(NewsNation) — The family of Vanessa Guillen filed a $35 million lawsuit against the United States Army on Friday over the woman’s sexual assault and death.
While Guillen — a Fort Hood Army specialist who was sexually harassed and brutally mutilated on base at the hands of a fellow soldier — was found dead in June of 2020, it wasn’t until Aug. 11 that an appeals court decided a particular military doctrine barring injured, active-duty service members from suing the federal government did not apply to sexual assault.
“We filed this lawsuit on Friday because on Thursday, the Ninth Circuit agreed to give the right to victims, to sue over sexual abuse in the military,” Vanessa’s sister, Mayra Guillen, said in an exclusive interview with NewsNation on Wednesday.
“And this is very historic — this is just something that was very unexpected and it’s very much in favor of victims,” Mayra said.
“Someone had to suffer in order for all of us to realize what’s happening,” added her sister, Lupe Guillen.
In the lawsuit, the family states Guillen “suffered mental anguish, fear, emotional distress, physical injury, and death as a result of sexual harassment, rape, sodomy and physical assault.”
The filing goes on to say Guillen’s passing was so traumatic it affected the family’s mental health, social life and future.
“The family, what they’ve gone through for continuing to put up this fight, this effort to make sure what happened to Vanessa never happens again to any man or woman serving our country,” said Natalie Khawam, the family’s attorney.
An investigation by military officials into Guillen’s disappearance and chain-of-command actions found that Guillen informally reported she was sexually harassed on two occasions. Both times, her supervisor failed to act on the report.
The report also found her killer had sexually harrassed another female soldier and that Fort Hood soldiers did not have adequate sexual assault prevention training.
Guillen’s case has garnered nationwide attention, putting intense pressure on the military to change its ways.
“The message and culture in the military has been clear: Shut up, suck it up, and don’t rock the boat,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Ca.).
In the lawsuit, the family goes on to say it took the Army months to accept that Guillen had been sexually harassed on more than one occasion.
Mayra now hopes her sister’s case will set a new precedent.
“I strongly feel that now that there’ll be a number in front of these cases, just like in civilian cases,” Mayra said. “I’m pretty sure sexual harassment won’t happen ever again after this. They’ll make sure to keep people on the line and make sure, you know, to keep … them safe, which is the priority here.”
In the wake of her murder, more than 20 soldiers have been relieved, punished or suspended, including a general and top officers.