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'It Doesn't Have To Be At Home To Hit Home': Milwaukeeans Respond To Vanessa Guillen Tragedy

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Maayan Silver
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Protesters in Milwaukee stand up against the tragedy of U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillen.

A vigil was held in Milwaukee Monday night calling for justice for a female U.S Army soldier who served at Fort Hood in Texas. Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, was bludgeoned to death and dismembered.

There’s been an outcry around the nation as people say Guillen complained of sexual harassment by another soldier, and that the military doesn’t take such complaints seriously enough. Milwaukee activists gathered to demand change and accountability.

Guillen disappeared on April 22. Her remains were found last week in central Texas. Guillen’s family says before she disappeared, she told them she was going to report sexual harassment by another soldier. The suspect shot and killed himself after being confronted by investigators.

Monday night in Milwaukee, Forward Latino held a vigil at Kosciuszko Park seeking justice for Guillen. The night before, dozens of people showed up with signs at a protest march starting at El Rey grocery store on 13th Street. Many, like Michelle Alvarado, had more questions than answers.

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Credit U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command
Vanessa Guillen was last seen alive at Fort Hood on April 22. Her remains were found on June 30.

"How is it possible that a soldier goes missing and killed in a military base and nobody knows? How can we live in a country like that?" Alvarado asks.

Alvarado organized the protest in solidarity with others around the country, and to demand a congressional investigation into Guillen's death.

"We want a law in Vanessa's name that protects people that are sexually harassed. We want justice. This can go like this anymore," Alvarado says.

She says women stay quiet because they think no one’s going to believe them.

"It's time to stand up and represent each other. It doesn't matter if you're a woman or man, if you're being sexually harassed, speak up. We're here and we're going to fight for you and care about you," Alvarado says.

Alvarado says the military has long fumbled allegations of sexual harassment and assault. She adds that many families want to know that if their kids enlist in the military, they will be safe.

"It’s is not just Vanessa that went missing, there’s other kids that have been missing too. There's Gregory Morales that went missing and then a year after they found him. So, this concerns everybody," she says.

Protester Karen Sanchez says they stand united against harassment and abuse — no matter where it occurs.

"You could be across, you know, across the world from us, and we're still gonna stand up. It doesn't have to be right at home for it to hit home," she says.

Local concern over the case also bubbled up over comments made by Betsy Schoeller, a UW-Milwaukee information studies instructor who served in the military as a colonel in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

More than 130,000 people have signed an online petition asking UWM to fire Schoeller due to a Facebook post. In the post she wrote, “sexual harassment is the price of admission for women into the good ole boy club. If you’re gonna cry like a snowflake, you’re gonna pay the price.”

Schoeller says her comment was taken out of context. She says what she was trying to do was describe the toxic military culture that exists – not defend it.

“Those are not my views. Those are the views I’ve heard over and over again,” she says.

Schoeller says like others, she was shocked and appalled at the story of Guillen’s death. Schoeller says the military must become a safer place for women.

“A place where women can be confident and not be subjected to all of those voices coming out of misogynistic culture that make it impossible for us to be who we are. We all need the opportunity to be a strong, confident, beautiful woman, like the one we lost in Vanessa," Schoeller explains.

Schoeller issued a statement on Sunday to explain her post and also apologize for causing offense. UWM has said that while many people were upset by her post, Schoeller is entitled to freedom of speech. There is a protest planned Wednesday by people who want UWM to fire her.

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