USA

Fort Hood soldier found dead after telling family about sexual harassment


A 20-year-old US Army soldier at Fort Hood who told her family she was being sexually harassed was found dead this week, sparking further outrage and calls for accountability at the sprawling military base, which has a history of high rates of sexual assault. assault.

The soldier, Ana Basaldua Ruiz, of Long Beach, Calif., had served for the past 15 months as a combat engineer with the 1st Cavalry Division after joining the military in 2021. Fort Hood officials said that she had died on March 13, but they did not release any information about the cause or circumstances of her death.

The Department of the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division confirmed that “no foul play is evident,” Fort Hood said in a statement Thursday.

“Army CID will continue to thoroughly investigate and gather all evidence and facts to ensure they find out exactly what happened,” the statement said. “Information relating to any possible harassment will be handled and thoroughly investigated.”

Fort Hood has come under intense scrutiny since the murder of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army specialist, who was reported missing from AFB Killeen, Texas in April 2020 after telling friends that she had been sexually harassed. Federal prosecutors said she was killed by another soldier who later in 2020 took his own life with a gun, days before the charges were announced.

Soldier Basaldua’s mother, Alejandra Ruiz Zarco, told Telemundo News that her daughter told her a few weeks ago that an army superior was “harassing” her and that she was the target of repeated sexual advances on the base.

Ms Ruiz, who lives in Mexico, last spoke to her daughter on March 8. Private Basaldua had told his mother that she was “very sad, that she was going through very difficult things, that things weren’t as normal as she thought, that she couldn’t tell me much- thing, but that there would be a time when we were going to be together and she could tell me everything, ”Ms Ruiz told Telemundo News in Spanish.

Private Basaldua’s father, Baldo Basaldua, who lives in California, said his daughter recently told him “her whole life was bad, that she wanted to die,” Telemundo News reported. Her parents did not immediately respond to messages seeking further comment.

At a news conference outside Fort Hood on Friday, leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, called on the FBI to investigate the death of Private Basaldua, saying it was important that investigators outside the army examine the circumstances.

The league was “deeply concerned by reports from her family that their daughter was the target of repeated sexual harassment,” Analuisa Tapia, the group’s district manager in Killeen, said at the press conference.

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on the league’s request.

After Specialist Guillen’s killing sparked protests, an investigation released in December 2020 found “major flaws” at Fort Hood and a command climate that the Secretary of the Army described as “permitting sexual harassment and harassment.” sexual assault”. The military ordered 14 officials, including several high-ranking leaders, to be relieved of their duties or suspended.

A study published in 2021 by the RAND Arroyo Center, a federally funded research group, found that Fort Hood women had a much higher risk of sexual assault than the average Army woman. Researchers found that the total risk of sexual assault for Army women at Fort Hood in 2018 was 8.4%, compared to 5.8% for all Army women.

The researchers found that young age was also associated with an increased risk of sexual assault, as were low levels of education and low rank. Fort Hood and Fort Bliss — another installation in Texas with above-average assault rates — have large numbers of young, lower-ranking soldiers.

For some, the death of Private Basaldua suggests there isn’t enough change at the grassroots, even after President Biden signed legislation to overhaul how the military responds to reports of sexual harassment. The measure was named in honor of specialist Guillen.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, urged the military to fully investigate Private Basaldua’s death, “including an assessment of why Ft. Hood continues to fail to keep young soldiers safe.

“Reports of sexual harassment in front of Pvt. Basalduaruiz’s death is troubling,” he said. on Twitter. “Congress passed provisions of the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act to address issues of sexual assault and harassment in the military. We need to know if these protections are being fully implemented.

Representative Mayra Flores, Republican of Texas, also expressed concern.

“Pvt. Ana Basalduaruiz deserved to live freely without harassment or abuse,” she said. on Twitter. “My heart goes out to his family and all the women who have been ignored or forgotten by a biased system that has let them down.”



nytimes

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