This weekend, actors Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis have been criticised for letters of support that they wrote for friend and fellow actor Danny Masterson, sent to a judge following Masterson’s rape conviction.
Kutcher and Kunis’s letters described Danny as an ‘excellent role model’ and an ‘amazing friend’. Masterson has since been sentenced to 30 years to life for raping two women. In response to the backlash they've received, Kutcher and Kunis posted a video to social media explaining the letters - but in doing so, they’ve only dug themselves a deeper hole.
In their video, Kutcher and Kunis explain how they’ve always supported victims, and that their video wasn’t intended to diminish the experience of the women that Masterson raped. They explain that they wrote the letters to ‘represent the person we knew for 25 years’. According to their letters, Danny was a hard worker, a good friend and a good father; they wanted this to be taken into account by the judge when sentencing. In their video, they express their support for all victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse.
But there lies the problem: as a society and as individuals, we consistently misunderstand how abuse is perpetrated. We expect that those who perpetrate violence, abuse and sexual assault will be obviously ‘bad people’ - not good friends, good parents, or likeable people.
As we’ve written before, the reality is that this isn’t the case. Abusers don’t present as abusive to everyone they meet: they can be charming, friendly, and appear to be great parents and partners. It's vital for us to acknowledge that often, it is people we respect and admire that are causing significant harm to others behind closed doors. That doesn’t mean treating everyone with suspicion, but it does mean two important things: listen to survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.
Listen to survivors
It’s vital that when someone comes forward with a disclosure of abuse or assault, we believe them. In cases of domestic abuse, which is our focus at Restored, statistics show that a woman will suffer an average of 35 instances of abuse before disclosing. If this disclosure is then met with doubt or disbelief, then it’s possible that that person might go back and experience another 35 incidents before feeling able to ask for help again. It’s not your job to investigate claims, but it is your responsibility to listen when someone shares their story with you.
Hold perpetrators accountable
Secondly, holding perpetrators accountable means that we don’t seek to minimise their actions, or make excuses for them. We might never have seen ‘that side’ of them, and they might have always come across as a good, even admirable, person; that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t face the full consequences of their behaviour. In church contexts, this means being open and honest about what has taken place, and involving the relevant external bodies. Thirtyone:eight have useful information on their website about who needs to be informed in different situations.
What to find out more about how to respond to disclosures?
Our Church Guide is written to help churches respond to disclosures of domestic abuse, and provide support to survivors in a way that is safe and effective.Get your copy