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‘If You Can’t Protect Them, Don’t Recruit Them:’ Protestors Honoring Vanessa Guillen in L.A. Airforce Base Demand New Protections for Soldiers

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen Vanessa Guillen, 20, went missing from Fort Hood Military Base in April, the army provided her family with no answers on the young soldier's disappearance. What her family did know, was that she was being sexually harassed by one of her superiors, who had walked in and watched her one day as she was taking a shower. 

Over two months into Guillen’s disappearance, her remains were found June 30 in a shallow grave 22 miles from Fort Hood base. Her body was dismembered and concrete poured over her remains after being bludgeoned to death in one of Fort Hood’s armory rooms.

Protestors gathered outside the Los Angeles Airforce Base on Tuesday afternoon supporting the family and their demands of a congressional hearing into Guillen’s death. The Guillen family is also calling for a Vanessa Guillen-inspired bill so soldiers can report sexual assaults to a third-party entity. Around 50 protesters shared Guillen’s story with those passing by in their cars who were stopped at the intersection of Douglas Street and El Segundo Boulevard waiting for the light to change. Their words bellowing loudly from a hand-held megaphone. 

Protestors walking in El Segundo. All photos by Tina Sampay

“This can no longer happen. Our soldiers are suffering and we need to address it. I don’t know why this didn’t come up in the Me Too movement, but we are bringing it up now. Unfortunately and most tragically, it took the death of Vanessa Guillen but if she is the catalyst, we need to do this in her honor. We need to do this in honor of every survivor.” Like many people across the nation, Los Angeles resident Lourdes A., says that Guillen’s death ignited something inside her. A lot of it had to do with the neglect that Guillen experienced as a soldier who was on duty at the time of her disappearance. 

Lourdes says that although she does not have children, hearing the pain of Guillen’s mother Gloria pleading in Spanish, “Quiero a mi hija viva,” (I want my daughter alive) was a lot for her to process. “They always tell immigrants to assimilate. What better way to show you are a true American than by joining the service?” Lourdes questioned. 

Protesters also called for military recruiters to be removed from classrooms, especially in low-income communities.

Lourdes says she helped organize the protest because staying silent on something as horrific as Guillen’s murder just does not feel right. “When Vanessa told her mother about the sexual harassment, her mother pleaded with her to tell her the name of who it was. Vanessa refused to tell her mother.” Aaron David Robinson, 20, allegedly committed suicide after authorities arrived to arrest him in relation to Guillen’s murder. Phone records are said to connect Robinson to Guillen’s death, as well as eyewitness accounts of seeing Robinson struggling to load something heavy into a vehicle on base.

Civilian Cecily Aguilar, 22, is currently in custody charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Police say Robinson picked up Aguilar to help dispose of Guillen's body after removing her body from Fort Hood in a trunk on wheels. Protesters also called for military recruiters to be removed from classrooms, especially in low-income communities. “If you can’t protect them, don’t recruit them!” Protestors chanted continuously outside the airforce base.

Guillen’s disappearance and subsequent murder have allowed many of our soldiers to find the strength and their voice after suffering in silence for so long. 

Guillen’s family tells the media they met Robinson when they went to Fort Hood to meet with army officials. Despite his suicide, the family says they still believe Fort Hood is hiding information. During a march to Texas State Capital this weekend, Guillen’s cousin Uriel Guillen-Aranda tells ABC the family believes Robinson is being used as a scapegoat to distract from Guillen’s sexual assault claims.

After Guillen’s friends and family turned to social media to share news of her disappearance in hopes of finding her, the #IamVanessaGuillen hashtag appeared on Instagram. This hashtag centered the stories of many soldiers who also experienced sexual assaults and rape at the hands of their army superiors. Guillen’s disappearance and subsequent murder have allowed many of our soldiers to find the strength and their voice after suffering in silence for so long. 

“When I was in the military because I was Latina and a soldier, it was like an aphrodisiac for men. I chose to gain weight so no man would ever look at me in that way again.”

April V. was present at Tuesday’s protest and says that Guilliens death has given her the strength to speak publicly about how she was sexually assaulted as a new army recruit and conceived a child. At eight months pregnant, she tried to take her life. 

When she was homeless with her son she says the military offered no assistance. Her son is now 14-years-old and was in the car receiving a therapy session during the protest. 

“I am here not for myself. I believe that Vanessa’s legacy and this bill are going to make a positive difference in our soldiers’ lives. Women, Latina women, Black women, all women should not go into the military and be sexualized,” April expressed. “When I was in the military because I was Latina and a soldier, it was like an aphrodisiac for men. I chose to gain weight so no man would ever look at me in that way again.”

 April says that the army recruiting office still stands today on Crenshaw and Century. 

“Nobody should join the military for this to happen. I did not speak up in 2017 when the Me Too movement came out and Vanessa died. Not anymore. Her Legacy, her life, her family matters.”

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