It was eight years after the fact that Rachel Beauchene learned in a very private moment that she didn’t have – never had – all the facts she needed at her disposal.
She was in her office that November day in 2012 at the University of Wisconsin — La Crosse, where she served as a violence prevention specialist while attending graduate school. On the DVD player was the documentary “The Invisible War,” a piercing indictment of how the United States military has not only failed but disposed of victims of sexual assault.
Eight years before, while stationed at Ft. Meade, Md., Beauchene had been sexually assaulted. After reporting the assault, her commanding officer forced her to drop the charge, she said. She was eventually reassigned to South Korea, where she repeatedly ran into her assailant.
Those encounters took their toll. She said she was treated for bipolar and personality disorders based on Army diagnoses. She eventually received a honorable discharge, but felt as if she had been stamped unfit by the military.
She virtually lived alone with those feelings until that day in 2012 when for the first time since that life altering event, she learned what had happened to her was all too typical of the other victims of this deeply invasive crime.
“I was so glad I was in my own office by myself,’’ she recently recalled. “I was balling. It was at that moment I realized how big an issue it was, how devastating it was to so many.”
She also realized that she could no longer remain silent. “It’s what got me to speaking out,’’ she said.
Beauchene will be speaking out Sept. 12 at Blackhawk Technical College during a discussion of sexual assault in the military as part of a program being put on by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA). She will share many of her experiences following a special viewing of “The Invisible War’’ in the BTC Triangle Room (Room 1400A) that begins at noon.
The WCASA meeting at 11 a.m. and the documentary are open to the public at no charge. However, participants need to register for the event with Stephanie Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at https://www.eventbrite.com/event/7969536097 because of limited seating.
Beauchene, 27, admitted that meetings such as this are part of her ongoing therapy for the post-traumatic stress syndrome that resulted.
“It’s hard. It gives me a lot of anxiety,’’ she said of detailing her experiences in a public setting. “But it reminds me that I am one person who can be there to help someone else. When it happened to me, I didn’t have anyone else.’’
Now, Beauchene is trying to make sure those who suffered the same indignity she did have someone to reach out to.
She regularly consults with Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office about legislative proposals. “It’s good to see Congress get active on this issue because it will help the public understand that it is a people issue, not just a military issue,’’ she said.
She is the executive director of Survivors Empowered Through Art (SETA), her organization that raises awareness about sexual assault through art and storytelling. Beauchene’s photographs are on display at the BTC library through the Sept. 12 event.
Her most recent public speaking engagement was in August at Volk Field, the Wisconsin Air National Guard base near Camp Douglas. She was especially moved by the response of those in uniform to her comments.
“The more people out there who are willing to try to make a difference, the better,” she said. “There was a good reaction. The base’s sexual assault coordinator said people paid more attention than they would if it were just a talk about sexual assault because I was someone who went through it.’’
Beauchene has posted photographs from the support she received at Volk Field on SETA’s Facebook page.
“If I’m there speaking out, it can change a life,’’ she said, “maybe even save a life.’’