#IAmVanessaGuillen by Alyssa Nelson

#IAmVanessaGuillen covered social media for months following the disappearance and brutal death of Vanessa Guillen, an SPC in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Hood, TX. Using this hashtag, many active-duty service members and veterans have come forward to share their own personal stories about sexual harassment and assault within the military. It is a sad commentary on the military knowing that many have been harassed or assaulted, yet nothing is done to reprimand those assaulters, and nothing is put in place to protect victims. 

I was a Motor Transportation Operator in the United States Marine Corps where there is the smallest number of females throughout the entire U.S. Military. Female Marines are supposed to be The Fewer, The Prouder, a take on a Marine Corps motto: “The Few, The Proud.” Female Marines have been treated horribly by their male counterparts, but also by other female Marines. Female Marines have been called horrible names and presumed useless because they are female, which make sexual harassment and assault run rampant. 

I know many females, and some males, who have dealt with sexual assault and/or harassment. I am no exception. My first true encounter with harassment was when I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA, in my first unit. I was a PFC, a low rank within enlisted. I had been there for a little over a month when on a beautiful Friday night in October, I was walking around the barracks. I saw some mutual friends with their drunk friend. They had just gotten back from a two-week field op and were ready to drink the night away. Their friend, a male sergeant, was already drunk when I ran into them. The male sergeant saw me and started to walk towards me. He grabbed me and kept hugging me and kissing my neck while telling me how beautiful I was. I did not know what to do, so I just stood there. My friends pulled him away from me and took him back to his room.

 I did not think much of the incident and chalked it up to his being drunk. I was ready to keep what happened to myself.  Yet word had gotten out about the incident because he did the same thing to another female earlier that evening. 

The other female and I had to press charges against the sergeant and to read our statements. The Sergeant was knocked down to Corporal, put on restriction, yet was able to stay and live at the same barracks. After everything, I overheard a male Marine talking about me and the other female. I confronted him and told him he did not know what he was talking about and to leave us alone.

 This incident was one of many that happened to me. I have also been stalked. It lasted for about 3–4 months. The male stalking me somehow got my number and started to text and call me. I was afraid that if I said something, I would be the one punished because I must have done something to deserve getting stalked, or I must have been a tease and led him on. 

Unfortunately, I am not alone. There are many service members who have gone through what I did. Vanessa Guillen was harassed, assaulted, stalked, and beaten to death. Vanessa Guillen serves as a vicious reminder that sexual harassment and assault happen every day in the military. I know a female who has committed suicide because she was assaulted. 

The military allows this to happen and does not do anything to prevent harassments, assaults, and deaths. A single incident should have been enough to put in place protections to prevent them from happening again. Many lives have been destroyed because the military does not care. My mental health has declined because of everything that has happened to me. Many other service members are trying to cope and get through the day because people decided to take advantage of them knowing that the military will not punish them. It is a sick, cruel, vicious cycle with no end in sight. Sexual harassment and assault are very real in the military. The military needs to act and stand up against it. How many more people need to die before the military changes?