Rep. Cisneros Introduces Bipartisan I Am Vanessa Guillén Act to Transform the Military’s Response to Sexual Violence and Missing Servicemembers

September 16, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Representative Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA-39) joined Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA-14), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK-02), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), John Carter (R-TX-31), Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16), Pete Olson (R-TX-22), Jason Crow (D-CO-06), Troy Balderson (R-OH-12), and Will Hurd (R-TX-23), and 94 additional cosponsors, in introducing the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act in honor of the late SPC Vanessa Guillén and the many survivors of military sexual violence who have bravely come forward in the wake of her disappearance and brutal murder. The legislation responds to these resounding calls for change by offering provisions that would revolutionize the military’s response to missing servicemembers and reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault by making sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and moving prosecution decisions of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases out of the chain of command. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate today. This morning, following a meeting with the Guillén family, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a commitment to hold a House floor vote on the I am Vanessa Guillén Act. President Trump previously announced his support for the bill during a White House meeting with the Guillén family. The text of the bill can be found here.

“Year after year, we see an increase in reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military and the same statements from military leadership about how unacceptable they are. It’s far past time we take bold action to bring accountability to the system and give survivors support,” said Rep. Cisneros. “In the memory of Specialist Vanessa Guillen, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to make legislative fixes to protect our men and women in uniform. I'm proud to join my colleagues in introducing the bipartisan I Am Vanessa Guillén Act to provide the necessary support and resources for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military. Our servicemembers and military families deserve to have the peace of mind that they'll be heard and treated with dignity and respect.”

On July 7th, Rep. Cisneros joined his colleagues in requesting the Department of Defense Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation into SPC. Guillén’s case. On July 10th, Rep. Cisneros attended a meeting with Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Army General James C. McConville, members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Rep. Garcia to discuss the murder of SPC. Guillén.

SPC Guillén’s disappearance and brutal murder became the catalyst for long overdue change when her family refused to let her case be neglected by Army leadership at Fort Hood. The Guillén family supports the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, and Rep. Cisneros is joining a congressional delegation this weekend to Fort Hood to further investigate matters at the base and speak with servicemembers at all levels about their experiences and how best to accelerate the cultural change that is so urgently needed. 

Specifically, the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would: 

  • Move prosecution decisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases outside of the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor within each military service;
  • Create a standalone military offense for sexual harassment;
  • Establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused;
  • Create a confidential reporting process for sexual harassment that is integrated with DoD’s Catch a Serial Offender database;
  • Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the military’s procedures for finding missing servicemembers and compare with procedures used by civilian law enforcement and best practices;
  • Require both DoD and GAO to conduct separate evaluations of the military services’ Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs; and
  • Establish a process by which servicemembers can make claims for negligence and seek compensatory damages against DoD in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act 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, within each military service, to bring charges. The bill will also allow servicemembers who were sexually harassed or sexually assaulted to pursue monetary claims 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. 

Rep. Cisneros is a Navy Veterean and Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.