In May of this year, famous actor and former Scientology member Danny Masterson was convicted of two counts of rape. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo sentenced Masterson to serve two consecutive counts of 15 years to life in state prison early September of this year.
The actions that Masterson was convicted of committing were reported to have been extremely violent and sadistically heinous. The survivors of these horrific attacks described being raped while held at gunpoint, suffocated with pillows and involuntarily drugged. One of the survivors that spoke out against Masteron reported that she was raped in a manner so brutal, she vomited.
It is truly heartbreaking to know that there are victims of such appalling acts who must live with this pain and trauma for the rest of their lives. However, their strength and courage in coming forward about their attacks helped to put away this violent sexual offender to the maximum sentence of 30 years to life – despite his defense attorney Shawn Holley asking for Judge Olmedo to rethink her sentencing due to Masteron’s “lack of criminal record and history of philanthropic actions.”
Now, if you are contemplating the same thing that I, Judge Olmedo and anyone with morals are thinking, you are probably questioning something along the lines of: “What relevance do his past actions have concerning these despicable assaults, and why should that result in a more reduced sentence?” The response to this question seems to come from the perspective of over 50 people who requested the Judge to consider Masterson’s character and grant him a lighter sentence.
Among these dozens of advocates are the couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who were famously co-workers with Masterson in the hit sit-com That ‘70s Show. A few weeks ago, a letter that they wrote to Judge Olmedo got leaked to the press, where they described Masterson as not being “an ongoing harm to society” as well as someone with “exceptional character” and “an outstanding role model and friend.”
To describe someone who has been found guilty of maliciously drugging, threatening, and violently raping two women as a person with “exceptional character” is already disturbing enough, but what makes this exceptionally demented is that it is coming from Kutcher, co-founder and chairman of anti-sex trafficking organization Thorn.
Since 2009, Kutcher has helped run this organization dedicated to combatting child sexual abuse. He has performed speeches in front of congress members declaring the value of saving children from experiencing sexual exploitation and the importance of cracking down on the aggressors that partake in these abusive acts.
It seems that over a decade of dedicating an entire operation to helping protect people from the dangers of sexual abuse has not been enough for Kutcher to realize that rapists do not deserve leniency in their sentences. Nor do their past actions, no matter how noble and harmless they may have been, indicate that it should affect the Judge’s decision when sentencing someone for something as harrowing and trauma-inducing as rape.
After a few days of tremendous backlash from the Internet, Kutcher and Kunis came out with what seemed like an apology video. However, upon further inspection, it becomes evident that not once did the Hollywood couple ever apologize or show regret for writing kind words about their former co-star.
“[Our intentions were] not to undermine the testimony of the victims or re-traumatize them in any way,” Kutcher said in the video. “We never want to do that. And we’re sorry if that has taken place.”
That is the only time in the video that an apology was declared by either of them. And it was not directed at the fact that they wrote glowing letters of recommendation describing a violent convicted rapist as “a role model”, “an extraordinary family man” and a person that is said to “instill integrity, compassion, and respect for others.” It was directed at the fact that the letters were leaked to the public.
This is a classic “I’m sorry for getting caught” case, and people saw right through their tight-lipped explanation. “They weren’t apologizing for writing the letters,” PR professional Beth Booker told the TODAY Show. “They were apologizing that they got caught. This felt like a very quick reaction to a problem, not necessarily an apology”.
And so the backlash towards the couple continued. Now, not only were they under intense scrutiny for the letters to Masterson, but also for their insincere explanation video. On Sept. 14th, days after the video came out, Kutcher officially resigned from his position as chairman of Thorn. He explained in a letter how his decision to step down was due to his “error in judgment” and admitted that his letter of recommendation was “yet another painful instance of questioning victims who are brave enough to share their experiences…”
He goes on to reinforce the importance of the organization’s mission and expresses a sincere apology to all victims of sexual abuse that were shaken from his letter.
Despite all of this, – and the fact that it seems the public finally received a genuine apology – the situation still does not sit right with many people, especially those who have suffered or know others who have suffered from sexual abuse. It should not take extreme Internet backlash for a co-founder of an anti-sex trafficking organization to recognize the gravity of Masterson’s actions.
At the very least, the couple should have maintained their silence and refused to write a letter of recommendation altogether. At the very most, Kutcher and Kunis should have seized this opportunity to demonstrate their vigorous stance against sexual abusers, regardless of any prior acts of moral goodness that may have been committed in their past.
In the end, regardless of any future attempts the couple may make to apologize, they have brought lasting harm to their reputation, conceivably even permanently tarnishing their public image. I, along with a multitude of other advocates against sexual abuse, hope that this sends a colossal message to celebrities and people with high influence everywhere: if you endorse abusers in any way, we indisputably do not endorse you.