‘Hopefully he takes action’ – Vanessa Guillen’s family rallies in Washington, meets with President Trump
WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A rally for justice took place in the nation’s capital Thursday for the 20-year-old slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen. A day full of events spanning from the US Capitol to the White House. Folks gathered in more-than 90-degree weather, crying out that they are not giving up their fight for justice for Guillen and other service members dealing with issues of sexual assault and harassment.
The Guillen family and their attorney Natalie Khawam kicking off the day, discussing what they hope becomes legislation titled the #IAmVanessaGuillen Act. The text of the bipartisan bill is still being finalized. In part it would allow service members to report sexual assault and harassment to an independent body rather than up their chain of command.
“Our military deserves better. They deserve to be protected,” said Khawam.
Khawam said if Vanessa had the option to report her alleged harassment to an independent body, the situation may have unfolded differently. Vanessa’s sister Lupe was emotional at the podium as she joined the rally.
“Vanessa you’re hearing this wherever you are. You know I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to be silent. Because you taught me to never give up,” said Guillen.
The crowd set out on foot on the National Mall toward the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Consistent cries rang out during the almost two-mile march to the White House, calling for systemic change in the military.
At the White House Khawam and family members met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office for an emotional sit down.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it. Maybe things can come out that can help other people in a situation like Vanessa,” said President Trump.
The president offered to help with Vanessa’s funeral and said he would like to help in this case and others like it.
The Department of Defense says they do not comment on pending or proposed legislation.
But in response to an inquiry about the idea of service members reporting sexual harassment to a third-party rather than up the chain of command, a spokesperson said in a statement, “The Department of Defense does not tolerate harassment of any kind. Commanders are essential to maintain good order and discipline in the ranks – and to prevent and appropriately respond to these behaviors.
Removal of the commander outsources authority for discipline, as well as undermines commander accountability and the chain of command relationship. Any delay in receiving critical information would thus delay the ability of commanders to appropriately act on such information. The Department continues to encourage reporting of harassment and other problematic behaviors. Our policy requires the Secretaries of the Military Departments and other DoD Component Heads to hold leaders at all levels appropriately accountable for fostering a climate that is free from harassment and does not tolerate retaliation against those making allegations of harassment.”
Lupe is hopeful after the meeting with the president.
“Hopefully he takes action…because actions speak louder than words,” said Guillen.
As far as the potential legislation becoming law, it is an election year in the middle of a pandemic meaning floor time and votes are hard to come by. In addition to that the bill still has not been introduced. But the family and attorney say they are optimistic the bill passes by the end of the year.
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