Sexual harassment program at Fort Hood under investigation following Vanessa Guillen case
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 2, 2020
AUSTIN, Texas — The program at Fort Hood designed to help prevent and respond to sexual harassment and assault now faces an Army investigation following a high-profile case of a female soldier still missing after more than two months.
An investigation team from the Army Forces Command inspector general arrived Monday at the central Texas base to conduct an inspection of the base’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program following the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen and her claims of sexual harassment.
The command, known as FORSCOM, sent the team from its headquarters at Fort Bragg, N.C., at the request of III Corps senior leaders, according to a news release from the command. The Fort Hood program is designed as a place for soldiers to report instances of sexual harassment and assault. Soldiers have the option of just seeking counseling and support through the program or moving forward with criminal proceedings against their perpetrator.
Most program coordinators designated to take reports are members of the unit that they support and are also responsible for providing training to prevent incidents and teach bystanders how to identify concerning behavior.
But questions have been raised about the program following the disappearance of 20-year-old Guillen from Fort Hood’s 3rd Cavalry Regiment on April 22. Human remains found Tuesday about 30 miles from the base are believed to be her, according to Army Criminal Investigation Command, which has overseen the search for Guillen. A positive identification is pending.
Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, deputy commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, is serving as the senior base commander and he will hold a news conference at 3 p.m. EST to discuss Guillen’s case. He is likely to face questions about the review of the program and the regiment’s own command inquiry into sexual harassment within Guillen’s unit.
Before Guillen went missing, the Houston native told family members that she was being sexually harassed on base, but she feared reporting it to her chain of command, said Natalie Khawam, attorney for the Guillen family.
The family has spoken out about those allegations to the media and the soldier’s unit, which prompted a command inquiry by the regiment. The results of that inquiry have not been released.
Authorities identified two suspects in Guillen’s disappearance. One suspect was identified by Khawam as Aaron David Robinson, another soldier in Guillen’s unit who she said was the person harassing her. Robinson killed himself Wednesday as local law enforcement in Killeen attempted to arrest him, according to Army investigators. A second suspect, only identified as the wife of an estranged soldier, was in Bell County Jail awaiting charges from civilian authorities.
The seven-member Army investigation team began its review Tuesday and will conclude its on-the-ground work Friday focusing on three objectives: examining the sexual harassment program's implementation at Fort Hood, assessing whether the command climate is supportive of soldiers’ reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and identifying any potentially systemic issues with the program at Fort Hood, as well as any resource constraints.
The inspection team will brief Fort Hood and FORSCOM leaders upon completion of the inspection, according to Paul Boyce, spokesman for FORSCOM.
An Army report released in April on instances of sexual assault among soldiers for fiscal year 2019 shows a “high rate” of reporting, with 5.5 reports of sexual assault per every 1,000 soldiers, which is the same as the previous year. That was the highest rate ever reported, according to the Army.
While some credit for the high rate is given to victim confidence in reporting, results of the most recent Defense Department Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members showed an increase in the estimated prevalence of sexual assault to 6,500 Army soldiers in 2018, compared to 5,200 estimated in 2016, according to the report.
“This increase is very troubling and shows that the Army’s sexual assault prevention strategies have not achieved their intended results,” the report states.