The Vanessa Guillén Act was signed towards the end of 2021 and came into effect on January 1st 2022. The act is seen to be a huge leap in the right direction and will hopefully help reduce the instances of sexual assault and harassment in the military. It will also bring more abusers to justice and give hope to the victims and allow them to come forward with more ease.
The number of Sexual Assault cases in the military per year.
It is estimated that roughly 20,000-21,000 cases of sexual assault take place every year in the US military. According to the 2018 Annual Report by the Defense Department of Sexual Assault in the Military, a survey showed that 20,500 members were sexually assaulted or raped, with 13,000 of these victims being women. Out of this, only 203 cases led to the conviction of the assailant. 2019 saw 20,000 such cases with only 138 convictions. In both years, the percentage of cases that resulted in convictions was less than 1%.
Implications of Sexual Assault.
Sexual assault and physical violence in the military are sometimes part of hazing rituals. Senior members use their authority to bully the junior members and these cases often go unreported due to fear. This bullying sometimes lasts for years and often takes a toll on the mental health of the victims. Many victims turn to self-mutilation, drug abuse, or alcohol abuse as a way to deal with the pain they carry with them.
What exactly is The Vanessa Guillén Law?
The new Vanessa Guillén Act was signed by the president last year. This law dictates that military commanders will no longer be part of the investigations of military sexual harassment or sexual assault cases. The decision to prosecute sexual assault and sexual harassment cases in the military will be made outside the service member’s chain of command and the victims will be offered protection against retaliation. This will increase the trust of victims in the justice system and hopefully encourage them to come forward.
The act is named after Vanessa Guillén, who was a 20-year-old US Army Specialist. Back in April 2020, she was stationed in Fort Hood before disappearing from the base. Two months later, her dismembered body was found. It was later found that the prime suspect in the case was sexually harassing her and she had informed her family about it.
The effect of this tragic incident
This tragic incident rang alarm bells because it showed that these men and women are not afraid to die in the line of duty and are not afraid to put their lives on the line for their country, but they are afraid to report incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Certain survivors have claimed that they tried to report these disturbing practices to the higher-ups but nothing came of those reports.
According to Neal Goldstein, partner at Goldstein and Bashner, “The passing of this bill is a bittersweet moment. Although it is something that people have been working to get signed for years because it will bring many to justice, we can never forget how devastating the event was that finally triggered it.”
Organizations like “Protect Our Defenders” are being run to help victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. This organization in particular is run by Col. Don Christensen, who has been working as a lawyer for 30 years and advocates for better laws. According to him, the military justice system is still decades behind the civilian world. However, he hopes that new acts like this will bring reform.