"Brutally" does not even begin to describe this horror movie in real life.
Just as George Floyd's murder-by-cop awakened millions to the value of black lives and the systemic rot in police culture, Vanessa's murder-by-colleague may serve to awaken millions to the rape culture that is rampant in our armed services—which in turn is a reflection, if somewhat distorted, of our society as a whole.
Vanessa's Story in Brief
Vanessa, a 20-year-old private first class up for promotion, went missing from Fort Hood on or about 22 April. Her family had to ring up Fort Hood for weeks before the base command started any serious inquiry. She is not the first female soldier to disappear from Hood without explanation. She is far from the first to experience sexual harassment or assault on the base.
Her body was found about two weeks ago, partially buried in a wooded area, but her identity took several days to confirm: When she was bludgeoned to death, her teeth were so badly damaged that the coroner could not match them with dental records.
And then there's that whole aspect of blood in the storage room where the murder supposedly happened.
The main suspect in her death committed suicide before the MP's could get to him. The suspect's paramour, Cecily Aguilar, is now in custody, charged with having assisted with the disposal of the body and possibly more.
Not Racially Motivated—But...
It brings me no solace to note that Vanessa's Latinx origins were not the motivating factor in her murder. We won't have a clear idea of the motive until Aguilar's trial gets underway, and possibly not even then. What we do know is that women in the US Armed Forces all too frequently face sexual harassment and assault—and that reporting it all too often jeopardizes their positions and chances of promotion. This is especially true when the complaint is against an officer, even more so when the complainant is a person of color.
We also know that the military is not the only institution in which sexual predators are protected: It happens in the business world and in colleges and universities in this society that still hasn't outgrown patriarchy.
I have a 19-year-old cousin who, like Vanessa, is a beautiful young woman who went straight from high school into the Army. My cousin is smart and hip enough to know what she might have to endure; I just hope that she has some comrades who'll be watching her back, and that she will do the same for them. Some of Kayleen's foster kids and their friends, mostly of African or Hispanic heritage, are active-duty military as well. They may have had patriotic motivations for enlisting, but there were financial and educational motivations in the mix. One's family doesn't have to live below the poverty line to make one eligible for the Poverty Draft.
There's no assurance that Vanessa's case would have come out any better if it all happened in a civilian environment. But she would have had a better chance of surviving the ordeal if she had confidence that reporting harassment would result in action against the harasser.