Almost a year after Vanessa Guillén’s murder she deserves to be remembered.
By Victoria Vidales
One year ago on this coming Thursday, 20 year old Vanessa Guillén vanished without a trace. A U.S Army soldier stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, Guillén’s disappearance and subsquent murder challenged how the US military handles complaints of sexual harrassment, and how the race of victims influences how law enforcement handles missing persons cases. Even a year later Guillén’s spirit lives on as her life and journey inspire others to enact change to prevent her fate from repeating through others. Guillén deserves to be remembered as she was: a devoted daughter and soldier who deserved to live.
According to reports by ABC News, Guillén was murdered on the afternoon she went missing by Specialist Aaron David Robinson. In the months leading up to her murder Guillén had previously confided in her mother that she was repeatedly being sexually harassed by a superior at Fort Hood. She also mentioned that numerous other female soldiers were also being sexually harassed by this individual, yet reports had not achieved a disciplinary response from military personal.
Guillén was officially reported missing the day after she disappeared on April 23; her family immediately suspected foul play. In the months that followed mass search efforts took place to find Guillén. Following interviews from other soldiers, military law enforcement zeroed in on Robinson hoping to uncover his involvement in Guillén’s disappearance. Guillén’s remains were discovered on June 30 near the Leon River and were confirmed to be her’s on July 5. On July 1 Robinson killed himself after being pursued by authorities.
During Guillén’s disappearance her family and the public began to question the Army’s quality of investigation, citing the initial lack of urgency regarding Guillén’s disappearance, and the continued secrecy during the investigation. From the beginning of the investigation Guillén’s family was critical of the US Army’s handling of the case, claiming that they were not being regularly informed of updates or the direction of the investigation. The public was not regularly informed either and a mass demonstration took place on June 13 at Fort Hood made of members of the public concerned for Guillén’s safety.
No one deserves the ongoing abuse that Guillén was subjected to or the kind of brutality that she suffered before her death. Her murder was inhumane and shockingly evil at the hands of another person. Guillén had a family who loved and cherished who she was and were excited to see the person that she would become. Her family repeatedly mentioned her desire to marry her longtime boyfriend and begin a family of her own. Neither of those events will ever happen for Guillén as her life, and everything that life includes, was taken on another’s terms.
Her murder also highlights a desperate need for transformations within the military for soldiers to safely report sexual harrassment and assualt. Before her death, Guillén felt uncomfortable reporting the sexual harassment she was enduring fearing retaliation. All women in the U.S military deserve to be safe and respected by those they serve with. Women are subjected to sexual harassment in all forms of employment and the U.S military is no different. Although the recent #MeToo Movement has helped draw attention and create solidarity amongst victims, sexual harassment continues to be a vile crime that plagues the workforce. Victims need to feel as if they will be heard when they report experiences of workplace abuse and that consequences for the perpetrator, not the victim, will happen.
Guillén’s case did not make national news until sometime after her disappearance. Sometimes when young women are reported missing, particularly young white women, response from media is immediate with national stories within hours. Missing person cases regarding people of color rarely receive the same intense national media attention, which they must. For Guillén, a Latina of Mexican descent, her race may have played a role into how serious the report was taken by the media. Regardless of race, when a person goes missing immediate attention should be given by the media to help with the safe return of a victim. Although Guillén was already dead by the time she was noticed to be missing, other victims may not be and can still have a chance for survival.
Vanessa Guillén was a strong and beloved young woman who deserved so much from the world. Her memory will continue to live on through those that loved her and those who never knew her but who felt so impacted by her story. For members of the Latinx community Guillén represents so many of them and those they care about, forever seeing her face in those they know.
Victoria Vidales '21,