Domestic abuse: Experts say you often miss it even when it’s close to home

Cycle of Violence -3
The cycle of violence (click to see full size). This diagram is used by experts to help those touched by domestic abuse to understand how it works. They stress that breaking this cycle is key to halting domestic abuse.

With formal charges of attempted murder now filed against David Morgan for savagely beating and attempting to set fire to his ex-wife Brenda Welch, many in the community are asking questions about domestic violence and its early danger signs, what to look for and what to do if you suspect something.

According to prosecutors, Morgan planned and carried out a scheme to murder Welch to avoid paying her more than $50,000 in child support and other payments, and then cover up the crime by setting his home on fire.

Welch survived, but remains at Harborview in a semi-conscious state.

“They just seemed like a normal family,” said neighbor Liberty Graves, whose daughter attended Meadowdale High School with Welch’s daughter. Graves was the first to call 911 the night of Nov. 16 when she saw flames coming from the back of Morgan’s west Lynnwood home.

Experts say this is typical. Domestic violence is hard to spot from the outside, but subtle signs are often there.

“A defining characteristic of domestic violence is that it’s done out of sight of others,” said Jan Dahlman, Shelter Manager for Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County. “It typically occurs within the family unit, and even close neighbors are often not aware.”

“It’s all about power and control,” Dahlman stressed. “The abuser wants to control where you go, who you see, what you read, even what you think.”

According to Dahlman, domestic abuse typically follows a cyclic pattern that starts with tension-building characterized by such things as anger, put-downs, drinking and/or drugs, withdrawing affection, criticism, and “silent treatment.” This will escalate into an acute explosion typified by emotional and/or physical abuse including intense verbal/emotional battering, threats of violence, and active violence such as pushing, hitting, choking, rape, and use of weapons. After the explosion, abusers typically ask for forgiveness, bring flowers, cry, promise to seek counseling, and swear to “never do it again.” This “honeymoon phase” inevitably leads to a new tension-building period, and the cycle repeats.

She went on to say that the person being abused will frequently experience mood swings that mirror the abuse cycle playing out in the home. Abuse victims may seem to be “walking on egg shells” one day (tension phase), fearful the next (explosive phase), and then happy and hopeful (honeymoon phase).

“Sometime there are physical signs like bruises and black eyes,” she said. “But that only reflects the explosive phase of abuse cycles that have gone beyond emotional violence and into physical violence. Other signs are typically more subtle.”

Complicating this is the fact that many abuse victims will tend to isolate and withdraw (according to Dahlman this is one goal of the abuser’s efforts to control), making the signs harder to spot. For example, a neighbor might think the following: “I haven’t seen her in a long time. I used to see her walking in the neighborhood and we’d stop and talk. And on the rare occasions when I do see her, she looks away and avoids me. I hope she’s OK.”

logoIf you are experiencing domestic abuse or know someone who might be, Dahlman urges you to call. “We have a 24-hour hotline, and can provide everything from answers to questions to immediately getting the abuse victim into a safe shelter,” she says. She stressed that when it comes to domestic violence, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Call Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County anytime at 425-252-2873 or visit them at

— By Larry Vogel

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