A year after 20-year-old U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen was reported missing from Fort Hood in Texas, her family appealed to President Biden on Thursday to make good on his campaign promises by joining in their fight to end sexual violence in the military and backing a newly introduced bill named for the slain soldier.
Natalie Khawam, an attorney representing the family, contrasted how Guillen’s case and that of George Floyd were handled after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted this week for the murder and manslaughter of Floyd last May.
“Our country stands today begging for Congress, the Department of Defense to change what’s happened… Where are we a year ago today?” the attorney asked. “This week there was a decision with George Floyd’s case. The trial’s over. The family received a $27 million settlement. Everyone says to me, ‘How much did this family receive?’… They received nothing.”
Khawam spoke during a press conference at the U.S. Navy Memorial Thursday at what she said investigators found out to be the exact time one year ago that Vanessa Guillen was bludgeoned to death inside an armory room at the base by another enlisted soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson. He fatally shot himself on July 1, 2020 in nearby Killeen, Texas, as authorities were closing in on him to bring him into custody.
“She was in a box,” Khawam said. “Her body was folded like a napkin.”
There still is no trial date set for Cecily Aguilar, who was Robinson’s girlfriend and has been charged as an accomplice to Guillen’s murder for allegedly helping to dispose of her body, the attorney said. Guillen’s body was dismembered, burned and discarded by a river.
“All these victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault… they get nothing because when you serve in our Army, our military you’re not entitled to any compensation for wrongful death,” Khawam said. “How many times do I have to say, these young men and women sign up to take a bullet for us, for our country, for our freedom, our safety, but they’re not afraid of a bullet — They’re not afraid to die for our country. But they’re afraid to report sexual harassment.”
Unlike former President Donald Trump, President Biden has not met with the Guillen family. Trump held a meeting with the family at the White House last July and backed the first “I Am Vanessa Guillen” bill introduced to Congress in September.
“I want to call out President Biden. He sent out a statement last year – you can look it up — while he was in election that ‘we owe it to the families of people who put on the uniform every day for us we must end this epidemic of sexual violence in the military,’” Vanessa’s sister, Lupe Guillen, said Thursday. “Well, months later we’re trying to meet with you, we’re trying to get your support for this legislation – the ‘I Am Vanessa Guillen Act,’” she continued, addressing the president. “Because if you really care, because I know you had a son in the armed forces, and you know how it feels to lose a son, like my father lost her daughter, I ask you to please support us in this fight for justice.”
Khawam said Guillen’s family met with U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., who support what she says is a “bi-partisan” bill.
The bill was introduced last September but was never voted on before the end of that session of Congress. It is expected to be re-introduced on Thursday and aims to create an independent system where members of the armed forces can safely report sexual misconduct cases without fear of retaliation by moving prosecution decisions out of the chain of command.
Khawam said she asked that the family be allowed to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Biden, on Wednesday but were told both were unavailable.
“We’re asking that people start becoming available. Be available for this family. Be accountable,” Khawam said. “Going back to the whole thing with George Floyd and Vanessa Guillen, Vanessa was murdered at this time last year, April 22. George Floyd was murdered May 25. They were both murdered. They were both human beings. A year later, George Floyd’s case is settled and the trial has finished. He received justice, his family received justice. This family has no justice.”
“What does that tell our country? What does that tell our men and women who join the armed forces and that are in the armed forces? Because you put on your uniforms every day, you don’t have a voice, you don’t have any protections. Isn’t that discrimination?” Khawam said. “We’re here today to say stop forgetting about people and lives and start protecting them.”