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Sexual assault advocates call Vanessa Guillen case example of military's disregard for victims

Two Bell County organizations that advocate for sexual assault victims called Fort Hood's handling of Vanessa Guillen's sexual harassment claim "unacceptable."

FORT HOOD, Texas — Correction: A previous version of this article said the Army Criminal Investigation Division announced it was investigating claims that Vanessa Guillen was sexually harassed. It was not CID. The 3rd Cavalry Commander COL Ralph Overland initiated the investigation on June 18.

State and local sexual assault advocates called the handling of missing Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen's case an example of a systemic problem within the U.S. military and how it handles assault, harassment and rape.

The statement came in a press release Thursday from the leaders of Aware Central Texas and Families in Crisis, both of which are in Bell County, and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Guillen was last seen April 22 in the parking lot of her regimental engineer squadron headquarters on Fort Hood.

Fort Hood strong disputed the claims in a statement Friday, saying all efforts were being made to find Guillen.

"Fort Hood officials are very concerned for the welfare of PFC Vanessa Guillen and we fully understand the frustration felt by the family, friends and fellow soldiers of Vanessa," the statement said. "We are doing everything in our power to get her back and will not stop until we do.   We strongly reject some misinformation that is being portrayed and especially reject any notion there is a "cover-up" of any kind.  Fort Hood has been looking for PFC Guillen since day one when she disappeared. Fort Hood leadership has led hundreds of hours of searches through the buildings, barracks, fields, training areas, lakes, and trails all over Fort Hood, Texas. Troopers from all squadrons across the regiment have been aggressively participating in the effort to find PFC Guillen because they are dedicated to their mission and will never leave a soldier behind."

RELATED: Update | The search for Missing Fort Hood Soldier Vanessa Guillen continues

The 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander, Col. Ralph Overland, appointed an investigating team led by a senior investigating officer to conduct a commander's investigation into allegations that Guillen was sexually harassed. Guillen's family said she told them it was coming from her sergeant.

"I opened an investigation concerning the information provided by the Guillen family that Pfc. Vanessa Guillen was harassed prior to her disappearance," said Overland in a press release sent June 18. "I take allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and we are conducting a thorough investigation."

"We are equally disturbed by the inaction from the military; the United States Army took nearly two full months before addressing Vanessa’s disappearance publicly and taking the allegation of sexual harassment seriously. This is unacceptable," the press release said.

The release said Guillen's story is "all too familiar and similar to civilian
stories - disclosures are met with resistance, disbelief, victim blame and no justice."

"We must acknowledge that Vanessa’s case is also emblematic of a larger, systemic problem within the United States Military: a sheer disregard for the assault, harassment, and rape that too many victims experience while serving their country," the press release said.

Fort Hood's statement Friday said the search began April 23, the day after she was last seen.

"Additionally, highly-trained Special Agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command immediately opened an investigation on April 23 upon notification that PFC Vanessa Guillen was missing and began a very extensive investigation that has been underway ever since, literally around the clock," the statement said. "That investigation is in conjunction with numerous federal, state and local agencies. It is important to understand that there are things that cannot and will not be released when an investigation of this nature is underway to protect the integrity of the investigative process."

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