Veteran speaks out against sexual assault in the military
JANESVILLE—Rachel Beauchene proudly entered the U.S. Army at 18 to see the world and to honor her World War II veteran grandfather.
She learned hand-to-hand combat to fight the enemy.
She also learned how to look out for her battle buddy.
But no one ever told her what to do when the bad guys are on her side.
Only months after finishing basic training in November 2004, a fellow soldier sexually assaulted Beauchene.
“You sign up to defend your battle buddy,” Beauchene said. “But what do you do when you are being assaulted by your battle buddy?”
When Beauchene reported the attack to military authorities, "they interrogated and badgered me for hours over numerous days,” she said. “They did a lot of victim blaming. I remember putting my hands over my ears trying to drown out their voices. My commander and others forced me to drop the charges.”
Beauchene will talk about her experience after the showing of a powerful documentary, “The Invisible War,” at Blackhawk Technical College on Thursday. The film discusses sexual assault in the armed forces and is being shown as part of a free program by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Beauchene is a graduate student at UW-La Crosse and a mother who only recently began talking about the violence against her.
“I want to open people's eyes to this issue for many reasons,” she said. “First, rapists don't stop raping when they get out of the military. When they get into the community, people don't have a clue about what they've done. Even if they are punished in the military, they are not on any sex-offender registry.”
Beauchene began talking about her assault after watching “The Invisible War.”
“It made me realize how big a problem sexual assault in the armed forces is,” she said. “I realized I am not the only one who had this happen and then had it covered up. I cried my eyes out. I was shaking. I didn't realize how high the statistics are and how many have been assaulted.”
A Department of Defense study released earlier this year reveals that about 26,000 service members were the victims of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012. That's more than 6 percent of female service members and more than 1 percent of male service members. Only 3,374 filed reports.
The film has been instrumental in bringing the issue to Capitol Hill and is now used in sexual assault training programs in the military.
Beauchene thought she could get away from the man who assaulted her when she was assigned to South Korea. But the assailant also was assigned there, and she kept running into him.
“When I went to mental health for help, they labeled me with a personality disorder and put me on several medicines,” Beauchene said. “At the time, I didn't want to feel anything, so I didn't care. I didn't feel safe anywhere. At that point, I hated the uniform and everything it stood for.”
Beauchene got an honorable discharge from the Army in July 2006.
The attack and its consequences took a serious toll.
“I want people to understand the long-term effects of sexual assault,” 27-year-old Beauchene said. “It is a trauma that affects someone for the rest of their life. I struggle with post traumatic stress disorder. I've been on medication for nine years, except when I was pregnant with my kids. It's hard for me to sleep. I have a lot of social anxiety. I have a lot of hyper-vigilance and am constantly aware of my surroundings.”
Since leaving the military, Beauchene has started a nonprofit called Survivors Empowered Through Art to raise awareness about sexual assault, including military sexual trauma, through art and storytelling. She is collecting stories from survivors of military trauma and has about 20 stories from around the country so far.
Beauchene no longer hates the military uniform. Nor would she discourage a woman from joining the military.
“If you look at the sexual assault statistics for women who go to college, it is one in four,” she said. “But would you tell a woman not to go to college? I would tell women they need to be aware of the statistics and what battles they might face.”
At the end of August, she talked publicly for the first time in front of a military audience during a sexual-assault-training session at Wisconsin's Volk Field.
“It gives me hope that there are some who care about more than saving face,” she said. “I get a lot of emails from service members who thank me for speaking out because they are not in that place yet. I'm not just speaking out for myself. I also am speaking out for others.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.