army soldier, says her family's $35 million lawsuit against the Army shows that it can no longer hide sexual violence in its ranks.

Guillén, 20, was sexually harassed, killed, and dismembered during her service at the Fort Hood military base in Texas in 2020, an investigation by military officials found.

Her family said she told them before her death that she had been sexually harassed on multiple occasions, but that she was too scared to report this. When a friend tried to report these cases on her behalf, Guillén faced major retaliation and told her family she wanted to kill herself, the family said.

The family filed a claim last Friday seeking $35 million in damages from the Department of the Army — $10 million for wrongful death and $25 million for personal injury.

The lawsuit said Guillén "was being sexually harassed multiple times by multiple higher-ups in her chain of command," and that she "suffered mental anguish, fear, emotional distress, physical injury, and death as a result of sexual harassment, rape, sodomy, and physical assault" in the months before she was killed.

The family also accused the Army of initially failing to address the reports of sexual harassment. In the lawsuit, they said the Army refused "to accept that there was any sexual harassment involved since the very beginning," and that leaders claimed that "sexual harassment was not criminal."

'No actual accountability'

Guillén's older sister, Mayra, told Insider that the highly visible lawsuit shows the military can no longer ignore its problem with sexual violence, adding that she hopes it will open "the door for justice."

"There is no actual accountability against aggressors and abusers [in the military]," Guillén told Insider. "There must be a harsher punishment. Otherwise, this behavior will continue to rise and be considered normal in the military world."

"I want to keep working on my sister's case until it is fulfilled until there is complete justice," she added.

Natalie Khawam, the Guillén family's lawyer, told Insider's Yoonji Han: "This is progressing our judicial system. We're no longer hiding sexual harassment and sexual assault. We're taking the bulls by the horns and saying enough is enough."

'I Am Vanessa Guillén'

Sexual harassment in the military has dramatically surged in the last two years.

Women make up just 16.5% of the US armed services, but nearly one in four servicewomen have reported sexual assault while in the military, The New York Times reported, citing studies published in the Trauma, Violence & Abuse journal in 2018.

Guillén's murder drew nationwide attention and prompted other servicewomen to come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the US military.

Two former servicewomen previously told Insider that, like Guillén, they were scared to report their stories to the military, and when they did, they faced a lack of internal support.

Mayra Guillén told Insider that since Vanessa's death over two years ago, she had dedicated most of her time running the "I am Vanessa Guillén" foundation, which advocates changing the command climate and culture surrounding sexual harassment in the military.

Last December, their efforts paid off: President Joe Biden signed the "I am Vanessa Guillén Act" into law, which removed military commanders from sexual-assault investigations and criminalized sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The US Army has not responded to Insider's request for comment on this story. A spokesperson told Insider earlier this week: "As a matter of policy, the Army does not comment on ongoing litigation."

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