As an organization committed to supporting survivors of sexual violence, my staff and I have been closely following the disappearance of Vanessa Guillen, the missing Fort Hood soldier who was last seen on April 22, 2020. We, at Aware Central Texas, have been deeply troubled by statements made recently by Vanessa’s mother, who said that prior to her disappearance, Vanessa told her that she was sexually assaulted by one of the Sergeants in her unit. Equally disturbing is the idea that this young woman felt she had no one she could trust to ask for help.
Many of our staff, myself included, have served in the United States military.
As veterans and advocates, we have read the stories of other women that have also worn a uniform. Women who felt compelled by Vanessa's disappearance have come forward to courageously disclose countless stories of harassment and sexual violence by fellow servicemembers within their formations. Each of their stories have had one consistent theme that is important to acknowledge: their disclosures were met with resistance, disbelief, victim blaming, and no justice.
Recently, a former staff member at Aware posted a quote by Brene Brown on my Facebook timeline. The quote read "Daring Leaders are never silent about hard things." This quote solidified my decision to write this message.
We have a responsibility to start a dialogue in our community about some very hard things. This is not a time for us to sit silent, but to have the courage to acknowledge what appears to be a systemic problem within our military involving assault, harassment, and sexual violence. It is the time to summon the courage to listen, learn, and meet survivors where they are at. It is the time to take what we learn and raise our collective voices to advocate for change and justice within the ranks of the United States military regarding sexual violence. Each and every one of us possesses the ability to start a conversation regarding this topic. Sitting in silence will not facilitate change.
We want survivors to know that healing and justice are not out of reach. There are many programs across Central Texas where they can access assistance, support, counseling services, and medical treatment. They are not alone.
We, at Aware Central Texas, would like to offer our support to Vanessa’s family and to those involved in this case. We hold out every hope that Vanessa Guillen will be found.
We can be reached 24/7 via our crisis hotline at 254-813-0968.
Please do not hesitate to call.