Around 40 people gathered outside of the Illinois National Guard’s North Riverside Armory, 8660 Cermak Road in North Riverside, on July 17, chanting “Mu na mas! Not one more!” and holding signs demanding justice for Vanessa Guillén — the 20-year-old soldier who was murdered after complaining to family members about sexual harassment by her superiors.
Guillén’s murder resonated with Ansima Rosette Mamboleo, a member of the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership, a social justice organization based in Maywood, which organized the Friday morning demonstration held at the armory’s Ninth Avenue entrance.
“They tell us, ‘Ladies you are free,'” Mamboleo said. “But that [freedom] feels like an illusion.”
Mamboleo shared her own experiences enduring job interviews where she’s “double penalized” for being a Black woman. And when she reports the kind of harassment Guillén complained to her family about, “I am shut down,” Mamboleo said.
Guillén, a Houston native stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, went missing in April before authorities discovered her disfigured body on June 30.
After Guillén’s disappearance, her family spoke out about her allegations to numerous media outlets and on social media accounts they created.
“She reported it to her friends. She reported it to her family. She even reported to other soldiers on base, but she didn’t want to do a formal report because she was afraid of retaliation and being blackballed, and she, like most victims, just tried to deal with it herself,” Lupe Guillén, Vanessa’s 16-year-old sister, told ABC News on July 1.
Two suspects — a male soldier and his ex-girlfriend — were arrested in connection with Guillén’s murder. Authorities announced on July 1 that the man died by suicide while his ex-girlfriend is in prison.
“Military officials said at a press conference that Robinson was not Guillén’s superior and that during their investigation they didn’t find evidence of sexual harassment to confirm her family’s accusations,” ABC News reported.
During Friday’s demonstration in North Riverside, Melinda Garcia, another coalition member, said her organization has joined the chorus of other activists across the country demanding the military require that sexual assault complaints be reported to a third-party agency and for a congressional investigation into Guillén’s death, among other demands.
Randall McFarland said that he attended Friday’s protest because he believes that the culture of abuse in the military has gone unchecked for too long.
“All too often, this happens to some of our young ladies who are in the military and it goes unchecked,” he said. “I know personally, a few friends of mine who were in the military and they told me about their experiences. It’s not a good thing. It’s beyond time for something to be done about it.”
Coalition member Maria Hernandez-Franco said that on July 30, a much larger call to action will take place in Washington, D.C., in order to push for federal legislation designed to deal with sexual harassment in the military.
“Here in North Riverside, we will call a press conference once again,” Hernandez-Franco said. “We will be here and we will continue to fight.”