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From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today, the story of 20 year old Army specialist Vanessa Gwynedd, I spoke with my colleague Jennifer Steinhauer about what the case has revealed about the persistent culture of sexual harassment and fear inside the U.S. military. It's Friday, July 31st. Jennifer, what exactly happened to Vanessa? So Vanessa was reported missing by Fort Hood to law enforcement on April 20. Third leaders in her unit had checked the barracks.
They tried to contact her by her cell phone. All of these efforts came up empty and this massive search ensued.
Tonight, U.S. Army officials are asking for the public's help in finding a missing soldier.
An extensive search is now underway by military members as well as civilian and military police.
Volunteers scour the central Texas brush searching for Private First Class Vanessa Gion.
Everyone was just looking and looking and looking for where this missing soldier could be.
The U.S. Army is now offering a fifteen thousand dollar reward for information on the missing soldier. A Facebook page to help find her has also been made sharing pictures and information.
In May, someone started a petition for the White House to hold the army accountable for her disappearance. Later in June, the family held a press conference. Vanessa had a sergeant come into a shower, inappropriately walk in, and they say that she'd been sexually harassed.
She did report back to her family and her friends, but they they can't get any information when they protest outside of Fort Hood. Dozens of protesters have come out and are completely surrounding this block, making sure that everyone hears their message loud and clear. With my sister, they know where she is. And I want them to speak up and I want answers and I want them now.
So this is a multiagency search for this missing woman. And she ultimately went missing for 70 days. Finally, a work crew found her remains near a lake in a rural area about 30 miles from her post.
And who do they think? Is responsible for her death. Do they think it's connected to this? Alleged sexual harassment that she has described to her family. So Army officials say that Vanessa never reported sexual harassment, but her family believes that there was a connection between the harassment and her murder, although, according to Army investigators, the criminal investigation hasn't found any credible connection with that yet. So what happened next? So here's what investigators know. They know that on April twenty second, Vanessa was in the barracks and she was called to do something at work in the arms room by Specialist Aaron David Robinson, who was a co-worker.
So according to court documents, he'd given her the serial number for a machine gun that he wanted serviced. So she went there and she left her car keys and so forth. Behind her next step should have been at the motor pool to drop off paperwork. She was expected to go there, but she never showed up. So what the authorities say is that they believe that somewhere in that encounter, Robinson killed her and then he and his girlfriend dismembered and disposed of her body.
And her remains were found on June 30th. That same day as the police closed in on him, Robinson fatally shot himself and his girlfriend now faces trial on federal charges that she helped him dispose of Vanessa's body. So at this point, Jennifer, this murder suspect has killed himself. His accomplice is in custody. But correct me if I'm wrong, the criminal investigation has yet to find any connection between sexual harassment and Vanessa's murder. That's right, Michael.
But at the same time, the revelations about Vanessa's death sparked a lot of outrage among women in the military.
Now, hundreds of survivors of military sexual assault and harassment are speaking out using the hashtag I am venis again.
But was more surprising to me was how much outrage it sparked outside the military.
Well, dozens of people gathered today to march and demand justice for Vanessa Gion, nobody I've spoken to here at the vigil knew Vanessa and personally, but still so many people feel connected to her and her story. I'm a mother. I can only imagine the pain that the mother's going through.
Rosa Rodriguez Flores came to the vigil because there were all kinds of little makeshift memorials that were created all over the country.
Protest organized by no mass, a movement founded in her honor. No mass means no more. And they're now calling for no more sexual violence in the military.
Even celebrities like Rose McGowan, who obviously have been a prominent figure in the Metoo movement. We're starting to talk on social media about Vanessa. She showed up as the subject of Nancy Grace. Even former Vice President Joe Biden put out a statement about it. So this was something that was quite unusual. What do you mean? Well, these stories tend not to resonate that much outside of the military. It seems to be almost this continual, not so secret, dirty secret among women who are serving and female veterans.
Jennifer, why is that? So you have to remember that only one percent of our entire population serves the military, so people serving our country and particularly women, are very invisible in many ways. Now, that being said, there's been a history of these issues surfacing every few years.
And probably the most important incident next. Tonight, we focus on the Tailhook scandal was this very famous case called Tailhook. The incidents of sexual assault and harassment have rocked the U.S. Navy for. So Tailhook was this annual aviator convention in Las Vegas, which basically went over the course of three days and hundreds and hundreds of people would convene and do all the things that you imagine.
At a convention in Las Vegas, many attendees viewed the annual conference as a free fire zone where they could act indiscriminately in matters of sexual conduct.
And drunkenness at this particular convention was stunning in its level of debauchery, and it was particularly notable because it was nineteen ninety one and the US had just prevailed in the Persian Gulf War and they were coming home to a celebration.
You had all these Navy and Marine aviators who were hanging around this what was then the Las Vegas Hilton drinking, they were getting sick all over the place.
There were a number of reported instances of public or paid sex.
And as women would come into the area, they would be harassed, they would be grabbed. They called it the gauntlet, a hallway at the Las Vegas Hilton where dozens of women were assaulted by a mob of military men attending. They were beaten, having their clothing ripped as they walked through there during the three days of the convention.
Eighty three women were assaulted by men and six men were assaulted by women. I went down a hallway, so where every man in that hallway got a shot at me, one of the victims was a naval officer, Polakoff one, there were hands down my down my blouse.
At one point when I when I dropped to the floor and I was biting the man who had his hands in my blouse.
And the next morning, Miss Kosslyn did what anyone would have done. She talked to her superior, who at the time was Rear Admiral Jack Snyder. And according to her, he said to her, well, that's what you get for going down a hallway with a bunch of drunken aviators. Now, I should say that Admiral Snyder said in his deposition that he didn't know about the assault until two weeks later. And so because she was being stonewalled, she decided to take it to the media.
So far, the scandal has brought the resignations of a former Navy secretary and a number of admirals, and this was sort of a bomb that went off.
This has been a difficult issue for the Navy because it told us that we had an institutional problem in how we treated women.
The Navy was very criticized for not really looking into this properly in the beginning.
In that regard, it was a watershed event that has brought about cultural change.
This then instigated investigations by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The process of disciplinary procedures and possible courts martial now goes forward for an additional one hundred and seventeen Navy and Marine officers.
But in the end, you know, she was so incredibly harassed, she said she was called a lying slut. Many times she had drinks thrown at her own restaurants. Wow. Members of her family lost friends, lost business. So ultimately, Paula resigned from the Navy in nineteen ninety four. And this was a case that was at once extremely well known and yet in the end did not have such a great cultural impact in terms of a movement to protect women in the military against these types of harassments and worse in what is essentially a work environment.
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Rabbit Hole is an audio series about the Internet, not the bits and bytes and the technical details, but like, what is it doing?
We all know someone who sometimes when you see them going places or cooking things, we wonder like, did they just do that for the likes?
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And if you would like to hear it on whatever app you're listening to this podcast right now, search rabbit hole. Jennifer, as someone who has reported for quite some time on military culture, what did you ultimately make of the experience of Paula Kosslyn, this woman who tried to report really grotesque sexual harassment and was ultimately hounded out?
So, yeah, in some sense, as you say, that convention was so extreme and so gross that it felt absolutely unique. But what happened to her actually wasn't really at all. And that is both a combination of cultural issues within the military as well as technical issues and legal issues, if you will, about how crimes against women of this sort and then, I should add, are adjudicated in the military system. Only you could start with the cultural problem.
So women in any workplace can relate to the idea that they have to prove themselves more than men do. And that is certainly true in the military, where women only recently have been entering certain combat roles. And once you enter the military, that's a close knit organization. It's not like another workplace. You're living together, right. Camaraderie is not only essential to the culture, it's essential to the mission. And part of the way, unfortunately, that women are often pressured to fit into the military is to be, quote, one of the guys.
They're expected to be essentially tougher and to take things. And so that makes it more difficult sometimes to discern harassment and then certainly to report on it. And once you do report on it, you are often considered by your peers and your superiors to be the problem, that you're the one who's messing with this cohesion and this camaraderie. And of course, not all men in the military view their colleagues, their female colleagues that way. Right. So I don't mean to to portray women in the military as under constant assault.
That's not the way it is. But once they are harassed or worse, they often do find that this sense of what are you doing there to begin with can set in.
So culturally, the deck is stacked against women.
What about the legal kind of technical obstacles involved in bringing harassment claims to light? Right. People may be surprised to learn who don't know much about the military, that the military justice system is quite different from the civilian justice system. And we're talking about these harassment cases and worse, its military commanders who decide to begin with, who's prosecuted and for what. And then they pick the jurors and then they review the verdicts. And then when people are convicted and sentenced, the commander can also decide to throw those sentences out.
And that's happened repeatedly. But there's a reason that the military justice system works that way. It's so all disciplinary actions are kept within the chain of command. And that's so important to keeping the cohesion in the military. But the problem with that system is in cases of sexual assault in particular, the system tends not to favor the victim. It tends to favor the accused. And so this system is a major impediment for men and women seeking justice in these kinds of cases.
So, Jennifer, given those cultural and logistical obstacles, how frequently are there successful prosecutions or punishments when there are allegations of sexual harassment in the military?
So the Pentagon regularly surveys men and women in the military, and there are tens of thousands of respondents literally who say that they've been assaulted while in the military. But a fraction of those have actually been officially reported. And when they are reported. An even smaller fraction of those actually go to trial. For those that go to trial, a larger percentage actually result in convictions, but now you're looking at a very small pool from our original number. And in many cases, sometimes when you have those convictions, they're overturned.
From knowing that math, just how rare these cases are brought, just how rarely they are successfully prosecuted, I have to imagine that there has been tremendous pressure to fix the system. Right. And to make the military more responsive and accountable to allegations of harassment.
So there have been incremental changes to how women are treated in the military. But the issue of how sexual assault cases are prosecuted, both for women and for men has been the subject of debate for decades. And this sort of all came to a head in 2013 when Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who was on the Senate Armed Services Committee, decided to take this issue on in a big way.
We all know that our military is home to the best and the brightest in the world.
And there is such a small number of criminals within our military that are undermining good order and discipline and destroying lives.
And those are the individuals. What Gillibrand really wanted to do was try to change how these crimes are dealt with.
What several of us are asserting and arguing today is we think you should do what other countries around the world who we fight with every day. They've taken the serious crimes out of the chain of command for precisely this reason.
So she wanted to give military prosecutors the authority to decide which sexual assault cases even go to trial instead of commanders.
Not all commanders are objective. Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is.
And the reason for that is that would protect victims by having a legal professional evaluate their case.
This set of prosecutors are trained for sexual assault and rape within the military.
They know the law and they know whether they can win these cases. So I want that trained military prosecutor, not any commander.
She also wanted to move the authority to convene the court martial trials outside of the chain of command as well, because by removing that authority from the commander, the idea was that survivors would also be better protected.
So that is what we are here to do. We have to answer the call of these victims.
In some ways, it's kind of a simple solution to a lot of these problems, take the decision making about who is prosecuted out of the hands of military leaders.
In some ways you say this sounds simple, but it's really not simple at all because of the differences of both the culture and the way that the military functions. In fact, to overturn that is basically putting a stick in the eye of the entire culture of what the command structure is, the military. So what is the reaction to it?
So the response was pretty interesting and largely negative. Obviously, a lot of leaders, the military didn't like it at all.
But most interestingly, first, let me say with all my heart how much I respect Senator Gillibrand.
Leadership on this issue was then Senator Claire McCaskill, another Democrat from Missouri.
We have an honest disagreement on how best to accomplish our shared goal of putting predators in prison and supporting victims during the most difficult moments of their lives.
She wanted to have a much more sort of pared back version.
We all know that there's a desire to solve this problem.
And there are a lot of women on the committee who also opposed Gillibrand measure, but we cannot let it blind our judgment. But then there were others who were somewhat surprising, who supported her.
I was persuaded by Senator Gillibrand is exceptionally passionate and able advocacy Ted Cruz of Texas.
Senator Gillibrand, I believe, made a persuasive case that keeping the reporting in the chain of command, as Rand said, has proven, in fact, to be deterring victims from reporting their crimes.
And at the time, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, who were probably two of the most conservative Republicans on the committee at that time, sided with Gillibrand.
But in the end, on this vote, the yeas are 55, the nays are 45. After a lengthy, heated debate on the floor when it came time to vote, Gillibrand measure came.
Five votes short of the motion is not agreed to and the bill is returned to the calendar.
And so Gillibrand was defeated. And every year since then, Senator Gillibrand has attempted to bring a version of that as an amendment to the defense bill. And so far she has not succeeded, which I think brings us to today and to Vanessa Garcia.
And you had said, Jennifer, that. That case quickly galvanized civilians and soldiers who are fed up with the current system not changing. What about lawmakers in Washington? How have they responded to her death?
So if you think about this almost as a beach ball that's always up in the air, right? Everyone keeps hitting the ball, hitting the ball. It's moving from advocacy groups. It's moving all around. Vanessa's death really knocked that beach ball back into the halls of Congress. And one thing that's happened since Senator Gillibrand first introduced that legislation is the twenty eighteen midterm elections which ushered in a whole new group of women in Congress. Among those women, you have a fair number of female veterans and those who were in other service jobs at the CIA and so forth.
So I think you're really seeing not just the presence of women on armed services committees in the House and Senate, but you're seeing the specific importance of having more female veterans in Congress who are interested this issue and perhaps bringing a different perspective to it. Jennifer, I wonder if you think that as powerful as this moment is that. Change is possible inside the military, you have explained why chain of command is such a powerful concept, how deep the reluctance is to disrupt it.
And the story that we have just told here is one where something pretty awful happens, whether it's Paul Kosslyn or the hundreds, if not thousands of women who have complained and been retaliated against or more recently, the violent murder of Vanessa, Jim. And even decades later, nothing seems to have meaningfully changed.
Over the past 10 years, I have seen military leader after military leader come to Capitol Hill and expert after expert testify before a congressional committee saying the same thing over and over again, making the same promises over and over again. And while there certainly have been incremental changes to policies inside the military, there hasn't really been a dent in the number of men and women complaining about sexual harassment and assault.
I can't say whether the change in how these cases are adjudicated by taking them out of the chain of the command is the answer. But I can say that there has to be something completely different and radical and new within the culture of the military to shift to make some dent in this problem. Jennifer, thank you very much. Thank you for paying attention this issue, Michael. In Kindersley, Aleppo, Syria's civil war came audio, video. When you look a million dollars and her daughter died, her daughter died in service of the country from the hand of people who are in the military.
On Thursday, President Trump hosted the family of Vanessa Greer, including her mother, sister and the family's lawyer at the White House, where he promised them a, quote, very strong investigation into her death.
As you know, the FBI and the DOJ are now involved. We got them involved. And the people at Fort Hood where it took place are very much involved. We didn't want to have this swept under the rug, which could happen. We'll be right back. World champion soccer player and trailblazing activist Megan Rapinoe is coming to HBO Sports in Seeing America with Megan Rapinoe, the iconic star athlete hosts a fearless conversation with Representative Alexandrea Ocasio Cortez, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist of the 16 19 project, Nicole Hannah Jones, and acclaimed television host Hasan Minhaj.
Watch these change makers come together to talk about the challenges we face as a nation. Seeing America with Megan Rapinoe premieres Saturday, August 1st at 10 p.m. on HBO and stream it on HBO Max. Here's what else you need to know today. The economic toll of the pandemic became clearer on Thursday when the government announced that the country's gross domestic product, a broad measure of economic health, fell by nearly a third. It was the most devastating three month collapse on record, and it wiped out five years of economic growth.
And the coronavirus has claimed the life of a former presidential candidate, Herman Cain, a restaurant executive who sought the Republican nomination in 2012 and briefly led the field.
In polling, Cain tested positive after attending an indoor rally for President Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, where he was photographed without a mask. He was hospitalized with covid-19 soon after. Finally, from Schreuder, the citizens of Nashville, from the Freedom Rides to the March on Washington, from Freedom Summer to Selma. John Lewis always looked outward, not inward. He always thought about others. He always believed in preaching the gospel in word and indeed insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope.
In Atlanta on Thursday, the funeral of Congressman John Lewis drew three living presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, each of whom delivered eulogies of the civil rights leader. What a radical idea. What a revolutionary notion. This idea that any of us, ordinary people, a young kid from Troy. Can stand up to the powers and principalities and say, no, this isn't right, this isn't true. This isn't just. We can do better.
In his eulogy, President Obama said that America owes an enormous debt to John Lewis.
America was built by John Lewis. He, as much as anyone in our history, brought this country a little bit closer. To our highest ideals and someday when we do finish that long journey towards free, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it's years from now or decades or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.
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