From Victims to Advocates: Challenging Gender Expectations in Domestic Violence


When it comes to domestic violence, women really do get the short end of the stick.

If you’re a victim survivor like me, then this probably isn’t news to you. But you may be surprised to learn that, in addition to bearing your own personal trauma, you are also expected to be a foot soldier tasked with cleaning the mess caused by men’s violence against women.

With increasing numbers of survivors coming out with their stories, it seems like the spotlight is on domestic violence more than ever before. While this is undoubtedly positive, I’ve come to notice that an implicit expectation has arisen alongside it. An expectation that women should take the lead in fixing the problem. A problem caused predominantly by men.

When I first escaped my own violent situation, I wanted answers for why this had happened to me. Where did this toxic behaviour come from? But instead of answers, all I found were campaigns on recognising the signs of abuse, emergency numbers for crisis support, and self-help fodder aimed at boosting women’s confidence, who, like me, were trying to move forward in a world around them that never seemed to change.

First we are expected to recognise the abuse. Then we must execute a difficult and oftentimes dangerous escape from the abuser. And if we do manage to escape, and live to tell the tale, those of us who pursue future relationships must memorise all the red flags. In a dating landscape that’s rigged against us, there are overwhelming numbers of men who, if not initially abusive, may become so later.

We are then forced to go through all the same steps in a traumatising cycle of rinse and repeat. After all we’ve been through, it seems like society still expects women, not men, to work the hardest to address domestic violence. This is even more baffling when you acknowledge the fact that women make up the majority of victims, and men the majority of perpetrators.

There’s no way I was going to accept this.

Recognizing the need for greater advocacy in preventing domestic violence, I developed Lennan & Smallsy Comics, aiming to raise awareness and promote dialogue on this critical issue. The title characters are adolescent boys who are complete opposites. Smallsy comes from a loving home with a great dad, while Lennan’s dad is abusive. Both boys take after their fathers.

We should raise awareness of topics including men’s entitlement to power and control, outdated gender stereotypes, and the patriarchal dominance in our society. There is an emphasis on the need for structural change and prevention of violence, reinforcing the fact that men can choose how they wish to behave. Whether good or bad, they alone are responsible for the consequences.

It’s important to acknowledge that placing the burden of safety solely on women is neither fair nor effective. Instead, we must address the root causes of violence and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Image Credit: Self

When men behave violently, there is a common assumption that they do so because they ‘lose control.’ Not only has this harmful myth allowed men to shift the blame onto women, it has created confusion and uncertainty around how to approach them. By removing or minimising responsibility, we render them helpless. This is how we have turned violent men from perpetrators into victims – an unforgivable injustice. Any effort to solve the domestic violence epidemic should start and end with men. By treating violent men as people who have control over their choices, we create the possibility for them to change. I believe that men can change if they choose to. That’s why I developed my second series, Live Learn Change Comics.

We can go a long way towards solving domestic violence by clearing away the endless misconceptions that surround it. With fallacies like men supposedly losing control, to ones which claim that victims ‘provoke’ them, my comics unmask these, and everything in between.

Society must be open to the possibility that men can, and should, change. If we make this the prevailing belief, then we create two things of immense importance. One, the opportunity for men to change; and two, strong consequences if they choose not to.

So it is time for men, not women, to roll up their sleeves.

-Sara Yan is an author, cartoonist and entrepreneur who uses her lived experience to write about domestic violence, toxic masculinity and sexism.

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