Galina Prozorova

2022 Mental Health Champion

GALINA PROZOROVA

Human trafficking and domestic violence victims find an advocate in a survivor who found her voice

By Dorsey Griffith

Don’t ever tell anyone about what happened to you.

These were the instructions Galina Prozorova received during and after a childhood of sexual abuse perpetrated by a family member and later while suffering spousal abuse.

She carried her agonizing silence, which began at age 10 on a rural Russian farm, well into her 20s and even after escaping her violent marriage. Serving others, she thought, would remedy the wounds festering inside.

Thankfully, she later realized that her terrifying secrets prevented her healing. And only by spilling out her stories did her path as an advocate become crisply clear.

Prozorova was born in a staunchly religious and isolated environment without cell phones or TVs, a place where bears and wolves roamed and winters were harsh. Late at night her abuser told her she was being groomed for marriage, just as every girl is where she grew up. When her mother discovered the abuse, she told her daughter, then 14, to pretend nothing was wrong. But nightmares and thoughts of suicide plagued her.

The abuse continued after the family left Russia and moved to Sacramento, and Prozorova ran from home, staying with relatives or other church members. At 18, she met the man she hoped would change everything, but his beatings led to hospital visits, high blood pressure and damage to her reproductive system.

Portrait of Galina Prozorova, 2022 Steinberg Institute Mental Health Champion
Photograph by: Salgu Wissmath

“My body was shutting down,” she says. “It got to the point where I realized that I will die from his hands or escape and die by God’s hands.”

She left her marriage after seven years, but because her church teaches that divorce is a punishable sin she was shunned. Still bottling up her trauma, she focused on her goal of attending medical school by taking pre-med classes at Sacramento State, working night shifts as a pharmacy technician and conducting medical research in a hospital emergency department.

“I was sleeping three or four hours each night,” she says. “Now I realize that I didn’t want to think for a second about what had happened to me – it was so scary.”

Her epiphany came after overhearing emergency room doctors suggest that an abuse survivor they had treated should simply leave her abuser. The remark, she says, was offensive.

I realized that the more I spoke about what happened to me the more power I got. I am gaining that voice of the 10-year-old who was never able to speak up for herself.

Galina Prozorova

“I know why the woman can’t just leave,” she says.

Prozorova joined various hospital-based human trafficking task forces and took a job as a victim resources specialist at the California District Attorneys Association, where she helped conduct research about domestic and sexual abuse and the soul-crushing trauma it can cause. She trained on how to support survivors, finished a master’s degree in public health with a focus on human-trafficking prevention, and worked on a six-episode documentary about child sex and domestic violence survivors. She also received psychotherapy treatment.

And, most importantly, she found her voice.

“I realized that the more I spoke about what happened to me the more power I got,” she says. “I am gaining that voice of the 10-year-old who was never able to speak up for herself.” 

Prozorova, now 33, switched gears from medicine to law and now attends Lincoln Law School. In late 2021, she joined the International Rescue Committee where she manages human- trafficking, domestic-violence and survivor-services teams that support refugees and other vulnerable populations.

With a law degree, she says, she can further advocate for changes in the criminal- justice system and how society views survivors. She will work to explain why survivors fear disclosure of their abuse and will seek policy changes to make it safe to do so. She hopes to ensure everyone has access to resources that enable and support healthy relationships.

And she’ll continue empowering survivors to find their voice.

“When you get out of an abusive relationship, you feel like you’ve lost everything,” she will tell them. “Don’t focus on what you have lost. Don’t let trauma control the rest of your life. Admire yourself.”

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The Steinberg Institute is an independent, nonprofit public policy institute dedicated to advancing sound public policy and inspiring leadership on issues of brain health.