Kutcher & Kunis “Character” Letters Expose the Denial Still Deeply Rooted in Society, but also, Hope

Ophelia Wild
9 min readSep 11, 2023

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An open letter about and to Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher on the harms of denial.

Trigger Warning: CSA, Sexual Assault, Rape, Gaslighting, Victim Blaming Behaviors

This week has proven rough for the usually socially conscious and beloved Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher. After the September 7th sentencing of their long-time co-worker and friend, Danny “touch my balls”, “donkey punch” Masterson, the court released records of character letters that Kutcher and Kunis had written on behalf of Masterson to plead for lighter sentencing. Masterson was found guilty in May 2023 of two counts of rape with two different victims. A third count, based on a police report filed by a third victim, Masterson’s former girlfriend, deadlocked the jury. After a three-year investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, these three charges were filed and two others were dropped due to insufficient evidence and because the statute of limitations had expired. In all, five victims have said that Daniel Masterson raped them.

Three Wise Monkeys, often used today to represent denial, bystanding, and enabling. Illustration Credit: Morphart — stock.adobe.com

Over fifty character letters came mostly from those you’d expect to lobby for leniency on Masterson’s behalf: his wife, family, close friends, and other actors. But the world was shocked to find, among these letters, two strongly-worded power plays from social capital heavy hitters Mila and Ashton.

These myopic letters illustrate a depraved indifference to Masterson’s convictions and the court testimony of the victims. Young women at the time, someone’s daughters, who he traumatized in his brutal crimes. He drugged, smothered and strangled in and out of consciousness, raped, sodomized, and wielded a gun while telling one victim to “shut the fuck up”.

These are the kinds of violent, nightmare-inducing terrors that split a person’s life into before and after. They will never get back their normal social life, or their trust for other people after being betrayed by the system of denial that still exists. They will never get their safety back because their safety, they now know all too well, was always an illusion. A lie.

It may seem obvious that Ashton and Mila’s proximity to this situation has distorted their ability to wisely assess it. This distortion, combined with an abrasive ‘fake apology’ video posted to Kutcher’s Instagram account this weekend, has outraged many who look to them as active human and women’s rights leaders. It is hard to say whether this is a case of true denial or coverup since many of Masterson’s and Kutcher’s own comments and former behaviors contradict the “good guy” narrative. During the time of the rapes, Ashton and Masterson were taking part in a lifestyle of clubbing and “girls gone wild” culture. Even more problematic are the accounts of Ashton illegally kissing Mila (sexual assault) when she was 14 and Kutcher sexualizing minors, including Hilary Duff.

This is not about cancel culture, but accountability. The real tragedy here is not only the invalidation of the five victims of Masterson’s, which is nothing new, but the lack of serious, thoughtful consideration Kutcher and Kunis have given to the case.

We know high demand religions and cults, such as Scientology, foster and enable this kind of abuse, even with children and protect their own, especially celebrities. We know the bystander effect is real. We know victims are coercively controlled and manipulated into feeling ashamed and at fault in some way for the abuse they experience. We know victims have foggy memory recall due to the effects of trauma on memory and the gaslighting and coercive control effects afterward. These are all tell-tale symptoms of real rape and sexual assault, not of rare false allegations.

The attention Kunis and Kushner could have drawn to the intangible realities of coercive control, gaslighting, grappling with something bad someone you love has done, and especially Community Accountability: the proper pathway to reparations are all sorely missed and much-needed opportunities. They needn’t reject their own (misplaced) affection for Masterson in order to stand up for what is right and restorative. In an ever-more-polarized world where we feel obligated to choose between ‘this’ or ‘that’; the more complicated, yet nuanced response of “can’t we do both?” begs to be considered.

There is the option of condemning someone’s actions while standing with victims without minimizing their testimonies with “but he was such a great guy to us.” Instead, they could issue a statement that they support justice for the victims and are hurt and disappointed to discover their friend has done such immense harm. They could state that they have only just begun the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; but are taking on the hard work on behalf of all five of the victims. In making statements like these, they would affirm and validate all victims while simultaneously expressing their own pain and love of the perpetrator as they understood him to be. Victims, after all, know better than anyone, the pain and loss of being forced to recognize that someone you loved dearly is not safe or healthy.

We can demand full accountability for these crimes while still recognizing that some, not all, perpetrators may feel remorse and may be capable of rehabilitation. In rare cases, they may even be capable of redemption. But we can never be 100% sure. And Masterson has vehemently denied any guilt, going so far as to blame the victims by claiming the sex he had with them was consensual. It’s a slap in the face and defies logic and research findings.

As a victim and survivor of rape, and having spoken with and listened to thousands of other victims and survivors, I believe I can speak for many of us when I say, we are fully aware that sexual assault and rape live on a wide spectrum from a partner waking you up with non-consensual sex to violent stranger rape. We are not carrying pitchforks to the pyre for all men. We want men to learn to control themselves and for bystanders to stop enabling the jokes, comments, innuendo, and culture that lead to sexual assault and rape. We want justice and accountability. We want the truth to be recognized by the signs and symptoms, and victims believed and responded to appropriately. We want the world to be safer.

We are not man-haters completely devoid of compassion for biological urges. We even have biological urges ourselves. Models of consent should be the benchmark for healthy sex. We are standing up, here, to thousands and thousands of years of women’s oppression, women’s voices being silenced, women not being believed, and women being painted as hysteric. That is no easy feat. Especially when allies fold and abandon all logic and reason with the “good/nice guy defense” the minute the rapist is one of their own (a very common occurrence), even though the signs were always there.

When I looked over the police reports and eyewitness testimony, victim testimony, and strong journalism against Masterson, I felt what I always feel when someone is guilty. The tell-tale signs of real sexual assault and rape were there, like black smoke darkening the sky: they had all told multiple people, back when it happened, including the Church of Scientology who abused and punished them for it. There were witnesses and even a police report filed long before any of the victims knew one another. The church and defendant’s defense statements were often easily proven false or distracting and irrelevant. Their defensive statements reeked of gaslighting and victim-blaming. We’ve seen these classic re-victimizing tactics used so many times before.

That familiar pang clutched my stomach and called me back to when I first told. I was five the first time. My mother didn’t do anything at all. She didn’t get me counseling. She didn’t call the police. She just let me sit in silence for the past forty-six years wondering when she’s going to do anything about it. When she’s going to even care. She knew who it was, I told her right after it happened and we were still at his house. When I was twelve, I told again. This time it was her boyfriend, and she told me I “must be mistaken”. If my own mother can’t overcome her own denial and discomfort to help her five and twelve year old daughter, how can I have any hope? Her boyfriend long dead, I asked her a couple of years ago, before she slipped away to dementia, who the first perpetrator was. I wanted his name. I wanted her to give me the power to file a police report, if I wanted to. To stop him, if he is still alive. She said she couldn’t remember and acted like he’d run over my bike, not stolen my innocence with his fingers.

When I was seventeen, I lost my virginity to rape. I had dated him briefly but we had been broken up for a few months when it happened. I cried and verbally said no. He held me down and forced himself into me as tears slipped down my face while I tried to clench my legs closed, unsuccessfully. He was very strong, a football player, a male cheerleader at his previous school, a gymnast.

I told a few close friends immediately after it happened. They worried with me for weeks as I worried I might be pregnant and we were relieved when I got my period. In 2017, after another sexual assault I experienced, all of these friends refused to validate my previous rape claims publicly or privately so I could absolve myself of the shame and begin to heal. Each said, very similarly, they didn’t want to “politicize” our friendship or get “political” on Facebook. Or they “didn’t remember” or “the details are fuzzy”. All voted for Trump. All had had abortions in high school and most were now “good, white, evangelical wives and moms”. When Roe fell, they did not see that the Supreme Court was removing the very right they, themselves, had exercised in a life-altering way back then. A right that they now didn’t find important enough to fight for for their own daughters.

Denial is a powerful force and it is often the torchbearer of evil acts. There are all kinds of evil acts. Some are sins of commission, like in the case of Daniel Masterson. Others are sins of omission, like in the case of my mother, and my former (now I know they are unsafe) friends. All contribute to the confusion and crazymaking of victims and survivors across the world. You, who deny us our full story, who reject our claims, who pretend “nice” or “likable” equates to “good” are the faces we scream at silently across the void. Why? Why? Why? We cry out.

And we are still waiting. This is why your response, Ashton and Mila, rips our hearts to shreds. We thought you were our allies in the already unbearable void of denial. Allies have the very difficult job of being first responders. That means, even when it is difficult, when one of your own is caught and convicted for multiple heinous crimes of drugging and raping women, it is your job, before speaking out, to thoroughly examine the evidence and err on the side of victims. Victims who are proven again and again to be telling the truth 92–98% of the time. Even among the so-called “false reports”, many are pressured into false confessions. The cultural pressure is so great, many doubt their own perspectives and memories and blame themselves or deny their own rape or assault. It is your responsibility to consult experts and to read every victim account with all this in mind. To walk the very messy, but authentic path, to hard truth.

The women of the world have been waiting for millenia, literally, for someone as powerful as you to use your platform to change the tide. Your children are going to one day view this whole situation from their own generation’s perspective and hindsight. Instead of doing the difficult but right thing, you’ve done the easier thing. The thing we victims are all-too-painfully familiar with. You minimized us all as you minimized Masterson’s victims and their stories. You silenced us all as you silenced them. You shamed us all as you shamed them.

Listen to the many voices that brought me hope in the comments of your Air B&B video. Their voices ring with truth and power. The Masterson case is not unique, it is textbook.

Do better. For us, for your own children. The world is watching more than ever before. And for some, like yourselves, it’s not too late for redemption.

#EnablersAreNotAllies #EnablersArentAllies

Read other great articles on this topic by Kat Anderson, Amy McQuaid-England, and Bonnie J Sludikoff. Thank you all for your meaningful contributions to this important topic!

This article has been updated.

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Ophelia Wild

Writer of non-fiction at the intersection of religion, policy, trauma, and human rights. Writer of genre fiction featuring fem/LGBTQ+ casts. #NewtoMedium