TEXAS, USA — The U.S House voted Wednesday to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains the revised I am Vanessa Guillen Act. This takes the authority to prosecute sexual assault and harassment away from the military and gives it to independent military prosecutors.
"If this would have been in place when my sister was still alive, maybe she'd be here today," Guillen's older sister Mayra Guillen said.
The Guillen family and their attorney Natalie Khawam had been working with lawmakers to pass the act and in Texas a similar bill went into effect in September. Guillen said it's sad that it took her sister's death to create change.
"I hope that it helps those military members and those victims that are now being subject to sexual harassment and sexual assault," Guillen said.
Vanessa Guillen was brutally murdered in Fort Hood in April 2020. Her family said she claimed to be sexually harassed but did not report it for fear of retaliation.
Khawam said this is monumental for service members.
"This legislation now means that our soldiers have the protections that they need," Khawam said. "They have the safeguards they need. They can go outside the chain of command, if they choose, and tell their situation so that way they don't have the fear of retaliation."
Khawam said this is a win-win for everyone.
"It's a win for commanders because they don't have to take on this responsibility of the he said she said. They don't have to deal with the whole issue of sexual assault and misconduct because they are not trained to do that. They are trained to go to battle and win wars. They can work on what they joined the military to do and that's passionately fighting for our country and our rights. Now our soldiers will have the rights to be able to have the protection and safety in place that they always needed and deserve," Khawam said.
Lawmakers have been working on passing legislation similar to this for years.
"It's the first time in history this has been done and it's failed so many years prior to us," Khawam said.
Guillen's case sparked national outrage and helped push this bill forward.
"It won't really do anything for us except letting us know that there is hope for other victims. It won't bring Vanessa back, but this is something very huge for us. In a way we got to change the law, we got to make history," Guillen said.
The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate before it makes its way to the White House.