BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Jay Leno says an unfair double standard is being applied to the dozens of women accusing Bill Cosby of decades-old sexual assaults.

"I keep reading the comments, 'liars,' and 'why didn't they come forward before?'" the former "Tonight Show" host said Thursday.

But men who delay sharing stories of abuse or rape are readily believed, even when it's a religious figure such as a priest involved, Leno said.

The experience should be viewed as the same for women and men who hid an assault out of shame and finally addressed it years later.

"When women do it, somehow it's a scam," Leno said, attributing the kneejerk reaction to "ingrained" sexism.

Leno spoke to The Associated Press after a panel at the Television Critics Association summer meeting at which he discussed his new CNBC show, "Jay Leno's Garage," premiering Oct. 7.

He didn't comment directly on the validity of the more than two dozen sexual assault claims, with many of Cosby's accusers alleging the comedian drugged them beforehand.

Cosby, 78, and his attorneys have denied some of the allegations and no criminal charges have been filed against him.

A Cosby spokesman did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Asked if Cosby and his career can rebound, Leno invoked another entertainer's experience.

"Americans will forgive anything except hypocrisy," he said. "I remember I had Charlie Sheen on ('Tonight') and he said, 'Look, I like hookers and coke. What am I going to do?' And the audience applauded. It's terrible, but at least he's honest.

"As soon as you deny it, that's your downfall," Leno said.