A (Very Partial) Defense of Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis
In the wake of the sentencing of actor Danny Masterson for drugging and raping two women, there has been widespread outrage directed at his former co-stars Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. The couple wrote letters to the judge advocating for leniency in Masterson’s sentencing, and their statements regarding his character and innocence have drawn criticism. While some of this outrage is justified, there is also a misguided sentiment in the public response. It is possible to oppose harsh sentencing for a convicted rapist without diminishing concern for the victims of sexual violence. Additionally, there are broader discussions to be had about America’s draconian sentencing practices and the need for criminal justice reform.
The Issues with Kutcher and Kunis’s Statements
Kutcher and Kunis’s letters to the judge and their subsequent pseudo-apology for causing pain to Masterson’s victims have raised valid concerns. They decline to acknowledge their friend’s culpability in sexual violence and even seem to imply his innocence in certain parts of their statements. This refusal to affirm the veracity of the proven allegations against Masterson is ignorant and offensive. It is essential to recognize that rapists do not display their capacity for sexual violence in every interaction or relationship. A person can be both a good friend and a vicious sexual predator. When faced with a jury’s finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it is crucial to give that more weight than personal opinions or the advocacy work a person has done.
The Complexity of Sentencing
While there are valid reasons to be outraged at Kutcher and Kunis, there is also an unsound reason for anger. Criticism of their opposition to harsh sentencing conflates concern for the victims of sexual violence with support for long prison sentences. It is possible to have empathy for survivors while recognizing the need for criminal justice reform, particularly when it comes to sentencing practices. The United States incarcerates a larger percentage of its residents than any of its European peers, and this is not solely due to a higher homicide rate. Draconian sentencing practices contribute significantly to this disparity.
According to research from the Council on Criminal Justice, the average sentence for rape in the United States is five times longer than in European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden. However, the length of sentences does not correlate with a reduction in crime. The certainty of apprehension, not the severity of punishment, is what matters most for deterrence. Instead of focusing solely on longer prison sentences, efforts should be directed towards ending the backlog of untested rape kits, investing more resources into investigating sexual violence cases, and providing support for victims to ensure they feel empowered to come forward.
The Need for Rehabilitation over Retribution
Long prison sentences are also not necessarily effective for rehabilitation. Research shows that the majority of offenders “age out” of crime, with criminal behavior declining as individuals mature and gain more familial responsibilities. Countries like Sweden, with more lenient sentencing practices, have lower recidivism rates compared to the United States. Improving conditions within U.S. prisons, such as addressing overheating, vermin infestations, inadequate nutrition, and lack of educational programs, is crucial to rehabilitation efforts.
Imposing long sentences simply for the sake of retribution contradicts the ethics of minimizing unnecessary suffering. Instead, the focus should be on reducing the harm caused by crimes through deterrence and rehabilitation. By investigating rape cases more aggressively and improving conditions in prisons, the United States can both protect society from sexual violence and align its sentencing practices with those of European nations.
The outrage directed at Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis for advocating for leniency in Danny Masterson’s sentencing is warranted, considering their failure to affirm his guilt and the impact of their statements on the victims. However, it is essential to separate this criticism from the broader discussion around America’s sentencing practices and the need for criminal justice reform. Opposition to long prison sentences does not equate to indifference towards survivors of sexual violence. The goal should be to make society safer while simultaneously reducing unnecessary suffering and building a more rehabilitative and humane criminal justice system.
<< photo by Laura Chouette >>
The image is for illustrative purposes only and does not depict the actual situation.
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