Danitza “Dee” James, an Army veteran from Toano who was stationed at Fort Eustis, wants a mural of Vanessa Guillen in Hampton Roads or on the Peninsula to raise awareness about military sexual trauma.
“Murals have been popping up all over the United States since Vanessa Guillen’s case happened and Virginia does not have one,” the military issues advocate and social work graduate student said. “They’re in Arizona, Texas, California, all over the place…and I have not heard yet of anyone or [an] organization that has done one in the state of Virginia.”
Guillen, an Army soldier who was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, disappeared on April 22 after she confronted a fellow solider who was allegedly sexually harassing her, according to The New York Times. The suspect, Aaron David Robinson, allegedly killed Guillen.
Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, allegedly helped dismember Guillen’s body, which was found in July, months after Guillen went missing. Robinson died by suicide before authorities could arrest him and Aguilar is currently facing charges.
James is currently looking for a mural artist and a business willing to have a mural honoring Guillen. Once she finds an artist and a business, James will need help fundraising for supplies.
While she plans to leave the final mural design up to the artist, James envisions having the faces of Guillen and other military sexual trauma survivors, like LaVena Johnson, as well as names of service members who died “either by suicide or a sexual trauma assault.”
For James, this mural is personal.
She said she feels they are the same in many ways: they both enlisted in the Army, experienced military sexual trauma, were of Mexican descent and their families had “multiple similarities.”
“I did not know her personally but I am an Army Veteran and a Military Sexual Trauma Survivor as well,” she wrote in a Facebook message. “In addition as a Mexican Immigrant with multiple similarities to Vanessa’s family and with a niece and nephew who are currently serving in the military, This is personal for me.”
“Very much like Vanessa Guillen’s case, I did not report,” she added.
When James left the military in 2006 after doing two tours in Iraq as a truck driver and machine gunner, she became an advocate for military veterans, specifically military sexual trauma victims. She currently works with Invisible Combat, a Facebook group which raises awareness about military sexual trauma.
James did not want to speak about her experience in 2005 with WYDaily, saying she has had “time to heal and grow.”
“I kind of focus on it happened, it changed my life and this is who I am and how it changed my life,” she said. “It made me want to advocate for others and be an advocate for change and policy on how military sexual trauma is handled in the military.”
When asked why she wanted to have a mural in Hampton Roads instead of organizing a protest or another form of community outreach, James said she felt military sexual trauma and suicide is “not just a one single event thing.”
She said Hampton Roads is a large military community but she has not seen murals that honor and pay homage to veterans. A mural has “a lot more longevity” and will serve as a reminder to the community that there is a lot military in the area and issues like sexual trauma not only affect the military but also the community as a whole, she added.
“I think our community is not exempt from sexual trauma,” James said. “I just feel it’s important to bring that awareness to it.”
“I think that another way to say it is Vanessa was a member of her community, a young lady,” James said. “She was 20 years old and she decided to join the military…and that sexual assault and that harassment changed her life”.
“I have niece in military in bootcamp right now,” James said. “But I’m fearful for her.”
To contact James, you can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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