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Ashton Kutcher resigns from children’s charity over support for Masterson

Ashton Kutcher has resigned from a charity that he co-founded to work to prevent children’s sexual exploitation, citing his “error in judgment” after offering support to former film co-star Danny Masterson, who was sentenced to prison this month after being convicted of rape.

Kutcher established the nonprofit organization “Thorn” in 2012 with his then-wife Demi Moore after watching a documentary that highlighted issues of child sex trafficking. The charity works to use technology to fight child sexual abuse.

In a paragraph introducing Kutcher’s online resignation letter, Thorn said Kutcher’s decision to step down was “rooted in the recognition of recent events” and that he wanted to ensure Thorn “remains focused on its mission: to build technology to defend children from sexual abuse.”

The resignation follows a video posted online in the past week by Kutcher and his current wife, Mila Kunis, in which they apologize for providing character reference letters for fellow actor Masterson, who co-starred with the pair in the sitcom “That ’70s Show,” which aired from 1998 to 2006.

Masterson was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison this month after being convicted of raping two women at his California home in the early 2000s.

“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 said in his resignation letter.

“I cannot allow my error in judgment to distract from our efforts and the children we serve.”

Kutcher said he was offering a “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.”

Kunis had served as an observer on Thorn’s board and also is stepping down, Time magazine reported.

Kutcher’s and Kunis’s letters to the court on behalf of Masterson led to public criticism by survivors and fellow Hollywood stars. In their widely shared apology video, Kutcher and Kunis acknowledged “the pain that has been caused” by the letters that became public shortly after Masterson’s sentencing.

The support letters “were intended for the judge to read and not to undermine the testimony of the victims or re-traumatize them in any way,” Kutcher said in the video.

Kunis added: “Our heart goes out to every single person who’s ever been a victim of sexual assault, sexual abuse or rape.”

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In their character references, Kunis and Kutcher described Masterson as a decent human and a “role model.” Kunis wrote that Masterson was an “exceptional older brother figure,” and Kutcher said in his letter that Masterson always showed “decency, equality, and generosity.”

“That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Sept. 7, after he was convicted of raping two women at his Hollywood Hills home. (Video: Reuters)

The letters were reportedly written in July and August — shortly after Masterson was found guilty of two counts of rape during a trial in May that involved three women, according to the Associated Press. Masterson has long denied the allegations against him, pleading not guilty during two trials over the allegations. His defense argued that he had had consensual sex with the women.

Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis criticized for Danny Masterson character letters

Kutcher said Masterson’s family had asked the couple to write the letters after the actor was convicted. He said they were meant to describe “the person that we knew for 25 years” so that the judge could take that into consideration for Masterson’s sentencing.

In his letter resigning from Thorn, Kutcher acknowledged that “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 and Kunis are the latest celebrities to experience backlash on social media for writing character letters. In August, the rapper Iggy Azalea was criticized for writing a letter of support for Tory Lanez, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the shooting of the rapper Megan Thee Stallion. Azalea apologized amid the backlash, saying she had not known that her letter would become public.

Thorn said that the voices of victims and survivors continued to be the “heartbeat” of the organization’s work and that the last few days had “challenged” the organization, but it pledged to remain “steadfast in our mission, mindful of the trust our community places in us.”

The organization said its work had helped the technology industry remove more than 2 million potential child sexual abuse files from the open web, empowered parents and youths with exploitation-prevention tools and influenced public policy.

“We would not be the Thorn that we are today without Ashton’s contributions. He has played a significant role in the impact we have made, and we are grateful for his participation over the last 15 years,” the group said in a statement accompanying Kutcher’s resignation letter online.

In his letter, Kutcher added that he would continue to support Thorn’s work. “I remain proud of what we have accomplished,” he wrote.

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