More than 90 lawmakers demand an investigation into the Army’s handling of Vanessa Guillén case
"We are dismayed that we must ask these questions in the wake of SPC Guillén’s disappearance."
The Army may have some explaining to do.
In the wake of the disappearance and alleged murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén from Fort Hood, dozens of lawmakers are calling on other U.S. agencies to investigate the Army's handling of Guillén's case, and the Army's sexual assault prevention program.
Though Army investigators say they haven't yet found evidence that Guillén was being sexually harassed, the soldier's family said that she told them she was, but that she wasn't comfortable reporting it.
The first letter came last Thursday, as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), requested a “full investigation” into the Army's response to Guillén's disappearance from the Pentagon's Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell.
“Having each spent much of the last decade working assiduously to address sexual assault in the military and the culture that enables it, we are dismayed that we must ask these questions in the wake of SPC Guillén’s disappearance, but remain resolved to continue making the military a safer place for all,” Gillibrand and Speier wrote.
They also wrote that the Army's “shortcomings” in preventing sexual harassment and assault, and responding to “criminal acts” are not “limited to a single case or installation.”
Then on Monday, Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), wrote in support of Gillibrand and Speier's letter. Eighty-seven other members of Congress signed onto Garcia's letter.
Today, 87 of my colleagues joined me in expressing support for @RepSpeier and @SenGillibrand’s request for the @DeptofDefense Acting Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation into Fort Hood’s handling of SPC Vanessa Guillen’s case.#JusticeForVanessaGuillen pic.twitter.com/5mZJa4A2iF
— Rep. Sylvia Garcia (@RepSylviaGarcia) July 6, 2020
The same day Garcia sent off her request, Army veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illin.) called for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program.
“[R]ecent high-profile incidents raise troubling questions about whether SHARP is achieving its objectives, let alone preventing sexual harassment and assault,” Duckworth said in a letter to Gene Dodaro, the U.S. Comptroller General and head of the GAO.
Duckworth asked Dodaro to conduct “a comprehensive review into the SHARP program's effectiveness,” and compile interviews from soldiers about their experiences with the program. That information, she wrote, would help Congress decide what pieces of the program are or are not working.
Though Duckworth cited the allegations from Guillén's family, she also cited allegations against the Army Reserve's 416th Theater Engineer Command. The Army is currently conducting an investigation into the 416th TEC's SHARP program, after allegations were made that the unit failed to properly address complaints of sexual assault and harassment for years.
Related: ‘A failure of command’ — How one soldier’s sexual harassment case forced a reckoning among leaders in the Army Reserve
Guillén's case set off a chain reaction of the military's own version of the #MeToo movement, as service members across the Defense Department share their own experiences with assault and harassment under the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillén.
“Vanessa's case feels so personal because it could have been me,” a woman who identified herself as an Army veteran posted on Facebook.
“Commands just sweep it under the rug,” another woman said of allegations of sexual assault in the Army.
On Monday, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, III Corps deputy commanding general, said during a brief press conference that Fort Hood would continue to assist with the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Guillén's alleged murder.
He also said that they would continue the investigation of her family's sexual harassment allegations, and that he would continue to “seek external assistance and review” to ensure “any shortcomings” identified are addressed.
The Army opened a four-day investigation into Fort Hood's SHARP program last week, sending a seven-person team from U.S. Army Forces Command's Inspector General to the installation. The team was looking to find any “potentially systemic issues” within the program, and if the command climate at Fort Hood is “supportive of soldiers reporting incidents of sexual harassment and assault.”
It remains unclear what findings the investigation produced.
When asked by Task & Purpose if the Army is confident that the SHARP program is achieving its objective and producing the desired outcome in helping soldiers, an Army spokesperson said that the service is “committed to enhancing the readiness of our formations through the reduction, with the eventual goal of elimination, of sexual assault and sexual harassment, through prevention.”
“The Army is dedicated to enhancing prevention while emphasizing each member's responsibility to intervene at the first sign of deviation from Army values,” said Col. Sunset Belinsky, spokeswoman for the Army.
In response to a question of if the Army believes the investigation into Spc. Guillén's disappearance was handled efficiently and appropriately, the Belinsky said that CID agents have worked “around the clock” to investigate Guillén's disappearance, and have “conducted a tremendous amount of investigative work.”
“Army CID continues following up on every single piece of credible information and every lead as this criminal investigation continues.”