Senators Hirono, Booker Introduce I Am Vanessa Guillen Act

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WASHINGTON – Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Sept. 16 introduced the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, legislation that addresses sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military by removing decisions about prosecuting those cases from the chain of command, establishing independent investigators outside of the chain of command, and creating a stand-alone punitive article for sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Vanessa Guillen

“Vanessa Guillen’s story makes painfully clear the need for a better response to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military,” Hirono said. “The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act knocks down barriers to reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault and directly addresses the culture that protects the perpetrators of these crimes. It’s time to make a system that respects and protects survivors.”

“It’s far past time we address the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in our military and change a system where these cases aren’t reported because of fears of retribution from superiors,” said Booker. “The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act will make major changes to how our military handles these cases, including moving prosecution decisions out of the complainant’s chain of command, while also increasing oversight of the military’s handling of missing soldier cases. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in support of this bill.”

The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act would:

• Shift prosecutorial decisions on sexual harassment and sexual assault cases outside the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor established within each military service

• Create a stand-alone punitive article for sexual harassment under the UCMJ

• Establish and train sexual harassment investigators outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused

• Further integrate the existing Department of Defense Catch a Serial Offender database with the sexual harassment confidential reporting process

• Create a process for service members to make claims of negligence against the Department of Defense and seek compensatory damages in cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment

• Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate and provide a report on the military’s procedures to find missing service members, and compare them with best practices and procedures used by civilian law enforcement

• Require evaluations from both the Department of Defense and GAO of the military’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs

The legislation is named after SPC Vanessa Guillen, a soldier stationed at Fort Hood who went missing in April after facing sexual harassment and whose remains were found two months later. She had not reported her claims to her chain of command out of fear of retaliation. The bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), and more than 100 other members of Congress.

Hirono has fiercely advocated for reforms to the military justice system. Since 2013, she has co-sponsored the Military Justice Improvement Act, legislation that professionalizes how the military prosecutes crimes like sexual assault.

In 2017, the senator questioned the commandant of the Marine Corps about addressing sexual assault and the mistreatment of women in the military. The following year, the senator secured the passage of a measure aiming to close a loophole in the UCMJ that allows convicted abusers to purchase firearms.

Additionally, Hirono asks all nominees that come before the committees she serves on — including the Senate Armed Services Committee — whether they have a history of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

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