Ashton Kutcher has resigned as chairman of the board of Thorn, the anti-child-sex-abuse organization he co-founded in 2009 with his then-wife Demi Moore. His wife Mila Kunis, who served as an observer on the organization’s board, is also stepping down. The move comes in the wake of outrage over their letters of support for Danny Masterson, who has been convicted of raping two women.
“Victims of sexual abuse have been historically silenced and the character statement I submitted is yet another painful instance of questioning victims who are brave enough to share their experiences,” Kutcher wrote in a Sept. 14 letter to Thorn’s board, which was shared exclusively with TIME.
“After my wife and I spent several days of listening, personal reflection, learning, and conversations with survivors and the employees and leadership at Thorn, I have determined the responsible thing for me to do is resign as Chairman of the Board, effectively immediately,” Kutcher wrote. “I cannot allow my error in judgment to distract from our efforts and the children we serve.”
The actor also apologized to victims of sexual assault and other advocates for letting them down. “The mission must always be the priority and I want to offer my heartfelt apology to all victims of sexual violence and everyone at Thorn who I hurt by what I did,” he wrote to the board. “And to the broader advocacy community, I am deeply sorry. I remain proud of what we have accomplished in the past decade and will continue to support Thorn’s work. Thank you for your tireless advocacy and dedication to this cause.”
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Kutcher, Kunis, and several other former fellow cast members of That ’70s Show and The Ranch were among the boldface names who wrote letters of support for Masterson during the sentencing phase of his trial. In May, Masterson was convicted of two counts of forcible rape for separate assaults on two women in 2001 and 2003. In his letter, Kutcher lauded his costar and friend “an extraordinarily honest and intentional human being,” who had helped keep him away from drugs and “always treated people with decency, equality, and generosity.” The missives didn’t seem to make much difference; Masterson got 30 years to life.
After the letters were made public, Kutcher, Kunis, and other supporters were met with immediate blowback, but particular scorn was directed at Kutcher, partly because of his advocacy on behalf of child-sex-trafficking victims. In 2017, the actor testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the horrific online child abuse he’d seen as part of his work at Thorn, an organization that uses technology to combat child sexual exploitation, and about the need for greater attention to the issue.
And in 2022, he raised more than a million dollars for the organization by running the New York City marathon. At the time he said he was motivated by one particular victim: “I put that kid on the other side of the finish line,” he told People. “I know she’s out there and I want her to know that somebody’s coming for her.”
Kutcher, who in his letter of support for Masterson called himself “an actor, investor, philanthropist, and most importantly a father,” and Kunis released a video in which they tried to explain they were supporting a friend and did not mean to discredit or retraumatize rape victims, but their attempt to apologize—”we’re sorry if that has taken place”—only served to inflame the issue.
According to journalist Yashar Ali, one of the victims texted him the following reaction: “This video was incredibly insulting and hurtful. My hope is that they learn radical accountability and the importance of self-education to learn when to keep their privilege in check — especially Ashton, who claims to work with victims of sex crimes. And as to Mila, I can only think of ‘Times Up.’”
Now it is Kutcher’s turn to be the recipient of statements of support. “Ashton founded Thorn over a decade ago with one goal in mind: to protect children from sexual abuse and give them the childhood they deserve,” said Suzanne Bell, a technology-focused lawyer, who is also a board member at Thorn. “His unwavering dedication and commitment to Thorn throughout its journey have enabled the organization to become the leader that it is in the child safety ecosystem.”
Accurate figures on how many children are coerced into performing sex acts are hard to come by, but according to the International Labor Organization, 1.3 million children worldwide were in some form of forced labor in 2021, and more than half of them were in “forced commercial sexual exploitation.” The issue has been in the news in 2023 because of the unexpected success of the movie Sound of Freedom, which depicts a fictionalized version of an organization that rescues children from the sex-trafficking rings that facilitate child sexual abuse.
Thorn, which was founded as DNA (Demi and Ashton) in 2009, and changed its name in 2012, seeks to use technology to address the proliferation of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) online. It has developed tools to help law enforcement identify victims and products to help tech companies swiftly remove CSAM, and it offers resources to parents to help prevent abuse.
“To date, Thorn has helped the tech industry remove over 2 million potential child sexual abuse files from the open web helping to end the cycle of abuse and stop revictimization,” says the organization in a statement accepting Kutcher’s resignation while also seeking its sponsors’ and partners’ continued support. “We would not be the Thorn that we are today without Ashton’s contributions.”
Read Kutcher’s full letter to the board:
September 14, 2023
After my wife and I spent several days of listening, personal reflection, learning, and conversations with survivors and the employees and leadership at Thorn, I have determined the responsible thing for me to do is resign as Chairman of the Board, effectively immediately. I cannot allow my error in judgment to distract from our efforts and the children we serve.
As you know, I have worked for 15 years to fight for people who are sexually exploited. Victims of sexual abuse have been historically silenced and the character statement I submitted is yet another painful instance of questioning victims who are brave enough to share their experiences. This is precisely what we have all worked to reverse over the last decade.
The mission must always be the priority and I want to offer my heartfelt apology to all victims of sexual violence and everyone at Thorn who I hurt by what I did. And to the broader advocacy community, I am deeply sorry. I remain proud of what we have accomplished in the past decade and will continue to support Thorn’s work. Thank you for your tireless advocacy and dedication to this cause.