Congressman Panetta, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Support Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma, Provide Oversight

September 16, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) joined Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Jason Crow (D-CO), and Gil Cisneros (D-CA) in introducing the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act to offer greater support to survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) and harassment and improve oversight of military sexual assault cases.

Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén was a 20-year-old U.S. Army soldier who went missing in April of 2020 from Fort Hood, Texas.  Before her disappearance, Guillén shared with family and other soldiers that she was being sexually harassed by a superior and feared coming forward due to retaliation.  SPC Guillén was found dead shortly after.  Authorities believe she was murdered by a fellow Fort Hood soldier.

“SPC Guillén and her family deserve answers and accountability.  Our soldiers answer the call of duty to protect us, and it is our duty to take every opportunity to do the same for them so no family has to experience the same loss and heartache as the Guillén family,” said Congressman Panetta.  “Our bipartisan legislation will work to encourage survivors to come forward, hold perpetrators accountable, and improve the military’s ability to protect its most important resource, the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.”

The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would:

  • Move prosecution decisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases outside of the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor within each military service;
  • Create a standalone military offense for sexual harassment;
  • Establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused;
  • Create a confidential reporting process for sexual harassment that is integrated with DoD’s Catch a Serial Offender database;
  • Require GAO to investigate military procedures for finding missing servicemembers and compare with procedures used by civilian law enforcement and best practices;
  • Require both DoD and GAO to conduct separate evaluations of the military services’ Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs; and
  • Establish a process by which servicemembers can make claims for negligence against DoD in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment

This legislation is endorsed by Protect Our Defenders, Modern Military Association of America, and supported by the Guillén family.

Congressman Panetta joined dozens of his colleagues in calling on the Department of Defense Acting Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation into Fort Hood’s handling of SPC Vanessa Guillén’s case.