Gender violence in the USSR

Gender violence in the USSR

Katia’s innate brightness is shadowed by her past. She carries a heavy burden, having escaped the attacks and harassment she experienced as a gay woman in Russia. Now in the United States, Katia is still trying to escape her past, and at times, it feels impossible that she will ever be able to move on from the violence she survived in Russia.

Katia’s story began in a privileged family in the former USSR. She grew up in a stable home and worked hard to obtain a university education. However, part of this social contract meant that each aspect of her identity would be heavily monitored.

As Katia grew older and gained a sense of who she truly was, she realized that she did not fit the mold that everyone seemed to cast for her. In recognizing that she was attracted to other women, Katia worried that her community would shun her.

Throughout her earliest relationships, she did her best to remain fully ‘hidden’, worried she would be socially ostracized. Members of the community who noticed Katia’s peculiarities denigrated her. Even though her parents loved her, they severed ties with her. It seemed no matter how hard she tried to fit into her community, she was harassed by others. This harassment progressed into extreme humiliation, physical assaults, threatened abduction, and even rape.

To manage her severe depression, she eventually traveled outside the country where she was surprised to find acceptance. In search for peace and safety, Katia realized she would have to leave Russia in order to find it.

Seared into Katia’s memories are the many physical attacks she endured, one of which left her with a concussion. She recalls being mocked by her teachers, fellow students, employers, and the police when she dared to report attacks. Several times she was harassed by peers, teachers, employers, and the public. She lost jobs largely due to her sexual orientation; in fact, even though she was qualified for positions, she could not obtain work thus hindering her growth in the professional setting.

“You feel like you are all by yourself in the world”, she says as she looks back on her experience.

When Katia was finally able to seek asylum in America, she said, “I am alone, but I am at peace.” Moving forward from self-blame for what has happened in her life has been an emotional process, and yet she is beginning to recognize that the horrific acts committed against her were not her fault. With the help of a PTV’s licensed psychologist, Katia is dealing with the intrusive thoughts, anxiety, hypervigilance, and diminished concentration that plague her. PTV has become a safe refuge and community in which she could process her traumatic experiences with other survivors of torture like her.

In order to treat her depression, stress, and acute anxiety, Katia was enrolled in medical coverage through the assistance of PTV. Moreover, PTV helped write a grant for her to enroll in a massage therapy certification program, a lifeline to independence in a new country, generously funded by the Change a Life Foundation. Presently, Katia is hopeful about the future, feels safe to be herself, and knows that there is support for her to deal with her difficult past.