The documentary, I Am Vanessa Guillen is available to see on Netflix, its directed by Christy Wegener.
The doc reveals the story behind the killing of the 20 year-old soldier Vanessa Guillen on Fort Hood army base in Texas.
Eventually it was revealed that her murderer was a fellow soldier, and her family had to battle long and hard to get justice for Vanessa.
Wegener says: “At the core, this is a story about overcoming the greatest odds imaginable in the name of family, love and justice. This is David vs. Goliath on steroids. Taking on the U.S. military, one of the largest, most powerful institutions in America is no easy feat. In making the film, it was incredible to witness a family, in the most tragic moment of their lives, put their grief aside, step out into the public arena and fight for the greater good.”
“It was important to have this documentary to share with the world,” Guillen family attorney Natalie Khawam said.
Guillen’s sisters, Myra and Lupe, became driven and vocal when she initially went missing, claiming that she had reported sexual harassment in her chain of command at the base in Fort Hood, Texas, which went unaddressed.
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She was murdered on April 22, 2020. The main suspect in her death is a fellow soldier Aaron David Robinson, who committed suicide by shooting himself when he was approved by the police, the same day Guillen’s remains were found.
It was confirmed that Guillen was sexually harassed, but not by Robinson, according to an independent Army report released December 2020. He had, however, also been accused of sexual harassment by another soldier.
The documentary sets the stage by showing the type of person Guillen was in life, a kind, dedicated and driven young lady.
The investigations of mishandling sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood, Texas, led to a much greater conversation about reporting abuse within the U.S. military a whole.
It’s very clear in the documentary that Myra Guillen along with her sister and mother become driven in their quest to get answers about how something like this could happen to any soldier.
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The Guillen family fought for change that made a lasting political impact and will be felt among service members and their families for generations to come.
Mayra Guillen stated; “The issue of sexual assault and harassment in military was pretty much swept under the rug, not talked about… silenced,”
Several politicians fought alongside the Guillen family for a bill to address sexual misconduct outside the chain of command, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, who are featured in the documentary.
“This was not one of those cases the military could sweep under the rug,” Speier said.
Throughout the documentary, Myra Guillen and Khawam urge lawmakers to pass the “I Am Vanessa Guillen Act,” some of which President Joe Biden signed into law as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense spending bill.
The act’s provisions included removing the authority to prosecute sexual offenses from military commanders, meaning decisions to prosecute rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, manslaughter and murder are now handled outside the chain of command. Instead, independent military prosecutors will now handle these cases.
Biden also signed an executive order establishing sexual harassment as an offense within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“[Vanessa’s death] shed light on a very big problem that a lot of people will be talking about, and the reforms that are now in place, I hope they’re for the better of everyone,” Myra Guillen said.
What are Lupe and Mayra Guillen up to these days?
Lupe once said, “Knowing that this could happen to anyone, knowing that there’s more victims out there, would you let your child, your son or daughter, sign a contract with the Army knowing that their life is at risk? My sister deserves to be protected.
Your child deserves to be protected. Don’t let them recruit you until we get justice — until Vanessa gets justice.” Another time, she openly expressed, “What I realized yesterday is that it’s not only the Army’s job to fix this issue, but it’s our job as the people, as someone who is here today alive and in spirit, to speak up about this issue.”
Mayra and Lupe, along with the help of the rest of the Guillen family, have worked hard to establish the I Am Vanessa Guillen Foundation and get the I Am Vanessa Guillen Bill passed.
They have filed a $35 million wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. Army in the hopes of holding them accountable for the events leading up to April 22, 2020, the day of their sister murder.
On a more personal note, Mayra has embraced her role in activism owing to the political work she’s doing, Lupe has since backed away.
The grief effected the youngster even more little more than a year after her sister’s demise, so she decided to retreat to the background and maybe return to her normal school life. The now high school graduate does have plans to attend college and pursue professional journalism, all the while focusing on her family, friends, as well as soccer.
On the other hand, the eldest Guillen daughter is looking forward to a possible political career, especially as she’s currently working towards getting another military reform bill passed.