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Survivors and advocates strive to break cycle of domestic abuse for future generations

Illustration: An adult joins hands with a child as they raise themselves up in front of an apple tree.
Janice Chang for NPR
Domestic abuse survivor Monique Green says that group counseling with her adult children has been helpful in processing what they went through as kids.

Looking back, Monique Green said there were early signs that the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her former partner had also affected their children.

“When my ex-husband would leave the home, there was a lot of happiness, and we were able to do many things,” she said. “But when the children recognized it was time for him to come home from work, it was, ‘Let's scurry and put everything in place,’ because anything that we might do could tip his anger.”

Green said that healing from abuse is a never-ending process, but that group counseling with her son and daughter has been helpful in processing what they went through.

“Many times adult children don't realize until later that they suffer emotional abuse — that they are secondary survivors of domestic violence,” she said.

Rates of adults and children seeking and receiving shelter due to domestic violence are increasing. Over the past three years in Illinois, there’s been a steady increase of adults and children requesting and receiving shelter due to domestic violence, according to the state’s Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And according to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, calls for service stemming from domestic violence incidents increased in 2023 from the prior year.

“We actually have more children as residents than we do women,” said Aja Buie, director of residential services at the Women's Safe House in St. Louis. The domestic violence shelter employs an adolescent therapist and a youth development department that connects kids with their own case manager.

“They do a lot of play therapy to try to tackle some of those things that they encountered when they were in the home and help them to process where they are now,” she said.

Monique Green, left, and Aja Buie, right
Emily Woodbury
Monique Green, left, and Aja Buie, right

Buie added that it’s important for children survivors of domestic abuse to be reached as soon as possible, because as kids, they’re forming ideas of what domestic partnerships look like.

“Either they seek out, when in their teen years, people that resemble the person that they were misplaced from, or they go the opposite way, just to kind of justify what happened to them,” she said.

Aja Buie and Monique Green joined St. Louis on the Air to reflect on the ways domestic abuse affects children and how to support families who are dealing with, or escaping from, such abuse. Listen to the conversation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube, or by clicking the play button below.

Domestic violence survivors aim to end the cycle of abuse

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Ulaa Kuziez, Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.