At vigil for Vanessa Guillen in Elgin, discussion of military sexual abuse emerges

  • Victor Galvan, left, and Fabiola Fernandez, both of Elgin, take part in a march and vigil Saturday to honor slain U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, killed in Texas in April.

      Victor Galvan, left, and Fabiola Fernandez, both of Elgin, take part in a march and vigil Saturday to honor slain U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, killed in Texas in April. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/18/2020 11:14 PM

A march and vigil to honor slain U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, whose remains were found last month in Texas, was held Saturday in Elgin, with a councilwoman sharing her own story of sexual abuse in the military.

The event, which started at Veterans Park and ended at Festival Park, was attended by about 40 people and included a proclamation by Elgin Mayor David Kaptain read by Councilwoman Rose Martinez pronouncing Saturday "Vanessa Guillen Day."

 

Guillen went missing from Fort Hood in Texas on April 22. Authorities say she was killed by another soldier who died by suicide shortly after Guillen's remains were found June 30. A civilian woman identified as the killer's girlfriend is accused of helping dispose of the body.

Guillen's family said she'd told them she had been harassed by a sergeant.

Martinez, who served in the U.S. Army, said she shared for the first time in public her own story of being sexually abused by a superior at age 23 when she was stationed overseas in 1983. Martinez said she never told her family about it.

"These are things that's kind of taboo in our culture, in our community, people don't want to talk about it," she said, pointing out July is minority mental health month. "We need to talk about it because otherwise we become part of the problem."

Martinez said she reported the abuse, and the man was relieved of his duty and sent back stateside. She was shocked to find out later that he was promoted and continued advancing in his career, she said. "It angers me," she said.

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Rallies and marches asking for justice for Guillen and spotlighting sexual harassment and abuse in the military have taken place across the country. It's especially important to discuss such issues within the Latino community, said Gabi Vargas of Algonquin, who organized the Elgin event. Councilman Baldemar Lopez also attended.

"A lot of our Latino youth are enlisting into the military, so (it's about) preparing them to how to have more education," Vargas said.

"We want these cases to be really investigated so people get punished by the full extent of the law. Not just in the military but in our communities as well."

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