Hudson Introduces Vanessa Guillén Act to Combat Sexual Assault in the Military
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Richard Hudson (NC-08), Fort Bragg's Congressman, joined Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, and Congressman Michael R. Turner (R-OH), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, along with co-leads Representatives Anthony G. Brown (D-MD), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) to introduce a bipartisan, bicameral bill to move the decision to prosecute serious crimes in the military from the chain of command.
The Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act is the House companion to S.1520, sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Charles Grassley (R-IA), and which has 66 cosponsors. The Members are calling on Congress to take up the legislation quickly as a standalone measure.
"As Fort Bragg’s Congressman, I am proud to help lead this bipartisan legislation that seeks to end sexual assault in the military, hold violators accountable, and support survivors," said Rep. Hudson. "Sexual assault is an affront to the values of our military and the nation they defend. We must accept that what we have tried in the past has not worked. We owe it to the victims like Vanessa Guillén to do everything we can to end this culture of sexual assault. Our men and women in uniform sacrifice every day to keep us safe and we have a responsibility to ensure all service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."
Under current law, commanders who do not have legal training make the decision on whether to prosecute a servicemember for major crimes, such as murder and rape, under the military justice system. The Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would transfer this responsibility to military attorneys with significant trial experience, offering victims and their loved ones the confidence that a professional military prosecutor who is independent—outside of the chain of command of the victim and the alleged perpetrator—is making crucial decisions on whether to pursue trial. Commanders would retain discretion to prosecute servicemembers for military-specific offenses, such as desertion, and for crimes with maximum punishment of less than one year of confinement.
The legislation also includes provisions to improve training on prevention of sexual assault, requires notice to Congress if the Defense Department changes policies related to sexual assault prevention and response, increase training for military prosecutors, and improve the physical security of lodging and living spaces on military installations.
SPC Vanessa Guillén was murdered at Fort Hood in April of 2020 after she was sexually harassed by her supervisor, a violation that her command knew about yet did nothing to stop or address. The tragedy of her death at the hands of another soldier was followed by a groundswell of calls by survivors of military sexual violence and other crimes for change in how the military holds perpetrators accountable.
"Survivors have been calling for reform to the military justice system for over a decade, Congress has finally heard that call for help and will act this year," Chair Speier said. "We now have broad, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate to take major non-military felonies, including sexual assault, out of the chain of command and empower independent military prosecutors with the crucial decision on whether to try a servicemember. Removing this longstanding and obvious conflict of interest will give more victims the confidence to come forward and result in greater accountability for perpetrators. This is a crucial first step for delivering justice to America’s brave servicemembers and ensuring that SPC Guillén’s name and spirit live on in that quest for justice. Congress must pass this crucial legislation without delay."
"Sexual assault is a violent crime that violates a person’s basic human rights. As Co-Chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Caucus, I join Congresswoman Jackie Speier to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation in the House," Congressman Turner said. "I want to congratulate Senator Gillibrand on the profound support she’s achieved for this bill. This bipartisan, bicameral coalition shows how this legislation has evolved over the years to protect our men and women in uniform."
Congressman Turner continued, "By moving the decision to prosecute felony-level, complex criminal cases away from the unit commander, this bill will allow sexual assault cases to be fairly prosecuted, hold offenders accountable and protect victims, while allowing commanders to focus on mission success.” Congressman Turner concluded, “I look forward to these critical bipartisan reforms becoming law."
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