The Problem With the Apologies From Sexual Abusers

By Kate Harveston

In the last few months, women have started to speak out against men who are, and have been, sexual predators. It’s become a powerful way to end 2017 and start 2018. People in the film industry were shocked when the seemingly untouchable Harvey Weinstein was taken down by what felt like endless allegations against him from all over the world.

It had people wondering: if Weinstein can be investigated and removed from his position of power, who else could be?

The news of his treatment of women was sad but not entirely shocking. Sexual harassment is everywhere—and women especially know that in the workplace, sometimes it’s just what “comes with the territory.” There will always be men who have better titles and bigger paychecks and let their power go to their heads. They ogle women while they walk away and talk to their chests during meetings. Winks and inappropriate back-rubs are given and the receivers are expected to just go with it.

But why is that? Why does our culture have a power structure in place that puts men in positions where they can take advantage of women? These are questions that are being asked widely now that we’re seeing so many men removed from their previous roles.

Answers might be found by more carefully scrutinizing their responses to, or “apologies” for, being identified as sexual predators.

Louis C. K.

For much of the American public, comedian Louis C. K. being accused by five women of sexual misconduct was truly shocking. He had become well-known as that painfully straightforward father figure who could talk about things like life and parenting with dry wit. He was considered a male feminist through his humorous take-downs of men. What was perhaps equally shocking to many was his response to the allegations: he confirmed them.

The thing is, in his statement, he failed to ever say the words, “I’m sorry,” but instead admitted to taking advantage of women who “admired him.” This is where we start to see the issue take shape.

The way he phrases his apology fails to actually address the problem. This apology is insincere. The five women who came forward weren’t unsuspecting fans he encountered on the street—they were comedians who were trying to make it in a business that he dominated in. He used his position of power as a man in the comedy industry to sexually harass women. This was long before word ever officially got out.

The problem, then, has less to do with women looking up to him and more to do with women fearing what would happen to them if they didn’t give in to the demands of the powerful men in their lives. What this man really did was take advantage of the power systems that have been ingrained in our culture for ages and ultimately work to continuously hold women down. The women he harassed felt like they would lose their chances at comedy careers by accusing a man so much higher up the food chain than them, so they stayed silent.

This is an ongoing and systemic issue. Louis C.K. knew that they would stay silent because it happened many times before.

Charlie Rose

New workplace, same problems. Charlie Rose succeeded in reaching a high level of fame and respect with his career in TV journalism. This meant that at the workplace he brought in so many views and so much money that he was nearly invincible. That is, until multiple women came forward this year and said that he sexually harassed them in the workplace.

They all admitted to being young and starting out when he came in contact with them, so they feared for their jobs just like the victims of Louis C. K. If they had come forward earlier, or each one on their own, there would have been a more than 50 percent chance that their accusations would have been waved away. He was a big winner for the network, so when he was fired from CBS, his hand was forced to issue a statement.

He wrote that he “behaved insensitively at times.” Behaving insensitively is laughing at a funeral. Behaving in a disgustingly inappropriate and illegal way is groping people. Like Louis C. K., his apology misses the mark for addressing the actual problem by trying to make light of what he did and why.

Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer was also recently accused of having sexually inappropriate behavior with one woman, who said that she also felt too scared to say anything against a major TV star who was constantly backed by the network. It didn’t matter what he did to her and how wrong his actions were. She was afraid of being blacklisted from a career that she had worked hard to get into in the first place.

Lauer’s response? After the truth came out, he said he felt “embarrassed and ashamed” and would be doing some “soul-searching.”

It was a lot of fluff, but at the end of the day it was a far cry from what was needed: “I was wrong and I’m sorry.”

Again, as is so often the case, this man turned a sexual assault accusation around and made it about himself. For the record, we don’t care about your soul-searching, Matt Lauer.

This has been happening for longer than we want to believe. Men like this have a difficult time accepting and taking accountability for their actions. Just think back to when Brock Turner’s dad tried to turn Brock’s sexual assault charge around and garner pity for his son. In a letter to the judge, Dan Turner wrote about how sad it was that his son could no longer enjoy a steak.

Boo-hoo. Poor Brock.

Dan then blamed the events of the night in question on binge drinking culture on college campuses. Again, this just paints a picture of a society in which even parents, who are supposed to teach their children right from wrong, will jump to defend the actions of sexual abusers who need to learn more about what consent means. Everyone who excuses these kinds of actions contributes to a society that casts blame off of the abuser and onto other vague targets, like drinking and inter-workplace admiration.  

Men need to take full responsibility when they’re called out for sexual harassment and assault so that women can see that stepping forward and risking their reputations and their careers are worth it. Because right now, all women know is that the system has been built against them. Men in power will continue to take advantage of their positions because they have other men in power ready to back them up. The system protects them—and the fall of prominent men in recent months is only the start to making things right.

The recent movements of #metoo and #timesup are so important because women need to feel reassured that if something happens, their voice is valid and will be treated as such. We can only hope that women will continue coming forward with their stories in the future, but with the current power structures at play, we can’t blame them at all when they don’t. A massive overhaul of the way our society conducts itself regarding consent, respect, and responsibility needs to take place in order for truly deep and lasting change to occur.