This article discusses sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-877-544-6424.
Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher demonstrate their pro-survivor activism means nothing when it comes to their wealthy peers.
On May 31, Danny Masterson was convicted for the drugging and rape of two women in the early 2000s.
The trial had long been completed, and Masterson has been sentenced to 30 years in prison. However, the story doesn’t end with his sentencing. Recently, letters of support from fellow That ’70s Show stars Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher have surfaced.
In their letters, Kunis and Kutcher present Masterson as a positive and caring role model. Kunis described how his stance against drugs helped her through her career, while Kutcher cites examples of Masterson defending women in his letter, pleading on behalf of Masterson’s daughter. Kutcher expressed it would be damaging to her if she doesn’t have her father around.
A letter of support is an important check in the judicial system. They provide context for a judge in the sentencing portion of a trial after a guilty verdict has been rendered. These letters provide grounds for sentencing and seek to better balance the judicial system that disenfranchises so many. In Masterson’s case, these letters of support are simply written excuses, which demonstrate the broad acceptance of rape culture.
These arguments have been seen, in many other forms and in many other cases of sexual assault, to paint perpetrators of harm as victims of the judicial system.
Kunis and Kutcher’s defence of Masterson echoes similar arguments made to defend other perpetrators of sexual assault. Brock Turner’s case comes to mind. Similar to Masterson, the impact a prison sentence would have on his family and future were used as arguments against a stiff sentence.
To call Masterson a kind and caring person with the knowledge he sexually assaulted multiple women is a dismissal of those women’s claims, which minimizes the harm caused by his actions. It implies the positive interactions between Kunis, Kutcher, and Masterson overwrites the harm Masterson has caused, as if his influence over them can erase years of trauma.
While we live in a time where consent and sexual assault are more openly spoken about, we still see the pervasiveness of rape culture in actions like these. Kunis and Kutcher both lead and participate in an anti-child sexual abuse non-profit, but their actions in defending an abuser contradict their advocacy.
The issue isn’t that Kunis and Kutcher had the ability to send in letters of support, but rather they elected to do so with the knowledge they have of Masterson’s conduct and the position they take as anti-sexual abuse advocates.
Kunis and Kutcher’s actions not only partially discredit the organization they work for, but sow further mistrust in survivors. The public outcry against their actions is positive, as it shows their actions are less acceptable in today’s age. However, their high-profile status means they have actual social power they used to discredit the survivors, and this could potentially normalize similar types of justification for other abusers.
The outcry against their letters stems not only from their fame, but their advocacy, which is now cheapened. Ultimately, it’s disappointing to see such promising advocates against sexual assault perpetuate the same narratives that harm survivors.
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