IowaWatch journalist tells about her rare inside look at a
Chicago domestic violence shelter for perspective on the recovery process
Part Two in a series

A home where no one goes of her own choice, a domestic violence shelter becomes a peaceful abode for domestic violence survivors, where they can have a sigh of relief, at least for a limited time.


Here, everyone has a different tale, all of them intertwined with hope. The shelter is a second home that protects the survivors them from their abusers.

These shelters are secure areas where strangers are not allowed. No one can have access to the shelter without authorization. And it was because of that sensitivity I had to sign various confidential documents before finally getting permission to visit a shelter in Chicago.

It was 10 o’clock in the morning when I visited in fall 2012. Entering the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services shelter, I heard the voices of children and women talking in the corridor about their daily chores. The shelter staff was kind and welcoming, and I was allowed to take photographs. On the wall, these words were written: “Every journey begins with a small step.”

The shelter’s tenants were busy doing errands. Life is not the same here as it used to be. Tenants have to share the apartment, which has two bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchen and a restroom. “We all live like a family here, although sometimes it becomes chaotic here,” one of the abuse survivors said.

The Hamdard Center provides free services to domestic violence survivors. It was established in 1992, as a proactive response to address the critical mental health needs of the South Asian and Middle Eastern communities in Illinois.

The shelter is open to all victims of domestic violence, regardless of cultural or religious background but three of every five women who go there for help are from South Asian countries. Of those South Asians, one of every three is Muslim, shelter leaders said.

An estimated 500,000 people of South Asian, Middle Eastern and Bosnian descent live in the Chicago area. South Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants and Bosnian refugees increasingly are making their homes in this country and facing difficulties integrating into mainstream communities.

Maryam Mirza, a Pakistani who is director of the domestic violence program, said the shelter is fully functional and can accommodate up to 13 individuals at any given time.

Maryam Mirza

YouTube video

During their stay in the shelter, women are provided with supportive counseling and case management, legal advocacy, life skills training and job search assistance in order to help them meet service plan goals and obtain self-sufficiency.

Mirza said all shelter staff members are trained and certified for working with domestic violence survivors. Shelter staff members are sensitive to the needs, including those that are cultural, of the people staying in the shelter.

Louise Hernbrott, the shelter’s legal advocate, said the shelter operates three transitional housing units. Since Hamdard’s establishment, 126 individuals have completed their stay and have moved on to independent living.

An Interview with the Director of Hamdard Shelter

Maryam Mirza talks about several important aspects of domestic violence, ranging from cultural barriers to violence prevention.

YouTube video

Watch for the next story in this series:
The impact of domestic violence on children.

Also coming:
How the community can help stop the violence.

If you missed the first story in this series:
Faces of Silence: Seeking Help Difficult for Midwest Muslim Women Abused at Home

About this Project

Lamia Zia

“Faces of Silence” focuses on Muslim American women of South Asian descent in Midwest United States who have been affected by domestic violence. The project highlights the manifestations of domestic violence in this group, how Muslims in the Midwest are dealing with domestic violence, the best practices for intervention in this community and their challenges. This project was the master’s thesis for Lamia Zia at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication in fall 2012. Zia interviewed during that fall domestic abuse survivors living in a Chicago shelter, experts, local women and imams for this report. Her thesis has been edited for presentation at

Type of work:

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