Charlie Rose’s apology ignores what women have always known

Rose says “all of us” are now learning about the severity of sexual harassment. But that’s something many women have understood for a long time.

When eight women told the Washington Post that Charlie Rose, the host of an interview show on PBS and a co-host of CBS This Morning, had made unwelcome sexual advances toward them, Rose issued the latest variation on what’s quickly becoming a common theme: the insufficient male apology.

While other apologies have been self-aggrandizing or flippant, Rose’s has a different problem. Rose implies that all Americans are now learning together about the severity of sexual harassment and assault. In fact, many women, including those who have spoken out against Rose, have known for a long time just how harmful harassment can be.

“It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior,” he said in a statement to the Post. “I have learned a great deal as a result of these events, and I hope others will too. All of us, including me, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past, and have come to a profound new respect for women and their lives.”

The biggest problem lies in that final sentence. By claiming that “all of us” are coming to a new understanding of harassment during this particular cultural moment, Rose ignores the fact that plenty of women have always known harassment was a problem. Even if they didn’t name it as such, they knew their own experiences, and they certainly knew when the actions of a powerful men put their safety, their wellbeing, or their work at risk.

Rose may not have recognized that his conduct caused pain, but the women who talked to the Post are very clear that their experiences were painful. One, for instance, described crying throughout an encounter with Rose in which he tried to put his hand down her pants. Another, Reah Bravo, said that after she got another job, Rose offered her a new position and the chance to let her live in a house where he sometimes stayed; she turned him down.

“I was leaving because I was getting away,” she told the Post. “I would never want to live someplace where he had keys.”

Bravo also told the Post she had recently gained a new perspective on what happened to her. “It has taken 10 years and a fierce moment of cultural reckoning for me to understand these moments for what they were,” she said. “He was a sexual predator, and I was his victim.”

As survivors of harassment and assault have shared their stories in recent weeks, many more have begun to put a name to what they have experienced, as Bravo did. But there’s a difference between a survivor coming to a new understanding of her experience and someone who needed eight allegations of sexual misconduct against him in order to develop a “new respect for women and their lives.”

Women may not always have named what they experienced as harassment and assault, in part because they have often been shamed and punished for doing so. But they have always known when they are hurt and when they are afraid. They remember when the unwanted advances of powerful men force them to leave the room, the car, the bar, the job, the career. Women have always known they are people. It’s time for men to catch up.