When Kristina Gilchrist was violently raped by the boy she called her “play brother” at the age of 13, she didn’t tell anyone.
“I was already sexually active. I was acting out,” the DC native said Tuesday. “I was really lawless.”
After 15 minutes of struggling, being pushed and choked by this boy who had a gun – and who told her both that he loved her and that he was going to kill her – Gilchrist gave up.
“I just stopped resisting, stopped fighting,” she said. “I was just there.”
Gilchrist had been sexually assaulted by a cousin when she was 7-years-old; she told her parents, was taken to the hospital, and released. Her parents, who were both addicted to drugs, continued to leave her alone with that cousin. Since reaching out didn’t work when she was 7, Gilchrist said that for years she kept the later assault to herself, too.
She now tells her story without hesitation and she will be speaking Wednesday at 7 p.m. a candlelight vigil to commemorate victims of domestic violence at the North Laurel Community Center, 9441 Whiskey Bottom Road.
The Domestic Violence Center of Howard County is hosting the vigil to highlight October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and will feature Gilchrist, poet 2Deep, a performance by Ballet Mobile and several representatives of the county administration.
Gilchrist said she shares her story with the hope that other victims will speak out and seek help.
For her, it was years until she could tell her story. Before she reached that point, she tried to kill herself, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital; “I went though a lot trying to understand the feelings I was going through,” she said.
She didn’t even know that places like the Domestic Violence Center existed or that there was a name for what had happened to her. “I thought that’s how you loved and I thought that’s how people were supposed to love me.”
Gilchrist's assault was far from rare. In Howard County alone, the Domestic Violence Center served more than 3,300 clients in FY 2011, helping nearly 150 clients obtain protection orders and providing beds to sleep on, legal assistance and family counseling to those in need.
When Gilchrist was 19, her father died. Even though he was addicted to drugs, she said, they still had a very close relationship and his death affected her deeply.
“I grew up immediately,” she said. She found a new group of friends, started reading more, meditating, “I just saturated myself with more positive things.”
Her poetry attracted queries – were the stories she wrote about personal ones?
Gilchrist started speaking to groups about her experiences. But it wasn’t easy.
“I hadn’t spoken to my family about it,” she said. “I was married, I hadn’t spoken much to my husband or children about it.”
Gilchrist didn’t hit the ground running as an advocate for sexual abuse victims. “I tried corporate America several times,” she said. “But when I saw the responses from young girls: ‘I wanted to commit suicide, but I see that there’s a life after being committed to a psychiatric hospital,’ those comments sparked something in me.”
Gilchrist said that the problems victims confronted were bigger than her unease talking about being raped. “When I saw that it was bigger than me I was like, ‘OK, this is what I’m destined to do. The reward so far is greater than anything I could have imagined.’”
Gilchrist said she wants victims to understand that their behaviors, be they criminal, or directed inwards, can be understood as a result of trauma.
She only made the connection years after her abuse. “It was only after learning about myself that I was able to make a connection between different behaviors and events … I was attracting this dysfunction,” she said.
That dysfunction not only affected her, she stressed, but also society. “A lot of people don’t realize that [domestic violence] is a societal problem ... Even if you’re not necessarily concerned about women’s safety, worried about the economy? These women have to seek services provided by Medicare.”
“The sooner that we realize it’s not a ‘just her over there’ problem, the better.” Gilchrist said. And so she relives her trauma and tells her story over and over again.
“It took me a very long time to be able to share my story,” she said, “But I see the faces of people who have come up to me and say they’re so thankful.
“Every moment -- this moment could be somebody else’s moment and I don’t want to rob them of that.”
The Candlelight Vigil is Wed., Oct. 17, 7 - 9 p.m. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. for refreshments and registration. For more information about the Howard County Domestic Violence Center, visit www.dvcenter.org.
This article has been edited to indicate Gilchrist's age when she was first sexual assaulted.