Art display in Cedar Rapids highlights sexual assault in the military

Two exhibits at Veterans Memorial Building will run through Feb. 7

Art from Project Retrospect and Stepping Stones will be on display at the Veteran's Memorial Building until Feb. 7. (Sur
Art from Project Retrospect and Stepping Stones will be on display at the Veteran's Memorial Building until Feb. 7. (Survivors Empowered Through Art photos)

The inaugural exhibit at the newly renovated Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids will focus issues of sexual assault in both the military and civilian society.

Two art displays and a film screening will highlight the issues. Survivors Empowered Through Art (SETA), a Wisconsin-based non-profit, will provide the art displays.

The first display, “Project Retrospect: Flipping the Script on Rape,” features 20 photos taken by  SETA founder and executive director Rachel Beauchene, an artist and a survivor of military sexual trauma.

The photos feature questions people have for sexual assault perpetrators. People around the country emailed their questions to Beauchene, an artist and herself a survivor of military sexual trauma.

“Our goal is to change how we perceive rape. It’s common practice to ask, ‘Why was she doing this; why was she drinking; why was she out by herself?’” she said. “We’re constantly questioning and blaming the victim when we should be questioning the perpetrators.”

The second display, “Stepping Stones: Our Path to Healing,” features glass blocks decorated by sexual assault survivors with something that helped them transition from being a “victim” to being a “survivor.”

“It’s a violation of the most private parts of you. It’s not just something you can get over,” Beauchene said. “We wanted to be able to help survivors and be able to give them a voice.”

She said military sexual assault is an issue that impacts the wider community, not just armed service members. Too often, she said, sexual assault in the military goes unreported or, when it is unreported, unpunished.

That issue is the focus of the documentary “The Invisible War,” which will be screened Jan. 30 at the Veterans Memorial Building to accompany the art exhibits. The American Legion of Washington is hosting the screening.

“When you join the military, you’re prepared for the idea you might get wounded, but you’re not expecting to be raped by the guy in the foxhole next to you,” said Barbara Duder, First District women veterans coordinator of the American Legion.

According to the documentary, a female soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The number of military sexual assaults in the last decade is believed to be in the hundreds of thousands.

“Military rape is just like rape in the civilian world,” Duder said. “The only way to change the problem is for the world to be aware of the problem.”

If you go:

  • What: “Project Retrospect: Flipping the Script on Rape” and “Stepping Stones: Our Path to Healing” exhibits
  • When: Jan. 21 to Feb. 7., open Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or by special appointment.
  • What: Screening of “The Invisible War”
  • When: 7 p.m., Jan. 30
Both events are at the Veterans Memorial Building, 50 Second Avenue Bridge and are free and open to the public. They are being presented in joint collaboration of Midwest Military Outreach, Survivors Empowered Through Art, the Veterans Memorial Commission and Riverview Center.

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