Activists celebrate Vanessa Guillen legislation in Houston

Activists to celebrate Vanessa Guillen legislation in Houston

HOUSTON – Vanessa Guillen’s legacy of change was celebrated by her family and several activists in Houston Thursday.

The celebration honoring her memory and the #IamVanessaGuillen Bill was held at Houston’s Post Oak Hotel.

The celebration comes as the #IamVanessaGuillen Bill was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. President Biden signed the legislation -- designed to offer rights and protections against sexual misconduct in the military -- in late December 2021.

Attorney Natalie Khawam and Tilman Fertitta hosted the Houston event. Several Houston and Texas officials joined the day of celebration including Former Houston Police Department chief Art Acevedo, State Senator John Whitmire, Senator Cesar Blanco, Congressman Adam Smith and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia - just to name a few.

Guillen was 20 when she was killed. She was bludgeoned to death, her body found mutilated and buried in a shallow grave. The Army confirmed in 2021 that Guillen reported sexual harassment twice by someone other than her alleged killer, but Army officials failed to report the harassment further up the chain. Her family members say she was sexually harassed by multiple soldiers before she was killed.

The Houston native’s killing spurred investigations both inside and outside the military that found a pattern of violence and abuse against soldiers at Fort Hood in Killeen, the U.S. military’s largest active-duty base, where Guillen was stationed. Her death also ignited widespread calls for military reform to end sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence. And state and federal lawmakers began drafting bills targeting reform.

In Washington, D.C., the original federal bill bearing her name stalled last year in Congress. But lawmakers, armed with the hope of bipartisan support, introduced a new version of it aimed at increasing accountability and justice within the military, titled the “I Am Vanessa Guillen Act of 2021.”

About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.