Washington, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, convened a hearing today to review the epidemic of sexual harassment at Fort Hood and throughout the Department of Defense due to a fear of retaliation and history of coverup. The hearing examined the results of the Inspector General’s review of Fort Hood’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program in light of hundreds of servicemembers who have come forward to share their disturbing experiences with sexual assault and harassment in solidarity with the late SPC Vanessa Guillén. It also included testimony from Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors and advocates and U.S. Army Veterans Melissa Bryant and Lucy Del Gaudio.
“I hear the resounding calls from survivors of military sexual harassment and assault who have come forward to tell their own stories in the wake of the murder of SPC Vanessa Guillén,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. “By failing to effectively prevent and respond to sexual harassment and assault, military leadership has failed these brave survivors and countless other servicemembers still suffering in silence. That is why I am introducing legislation to transform the military’s approach to reporting and investigating sexual harassment and to move prosecution decisions outside of the chain of command to an independent chief prosecutor within the military. For Vanessa, and for all those who have been failed as she was, we must make drastic, transformational change to ensure justice is served and the toxic rot that has eaten away at our armed forces – and some of our best and brightest – for far too long.”
Chair Speier’s legislation will fundamentally reform reporting and investigation of sexual harassment in the military and transform prosecution of sexual harassment and assault by empowering an independent prosecutor to bring charges. Rep. Speier’s bill will also allow servicemembers who were sexually harassed or sexually assaulted to pursue monetary claims for negligence against DoD and will also require a comprehensive GAO review of the military’s sexual harassment and assault prevention and response programs, as well as the military’s procedures for responding to missing servicemembers. Chair Speier plans to announce further details of the pending legislation in the coming days.
“I want all the young people who have marched and protested to know that we are listening. This bill is a culmination of efforts over many years to get justice for servicemembers who have been affected by sexual violence in the military. This bill will honor Vanessa Guillén’s life and legacy, and the thousands of servicemembers advocating for systemic changes. This is how we start to get justice for Vanessa Guillén,” said Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-49).
“Today’s powerful testimony from veterans, survivors, and military officials, shed light on the continuing epidemic of sexual harassment in our military due to a fear of retaliation and the absence of accountability,” said Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. “Far too often, victims of military sexual trauma are not taken seriously, have their sincerity or certainty questioned, and are left without answers, full investigations, or justice. Our military cannot continue to fail our brave survivors like they failed SPC Vanessa Guillen. Servicemembers who put their lives on the line for our country deserve better,” said Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16).
“Sexual harassment in the military is an epidemic of fear and a national security risk that systemically degrades unit cohesion, thus reducing personnel readiness. It compromises mission and personnel readiness by taking servicemembers out of our combat-ready ranks emotionally, physically, and in SPC Guillen’s case—violently and permanently. To add insult to injury, those of us who are lucky enough to survive Military Sexual Trauma (MST) while in the military face uphill battles with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) once we take off the uniform and attempt to claim VA compensation and benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) relating to MST. I want to thank Chairwoman Speier, Ranking Member Kelly, and the Subcommittee on behalf of the thousands of servicemembers, veterans, and allies of all stripes who have mobilized in the last few weeks to demand justice for SPC Vanessa Guillen and the thousands of MST victims who came before her for the opportunity to share our views today and to advocate for swift passage of military justice reforms such as those underlined in Chairwomen Speier’s amendments to the FY2021 NDAA and her standalone legislation,” said Melissa Bryant, Justice for Vanessa grassroots organization member, US Army Veteran and MST Survivor.
“The culture of power and control creates and molds toxic leadership,” said Lucy Del Gaudio, Justice for Vanessa grassroots organization member, US Army Veteran and MST Survivor. “This system is so static, it is a gorilla glued to the floor of the basement. We can’t even see the glass ceiling when it comes to the eradication of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military. If this is going to change, the Department of Defense must take this issue seriously. Zero tolerance must mean zero tolerance for everyone, no matter your rank or title, no matter who you are friends with or who you know. Military justice must be swift, and it must be just.”
Click here to watch the livestream of the hearing.