Feelings of confusion and anger towards Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis in the media this week have stirred up some uncomfortable reflections about how to respond when someone you care about is a perpetrator of sexual violence.
In actor Danny Masterson’s high-profile trial, where he has been found guilty on two counts of rape, the famous couple wrote letters to the judge who is sentencing their friend. Letters that attest and praise Danny Masterson’s character in an attempt to reduce the weight of the sentence he is to receive.
A question looms here, how do we react when someone close to us does something we cannot comprehend, or doesn’t make sense from the person we know and our experience of them?
Statistically in the UK 25% of women, 5.6% of men and 16.6% of children are sexually assaulted or abused during their lifetime. This equates to some pretty grim numbers when thinking about the percentage of perpetrators within our society. We know that the majority of rapes are carried out within the home and are more commonly than not perpetrated by someone known to the survivor.
No one wants to think that a friend or a loved one would perpetrate sexual violence, but the idea that perpetrators are “monsters” or people looming in dark alleys only fuels the narratives we have around rape culture and fails to address target issues and hold perpetrators accountable. To get close to people, most perpetrators will be likeable – “monsters” won’t be able to build the relationships that aid perpetration.
We often see behaviours or beliefs surrounding sexual violence that enable perpetrators’ actions, whether that be in the form of victim-blaming narratives or claims of false allegations. Much like in our previous blog post about how society stands behind celebrity perpetrators, the morality of the people we know and love is a reflection of our own and facing the reality of their heinous actions is often too hard to bear.
Survivors of sexual violence deserve better. They deserve to be believed and heard. They deserve the justice they choose to seek. Anyone can be a survivor of sexual violence and anyone can perpetrate it, no matter their role in your life.
Nobody is just one thing. It can be a complicated and upsetting task to hold in mind that someone you know, like and respect could be capable of such harm; but we need to be able to work through this to better respond to survivors and perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse.
It can understandably be a struggle to separate the person you love and thought you knew from the perpetrator of sexual violence.
Our helpline is open Monday from 7-9pm and Wednesdays from Midday – 1:30pm and open to all those affected by sexual violence.