Shelter from the Storm
Humaira Mirza helps victims become survivors
Published in 2019 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine
By Andrew Brandt on November 13, 2019
When she enrolled in the University of New Mexico School of Law, Humaira Mirza knew she wanted to spend her career in the service of others. But it wasn’t until she took a family law class with Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a longtime UNM professor and current New Mexico state senator, that she figured out how.
“My professor, also my mentor, was a domestic violence survivor, and she was doing a training for people who wanted to represent domestic abuse victims,” says Mirza. “I gave that a try, and when my training was complete, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
After earning her J.D. in 2010, Mirza moved to Kansas with her husband, and opened her own practice in Overland Park. Her domestic abuse work began with Legal Aid, and included educating members at Islamic centers in Johnson County and volunteering at shelters in the Kansas City metro.
“There is a lot of misinformation within the Muslim community that domestic abuse is allowed in Islam, which is not true at all,” Mirza says, noting that Overland Park has a disproportionately large Muslim community. “There is a lack of awareness about domestic abuse within every community I’ve talked to—whether it’s a Muslim community, Jewish community, non-religious groups. People ask, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave [her abuser]?’ Answering that question is frustrating for me, but it’s required so people can understand why a victim keeps going back.”
Most of her practice involves domestic violence cases, though she does some estate planning and guardianship work as well. But her passion project is to get a domestic abuse shelter up and running in Overland Park. In the entirety of Johnson County, she says, there’s only one. “I have been wanting to start something for domestic abuse victims for a long time,” she says. “I figured, if I keep waiting, there’s always going to be something holding me back.”
This year, Mirza selected a shelter name, Breathe Hope; put a board together; got approved for a 501(c)(3); began looking at potential properties and hosted a fundraiser in October, which is domestic abuse awareness month. “Hopefully by this time next year, we will have a shelter opened and working,” she says.
Noting that the community has been very receptive to the idea, Mirza says friends have started collecting toiletries and clothes for donation, and a local Girl Scout group has volunteered to clean and set up the space after a location has been secured. She’s working with another attorney on the project, but most of the aid she’s seeking comes via social work. “In a shelter, there is a lot of legal work for the victim that needs to be done,” Mirza says. “But most of the help they need is getting back on their feet, and psychological counseling.”
Mirza has kept in touch with her former professor and mentor since graduating—Lopez has promised to help write grants and set up the shelter. Her assistance, and that of others, has allowed Mirza to stay a bit outside of the bureaucratical bog that can engulf those involved in nonprofits—and remain focused on victims.
“The most challenging part of the whole process, for me, is knowing that the victim has to make the decision herself,” she says. “A lot of times it’s hard for victims to just leave because they do genuinely love their significant other or spouse. They want things to get better. But from statistics and my experience, I know that things don’t. You cannot pull them out of the situation; you have to let them make their own way from being victims to becoming survivors.”
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