Sunflowers were Vanessa Guillen’s favorite flower. 20-year-old Guillen was an army specialist who went missing from Fort Hood on April 22.
More than two months later, Guillen’s remains were found. Another soldier, 20-year-old Aaron Robinson, was accused of killing her.
With her death, sunflowers and other flowers were laid across the country in honor of her memory.
Guillen is only one of thousands of women across the world who have fell victim to sexual violence. Prior to her death, Guillen had planned to report a superior for sexually harassing her.
According to a Pentagon report from April, rates of sexual assault and harassment reports have increased since 2018.
The Department of Defense’s 2019 report on sexual assault in the military said there were 7,825 sexual assault reports involving service members as victims or subjects, this is a 3 percent increase from 2018.
The military received 1,021 formal sexual harassment complaints, a 10 percent increase from 2018.
More than 50 people gathered at the Orange County Veterans Memorial at Liberty Street Triangle Park in Newburgh last Friday to honor women who have been victims of sexual violence. Multiple calls for accountability were made at the vigil.
Charline Valdez organized the vigil.
“Vanessa Guillen: a 20-year-old veteran, Mexican American, an army specialist, known veteran, was at war with the [outdated] mentality of the patriarchy,” said Valdez. “Unfortunately she lost her battle, however those who tell her story will keep her memory alive.”
Valdez called for a strengthening of policies to protect survivors of sexual violence, a congressional hearing into the circumstances of Guillen’s death, and more compassion towards women. She called for protection for service members from sexual violence.
Men at the event spoke about the importance of men speaking up for women.
“It’s a disgrace that this happened to anyone,” said Rene Mejia Jr., Nobody leaves Mid- Hudson community organizer about Guillen’s death.
“It is up to us here, to make those asks of our state representatives, of our federal representatives,” said Mejia Jr.
Mejia Jr. asked that attendees speak out against sexual violence, and advocate in ways like signing petitions and calling elected officials.
“It shouldn’t be a woman’s job to teach a man how to treat her,” said Mejia Jr.
“We [men] need to tell them it is not right, it is wrong and needs to change.”
Holly Moyseenko has spent a decade working as a rape crisis advocate. She said that 1,981 rape kits are still untested in New York State, according to endthebacklog.org.
“It was Vanessa yesterday, it could be any of the young women in Newburgh tomorrow,” said Mejia Jr.