What To Talk About When We Talk About Sarah Hyland & Matt Prokop

sarahhyland-embedPhoto: BEImages/Matt Baron.
UPDATE: The Los Angeles Superior Court confirms to Us Weekly that Sarah Hyland has been granted a three-year restraining order from Matthew Prokop. Per the conditions of the restraining order, "Prokop must stay 100 yards from her, her house, and her dog, as well as not go near her workplace, not own a gun, and not attack or threaten to harm her dog in any way."
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This story was originally published on September 24:
Actors Sarah Hyland and Matt Prokop publicly announced their breakup in late August. Reports gave the Us Weekly stock line of “Sarah’s doing fine. It didn’t work out. She’s young. They decided they would be better off as friends.” for the reason why they split
Last night, TMZ broke the news that Hyland had obtained a temporary restraining order against her ex-boyfriend. According to the court documents Hyland filed, she claims Prokop was verbally and physically abusive during the last four years of their relationship, and that she feared for her life.
“The documents filed speak for themselves. Out of respect for the court, the process and all parties, I have advised Ms. Hyland not to comment on the matter. We request that you respect the parties' privacy during this time,” Hyland’s attorney Lee Sherman said in a statement to the New York Daily News. Still, by this morning, the news was everywhere.
The recent cases of domestic violence in the NFL started a long overdue conversation. Tired of the shame that has long shrouded survivors speaking out and the blame assignation in which many media outlets were engaging, Writer Beverly Gooden started the hashtag #WhyIStayed. “When the overwhelming public voice is of shame, you can get lost in the guilt. You can feel voiceless. I want people to know that they have a voice,” Gooden told Mic.
#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft have already been a powerful tool in shifting how we talk about domestic violence. Now that the contents of Hyland’s temporary restraining order have been made public, it's time for the dialogue to evolve even further. It’s unfortunate that a private matter — one that caused Hyland physical and emotional pain — is being discussed so cavalierly in headlines like “Modern Family Star Sarah Hyland: Ex-BF Choked Me…I Fear For My Life,” especially in these crucial first days after taking action.
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Hyland’s restraining order request was granted September 19. “The most dangerous time for a survivor is when he/she attempts to leave the abusive partner,"says Atossa Movahedi, special counsel and director of development from the Urban Justice Center’s Domestic Violence Project. "It’s a sign that the he or she is taking control and leaving, which can threaten the abuser and ignite him/her to become extremely violent, even fatal." So, in the interest of granting Hyland privacy during this pivotal time, let's instead turn our focus on spreading information about the "how" in "why I left."
As with the NFL incidents, the fact that it takes a celebrity filing for a restraining order to bring domestic violence into the national dialogue is upsetting, especially when you consider the statistic that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. But, any incident that can trigger a conversation helps spread awareness.
“Whenever there’s media coverage on domestic violence, it definitely increases awareness and opens up people’s eyes to how common it is and that it may even occur amongst people whom we may look up to and even idealize,” Movahedi notes. “Females between the ages of 20 and 24 are at the highest risk of intimate partner abuse, and [at 23], Hyland fits into this age group.”
That Hyland sought out a temporary restraining order shows an inordinate amount of strength, especially because, as Movahedi explains, “the court proceedings in criminal and family court where orders of protection are litigated are open to the public and not closed court rooms.” Meaning that while “you couldn’t just walk into a courthouse and look up a case file,” outlets like TMZ have a way of finding and making them public.
Unfortunately, a restraining order is still just a piece of paper. “It doesn’t stop a bullet, and it doesn’t always deter someone from breaking the law,” Movahedi notes. “We always tell the survivor that he/she is the expert of their life. They know their abuser best and can anticipate how he/she may react to being served with an order of protection.” Every situation is unique, and Movahedi stresses the importance of survivors speaking to a domestic violence expert or attorney before filing for an order or protection.
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Hyland also sought help from her Modern Family costar Julie Bowen. According to the court documents, she asked Bowen to come to the house she shared with Prokop to help peacefully end the relationship. “Friends and family can be a critical source of support for victims who have often been isolated in the relationship and made to believe that the abuse is normal or deserved,” Movahedi says. It’s important to note that it was Hyland who reached out to Bowen because, she notes, “the survivor needs to come to that determination on his/her own.”
If you think a friend or loved one is experiencing domestic abuse, be supportive. “A judgment-free response can be difficult but critical,” Movahedi stresses. “There’s a tremendous amount of shame that survivors often carry, so listening without questioning or judgment is important.”
In terms of actionable steps, she suggests creating a code word, so if there’s an incident and your friend needs help, he or she can alert you without the abusive partner overhearing. Friends can also keep copies of important documents or an emergency bag in case a survivor needs to flee. “A common reason people stay is that they simply don’t have the support system they need,” Movahedi says. "Promise to be there during and after."
Right now, Sarah Hyland needs the space and support to allow her to take action. This shouldn’t be about making her a face of domestic violence. If a friend or loved one is in a similar situation, get information about how to help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
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