One Year Later, I Am (Still) Vanessa Guillén

Apr 22, 2021

Content warning: The following content discusses death, sexual harassment, sexual assault, trauma, and discrimination.

April 22, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the disappearance and death of US Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, who was murdered by a fellow soldier soon after she told her family of the sexual harassment she was experiencing at Fort Hood, but did not report it through official channels due to lack of trust in the system. 

This highly disturbing event cast a spotlight on an issue that has plagued our military servicemembers—and, disproportionately, women—for decades, and that has not yet received the attention nor the action it deserves. In the wake of Vanessa Guillén’s death, the Guillén family campaigned to pass the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act to implement changes designed to decrease incidents of sexual harassment and assault in the military. Women used the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen across social media to share their own military sexual harassment and assault experiences, and to call for change. 

The Mission Continues has reason to be encouraged following the forceful comments made by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at a recent Pentagon press briefing, saying, “We’ve been working at this for a long time in earnest, but we haven’t gotten it right. In my commitment to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and dependents, we’re going to do everything in our power to get it right.” 

We remain committed to doing our part to achieve progress for military servicewomen. Last year The Mission Continues emphatically supported the bipartisan I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, and participated in a working group to plan a highly visible #IAmVanessaGuillén rally in Washington, D.C.. Since then, we have continued to support key legislation like the Deborah Sampson Act for women veterans, and the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act for all women. 

The Mission Continues has a unique position and perspective on this issue, as we have drawn, served and empowered women veterans in high proportions. Our 2021 Annual Survey showed that more than 35% of current TMC participants are women veterans; comparatively, while women represent the fastest growing demographic of veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs currently estimates that they make up only 10% of the veteran population. Surveys from participants in our hallmark Women Veterans Leadership Program indicate that many individual experiences echo Vanessa Guillen’s. In our current cohort, 79% have experienced sexual harassment, and 33% have survived a sexual assault, while serving in the military. 

As women veterans come to The Mission Continues’ programs to further develop their leadership skills, we cannot ignore the impact that sexual assault and harassment have had on their leadership journey, and the challenges created by that trauma. We advocate for change because, until we create a safer and more supportive environment for women in the armed forces, our women veterans will be forced to contend with the insidious harm of having been unseen, unheard—and at times—unsafe, as they strive to fully realize their potential as leaders. 

Until then, we are, still, Vanessa Guillén.

If you’re reading this and you’re a woman who has served in the military, we invite you to join our powerful network of veterans at The Mission Continues. You can also check out our blog to read stories from women veterans across all of our community leadership programs. Additional resources to support your mental health can be accessed below.

Veterans Crisis Line ≫ Connect with a trained responder via phone, text, or chat for free 24/7 mental health support. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255

Veteran Wellness Alliance ≫ Find the clinical care you need.