Vanessa Guillen Sisters and Lawyer on I Am Vanessa Bill — 'Unbelievable'

I Am Vanessa Guillen on Netflix explores the tragic murder of 20-year-old soldier Vanessa Guillén and her family's incredible fight to reform the U.S. military's approach to sexual assault cases.

Vanessa Guillén trained as a 91F, Small Arms and Artillery Repairer. She was stationed at the notorious Fort Hood base (which has some of the highest rates of murder, sexual assault and harassment in the U.S. Army) when she disappeared on April 22, 2020.

Two months later, on June 30, 2020, Vanessa Guillén's remains were found buried along the Leon River. Aaron Robinson, a fellow soldier and the last person to see her alive, became the main suspect in her murder. However, he took his own life on July 1, 2020, before police could arrest him.

As heard in I Am Vanessa Guillen on Netflix, Vanessa Guillén's family alerted the army and the Criminal Investigation Command (CID) that she had spoken of being sexually harassed on two occasions by a superior while stationed at Fort Hood before her disappearance. She had also mentioned that complaints of sexual assault and harassment by other women against the sergeant had been dismissed.

I Am Vanessa Guillen bill
(L to R) Juan Cruz, Mayra Guillen, and Lupe Guillen in I Am Vanessa Guillen. It's now streaming on Netflix. Netflix

It remains unknown if Robinson had made unwanted sexual advances on Vanessa Guillén on the day she died. As heard in I Am Vanessa Guillen on Netflix, her family and friends suspect she was sexually assaulted before her murder.

Robinson had also been accused of sexual harassment in the past, but in instances unrelated to Vanessa Guillén.

When Vanessa Guillén's allegations of sexual harassment came to light in the media, the Army dismissed them due to a lack of evidence. However, a U.S. Army investigation later found Vanessa Guillén had reported her harassment, but that it wasn't pursued, contradicting the Army's earlier claims.

Enraged and disappointed at Vanessa Guillén's treatment, Vanessa Guillén's family decided to act by fighting for the I Am Vanessa Bill, with the help of their lawyer, Natalie Khawam.

Speaking to Newsweek, Mayra Guillén told Newsweek they were not taking "no for an answer."

She added: "We transformed this [tragedy] into bringing legislation for many countless victims that were silenced much before my sister, and for future victims, unfortunately, because this is never going to end but we can do our best to try and bring justice and accountability for these cases."

Natalie Khawam Mayra Guillen
(L to R) Natalie Khawam and Mayra Guillen in I Am Vanessa Guillen. Netflix

The I Am Vanessa Bill sought to change the response of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses committed against members of the armed forces, by allowing a member to lodge a complaint to an individual outside the immediate chain of command.

Prior to the I Am Vanessa Bill, the military investigated and prosecuted sexual assault cases internally, with commanders deciding whether a case should be dismissed or go to trial.

Natalie Khawam explained to Newsweek just why it was so important to have the system altered.

"This has been a long-standing issue in the military, sexual misconduct is prevalent because there is no accountability and there are no courts like we [civilians] have," the lawyer said.

She continued: "You have to tell the commander who has to commission a court so that means that he would have to actually create a court for you to pursue something. Seventy to 80% of sexual misconduct happens within the [army] chain of command so you're going to the same chain of command that sexually harassed you to ask them to file something against themselves and pursue a case against them or their buddies, which is inherently biased.

"In addition to that, there is no accountability. You can't sue like if you were to get sexually harassed or assaulted at your workplace, where you can you go and sue them for money, there is no right to sue in the military. That's the only place and I hate to say it like this, the only workplace you can go to and get sexually harassed or sexually assaulted and not have any right to sue."

As part of their campaign, Khawam, Mayra Guillén and their team of supporters visited the White House, meeting with then-President Donald Trump, Democrats, Republicans and the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Khawam explained: "Everybody took their [own] side it was polarized so my job was to make sure that it was not a Democratic versus Republican thing. It was a bipartisan thing and that's why we brought on Markwayne Mullin [Republican] as the co-sponsor.

"I went to the White House with Trump, not that we needed Trump's support but if he were to say he supports it, he would help us bring in the Republican members to support this in a bipartisan effort to get it past the finish line, which we did. So it just took a different strategy and a different way of looking at it to get this accomplished for the first time as we did."

Sadly in 2022, The I Am Vanessa Bill wasn't heard on the House floor before the end of the year for "an infinite amount of reasons," Mayra Guillén told Newsweek, but that did not stop them, and in 2021, the Guillén family and Khawam came back fighting.

Vanessa Guillen
Vanessa Guillen (center) in I Am Vanessa Guillen. The 20-year-old was murdered. Netflix

In December 2021, Khawam and Vanessa Guillén's sisters succeeded in having key provisions from the I Am Vanessa Guillen bill passed in the $770 billion National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Joe Biden.

This made it possible to criminally prosecute sexual assault and sexual harassment outside the armed-service chain of command and for victims to be given protection.

It excluded commanders from being involved in military sexual harassment or sexual assault investigations, instructing them to request independent investigations within 72 hours of receiving formal complaints. They must also forward the complaints to their next superior officers in the chain of command who are authorized to take the matter to the general-court martial, the highest court level.

Khawam reflected: "I think it's an inspiring story for many young women and men that are out there that when are told, 'this is impossible'. We're not saying going against a corporation is impossible, but it usually is and so is going into department defense, but we still did it and we won and we did it because we had the heart and the passion and the drive and the belief that we had to write this wrong and it's inspiring beautiful story."

Robinson's girlfriend, Cecily Aguiler, is the only person to be charged in connection to Vanessa Guillén's murder. She is suspected of assisting Robinson in dismembering, burning, and burying Vanessa Guillén's body and has been charged on 11 counts: one count of conspiracy to tamper with documents or proceedings; two counts of tampering with documents or proceedings; three counts of accessory after the fact; one count of destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in a federal investigation; and four counts of false statement or representation.

Her trial is scheduled to begin on January 23, 2023, and if found guilty, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

I Am Vanessa Guillen is streaming on Netflix now.