The Case for Sexual Deterrence

“Phaedra” (1880) by Alexandre Cabanel

Just like aggressive nations, so too people who are not innately moral are deterred from committing crimes by fear of punishment.

The likelihood of arrest, the good chance of conviction, the probability of jail time or fines, or a permanent criminal record—or all that and more—do their parts to discourage criminality.

In that context, the sudden deluge of sexual harassment claims shares one common theme: lost deterrence.

Those who use their positions of ideological correctness, perceived power, authority, influence, or money to leverage some sort of unwanted sex (from a fleeting grope to coerced intercourse) do so because, in their jaded cost-benefit calibrations, they can.

In our postmodern age, we can no longer rely on now ancient notions of self-restraint. Too many celebrities and power-mongers deprecate the old idea of acting like a gentleman as corny or passé. Many of today’s feminists may find men who open doors, pick up the dinner tab, or postpone sexual intercourse until there is a clear relationship as either condescending chauvinists or utter nerds. Hollywood seems to have idealized the moment when a man rough-handles a woman until his violence leads to eroticism and a willing surrender in his arms—in clinical terms perhaps possible, in real life clearly quite rare.

The majority of high-profile men do not ascribe anymore to religious principles that restrain the libido. Mike Pence was laughed at for his wise counsel of avoiding ubiquitous temptations—as if he were a 60-something innocent babe in the woods of slithering vamps.

In our therapeutic culture born in the 1960s, sex was recalibrated as liberating, free, and without consequences—not as the Greeks once warned of Eros as dangerous and destructive in its power to cloud reason and make even the sober and judicious mere slaves to their appetites.

A sex-sick Phaedra was not a pretty sight.

The Right Politics
Sometimes sexual deterrence is lost through loud liberal politics. Al Franken assumed that as a progressive “giant of the Senate” his professed progressive feminism exempted him from any consequences for his snickering gropes and creepy cheap feels. In Franken’s twisted mind, how many free prods and pokes does voting against confirming conservative federal judges earn?

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) seems to have made a career of exempted perversions, predicated on the fact he was a founding member of the Black Caucus.

Correct politics deterred aggrieved women from coming forward—on the understandable expectation that, even if believed, their elders would insist that their own harassment was not so important as to endanger the cosmic political good.

So abstract morality can offset concrete immorality in a variety of ways: Bill Clinton’s stance on abortion may have earned him a sort of coerced or cheap insurance from “knee-pad” sex. Denigrating a Paula Jones as trailer trash was a small price to pay for having an empowered Hillary as first lady.

Al Gore assumed that his “Earth in the Balance” greenery earned him a few leveraged “crazed sex poodle” cooldowns with working-class hotel masseuses after a long day on the road saving the planet from global warming. Gore’s green get-out-of-harassment-free card was the sexual equivalent of his earlier rush to sell (before an anticipated rise in the capital gains tax) a failed cable station to the antisemitic Al Jazeera, fueled, of course, by Middle Eastern carbon fuel profits.

Harvey Weinstein’s in-the-trenches fights against the NRA and the forces of Trump darkness apparently had convinced him that with impunity he could grab, assault, and even rape women—as if he were some sort of irreplaceable social justice deviant. If liberal Kevin Spacey ever had to announce to the world that he was gay, it would be to pose as a victim of the public’s crude stereotyping of gays as pederasts. But an Oscar Wilde battling Victorian England Spacey was not.

Certainly, a young woman was apparently supposed to have seen a progressive mentoring groper, exhibitionist, or sleaze-talking Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, or Leon Wieseltier as a sophisticated progressive feminist, who sympathized with the plight of up-and-coming females in the workplace. Or women assumed that such old pros at least knew well the career-ending dangers of using their star power to leverage some sort of sex that otherwise in the arena of mutually assenting hook-ups was unlikely—given their age, grating pomposity, ossified looks, and crustacean personality.

Celebrity and Power
Often in related fashion, celebrity and perceived authority also erode deterrence. At Fox News, it was not so much conservatism per se that empowered Roger Ailes, Eric Bolling, Charles Payne, or Bill O’Reilly. Each according to his respective station, apparently felt that he could at times talk or act sexually crudely in asymmetrical ways—largely because each assumed he was too financially important to the network to be held accountable (whether or not Fox News would have concurred with their assessments). Hubris can earn sexual Nemesis.

In addition, serial exploiters assumed intended targets would endure even unpleasant attention and sexual come-ons, out of star-struck gratitude, or in hopes of quid pro quo career investments. For the crass sexual investor, then, the risks of being held to account were not deemed as great as their perceived benefits derived from sexual predation.

Perhaps past stealthy and affordable sexual financial settlements had green-lighted such behavior. Or past warnings from management were deemed Munich like. Or serial sexual congress was seen as a sort of roulette wheel: predators played the percentages in the expectation that in the past they had landed at least a few willing sexual targets and thus were willing to put up with the embarrassments or dangers of more common rejection. In all these cases, the common denominator was the loss of deterrence to prevent such predation—and of course the view of sex as something one-sided, leveraged, and animal-like. For the powerful male, the old idea of just being nice to someone in all matters of congress was apparently written off as unsexy.

Restoring Deterrence
How is sexual deterrence restored in what are asymmetrical and non-consenting relationships?

1) Politics has to be divorced from sex and replaced with the deterrent of hypocrisy. The self-professed religious moralist and the progressive feminist who coercively grope, grab and worse should suffer the additional wage of duplicity.

2) The sudden spate of career-ending apologies, embarrassments, or confessionals is already deterring others in like positions from targeting those deemed unwilling and subordinate.

What happens in the next few months will determine whether deterrence holds or career implosions lead to amnesia and career rehabilitations. If the Trimalchio Charlie Rose is back in business in a month, then would be predators to come will again have made the commensurate cost-benefit calculations. Perhaps a few will see the dangers of a mere transitory career dip as still worth the risk.

3) On the other hand, if current legitimate complaints are drowned out by dubious allegations, then in Salem Witch Trial fashion or in the manner of the hysteria unleashed by the guillotining Committee of the Public Safety, the public will conclude enough is enough! The destruction of Hippolytus is the archetypal warning of what follows from the revenge of the spurned.

In addition, a congressman who made a sexual ass out of himself with a willing adult partner, in a tawdry but mutual relationship gone on the rocks is a matter of ethics—not the law. Consenting promiscuity is not in the same category as the felonious Anthony Weiner. The state has no business in investigating what two adults in private willingly consent to.

Moreover, no one has yet quite calibrated such sins with commensurate punishments. Clearly, an elderly groper like George H.W. Bush or a creepy avuncular feeler like a solicitous Joe Biden is not in the same den as Jeffery Epstein’s “Lolita Express” or the allegations lodged against Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, or Harvey Weinstein. He said/she said, the nature of the one-sided impropriety, the statutes of limitation, the consistency of evidence, the age of the target and the targeted all factor into the equation of punishment and social and legal ostracism.

For deterrence to hold, then, public opinion will have to weed out post facto claims of men and women who feel their once consenting relationships did not pan out as they once hoped and thus justify investments in pursuing vengeance—especially if a long-ago partner is or has become wealthy, powerful, or well known.

4) Private settlements are a double-edged sword. Hushed payouts both enhance and erode deterrence.

If rich perpetrators know that they can pay money and win contractual silence, then they may feel free to continue their predations, as the bailouts of congressional harassers proved. Victims are on their own in a sort of free-for-all to find private justice rather than collective relief through changed mores.

But if such settlements are outlawed by the state or by the firm, then the offender may feel he can only be hurt in a court of law, in which he said/she said evidence will not often warrant charges. The offended likewise will calibrate that without the leverage of financial compensation, and with little likelihood of criminal prosecution, acts of lewdness are better left forgotten.

5) Sexual liberation of the 1960s is incompatible with 21st-century definitions of sexual probity. The most effective way of restoring deterrence, of course, is to redefine ’60s sexual mores as transient and destructive rather than liberating and permanent. One does not have to be a prude to see that the promiscuity of the last half-century was a boon to some men, who saw less need for courtship or commitment—or even kindness—to find sexual gratification. In so many cases humiliation and canine viciousness seem part and parcel of their predations.

In our present weird system of promiscuous Victorianism, men and women in the workplace are reduced to bumper cars. They butt up against each other hourly, often with the false assumption that a gesture, a nod, or a spoken word are pathways to something sexual—rather than irrelevant and incidental, in a better world where two people must know and like each other pretty well before they dare consider surrendering their intimacy to the dangerous power of Eros.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the newly released The Dying Citizen.

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29 responses to “The Case for Sexual Deterrence”

  1. Dr. Hanson: this time, you should have translated into readable English.
    Phaedra’s script is not relevant.

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  2. Why do you target only men in your criticism of sexual issues? Wilt Chamberlain once admitted to having sex with over 10,000 different women. If he is being honest (as we all suspect he is) there are women by the boatload willing to engage in casual sex for no other reason than to have sex with a celebrity. I suspect that Hollywood producers and directors are no different and have just as many women offering to trade wild sex for good movie roles.

    Yes, powerful men become jaded about casual sex with women. There are many women working the same angle.

    • While I am sure that Wilt did very well with women, 10,000 is almost certainly an exaggeration. A different woman every day for 25 years would only be 9125.But hey, he wasn’t known for his math skills.

      • I expect he occasionally (often) was with more than one woman per day… or even at a time.

  3. My father’s sister Louise was a factory worker in Brooklyn most of her adult life and was an exceedingly street smart woman. She once explained to me that when a man simply could not take “no” for an answer, her knee in his groin clarified the matter.
    Today, there are no more Louises, and instead we have millions of spoiled brats who want to sue.
    Fine. May they knock themselves out. And Mr. Hanson, don’t lose any sleep over it. I certainly won’t.

    • Once, there were many Aunt Louise’s out there. Now we have Lena Dunhams.

  4. Decades ago, Americans swapped their priests and rabbis for therapists and lawyers. Hence there is no more right and wrong, only legal and illegal, or well and unwell. Immutable truth has been pushed aside in favor of infinite permutations of rationalization.

  5. Liberals are slippery when they excuse Bill Clinton’s “Relationship with THAT woman” as being consensual. Regardless the Clintons introduced the casting couch into the Oval Office, imbuing it with secrecy and lies while risking inevitable innuendo and exposure. What about the other victims? I mean the women of the White House staff given the clear DEMOCRATIC message that the way to career advancement is not to excel in one’s job but rather to boff the boss. Recall that Monica’s gratification of Bil’ sexual urgers earned her the personal attention of Vernon Jordon

  6. Nice to see the morally corrupt getting their just due. Strangely, the only piece of the puzzle missing is the ancient art of seduction of powerful men by morally vacuous women, who apparently have all become victims in this progressive nirvana. And we dare to call the “Middle ages” the “Dark ages”.

  7. My father’s sister Louise was a factory worker in Brooklyn most of her adult life and was an exceedingly street smart woman. She once explained to me that when a man simply could not take “no” for an answer, her knee in his groin clarified the matter.Today, there are no more Louises, and instead we have millions of spoiled brats who want to sue

    • Once, there were many Aunt Louise’s out there. Now we have Lena Dunhams. How I long for days of Aunt Louise!

    • That’s all well and good, but this article is focused on asymmetrical power. When your future carrier relies on you submitting sexually to a movie producer, a knee in his groin doesn’t work.

      • You miss the point entirely. The movie producer would not accost a Louise..because all men fear a knee to the groin–without exception. Every man alive knows Lena Dunham could not deliver a knee to the groin…she is too conflicted by her moral relativism.

        Once, there were many Aunt Louise’s out there. Now we only have Lena Dunhams. How I long for days of Aunt Louise!

  8. I call it stigma. Western Culture needs to return to the pre Sexual Revolution days when social stigma was associated with wandering hands, deviant sexuality, unwed pregnancy, and deadbeat dads. Stigma discourages dangerous behaviors and encourages correct behaviors. Seems that today the worst stigma is attached to moms who don’t buy Organic snacks for her kids.
    What the Lefties view as “Progress” is quite the opposite. Time to roll it back.

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    • Absolutely.
      But it all fits together. You can’t have Stigma, unless you have Guilt. You can’t have Guilt unless you have Moral Standards, Right & Wrong. You can’t have Morality unless you recognize a transcendent Source, a Higher Truth which tells us there’s something to life other than Appetite & Power.

      But — if there is no Heaven, no Hell, then everything is permissible….and in such a nasty, brutish existence all that matters is me getting mine whenever I want it. To hell with Stigma! Welcome to Today!

      • Indeed!

        This has always been a conflict between Absolute Morality (as indicated by Religion/Faith) and Moral Relativity (as indicated by contemporary cultural currents)–which in the end, is no morality at all.

        The West has rejected its Christian Faith, and its attendant Absolute Morality. Without its Faith and Morality, Western Culture, as it has been defined by the past 500 years of Post-Reformation tradition, is dead. We are transitioning into the next cultural epoch. Our great-children may understand what defines the new culture, but the transition will evolve too slowly for those alive now to full appreciate.

  9. Excellent essay on a tough subject. The current spate of men, who once behaved like goats, reaping the whirlwind is seriously starting to look like a witch hunt.

    I agree with VDH that men would do better to behave with kindness. I also agree that is rough with the 60s morality introducing static in the ‘battle’ of the sexes.

    “The most effective way of restoring deterrence, of course, is to redefine ’60s sexual mores as transient and destructive rather than liberating and permanent.”

    Of course, men preying on women, or the less powerful and younger person, is evil. It has happened since time immemorial. We, on the outside, however, know absolutely zero about the behavior of the women in each of these cases. We don’t know whether, or to what degree, the personce used their desirability to attract the attentions of the powerful man.

  10. Very disappointing VDH! Women love and are sexually attracted to “aggressive” “dominant” men! Not the types of asexual hipsters and neutered mangina’s who would ask a woman if it’s ok to kiss her.
    As Henry Kissenger said “power is the greatest aphrodisiac”! And it’s true. Women will gladly put out for a disgusting simp like Harvey Weinstein because he is rich and powerful and to further their careers.
    They are willing participants! It’s nothing new, and has been going on since the dawn of civilization. They are not all innocent victims! True rape victims with no quid pro quo are indeed victims. But we are not talking about “rape” here. Moore, Trump, to Franken, etc have not been accused of raping anyone!
    The fact that these allegations have only surfaced after decades is proof positive to any rational thinking mind that these claims are bogus or greatly exaggerated and calculated to take down wealthy, powerful, men for nothing more than political expediency! It is an Alynskyite political tactic!
    There is no rape epidemic going on in this country. This is being perpetrated by radical feminists to fully neuter all ready feminised men!
    You are a brilliant historian and political annalist and I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles sir, but clearly you do not understand the machiavellian nature of women, and that they are a living, breathing contradiction in terms of how they claim to be as people, and how they claim to want to be treated by men!
    They’ll chase the bad boy to the ends of the earth, and throw the “nice guy” off the edge of a cliff without batting a single false eyelash!
    You can’t even look at a women cross eyed without it being considered sexual harassment!
    Are you aware of the success of 50 Shades of Gray VDH?

    • What you say us true about some, perhaps many, women. But not all women are as you describe. Most want a man who has strength and power to protect and provide for the woman and her/their offspring. It is a basic genetic drive, mate with the male that can protect you and ensure the survival of your offspring. Do not confuse a strong or powerful man with “aggressive, dominant” male. The masochistic woman you describe is not the norm.

  11. Yes, but…
    The focus is too narrow, the perspective too exclusive, and too heavily tilted towards the topical.

    What we see here, what is described is not new…nor is it particularly related to the Dissolution which was the Sexual Revolution or the Post Modern Collapse of morality, value, and truth.

    What is described is simply Sin: Greed, Lust, Avarice, Selfishness…particularly as coupled with Wealth, Fame, and Power. It is the unmoderated exercise of human appetite; it is the immoral expression of the infantile “I want…and I want it NOW”

    The truth is that this tantrum’d & unthinking child lives within all of us. But for most of us, those grasping urges are curbed, controlled, and redirected. They are governed by our maturity, by our morality, by our unyielding commitment to “do the right thing”, to behave in the right way, to be gentlemen or ladies, to be civilized, to grant to others (regardless of position) the same respect and dignity that we would wish for ourselves.

    But clearly, for some of us, these are qualities which carry no value; inconveniences which can be discarded, at will, as soon as the opportunity arises. For them, Public Morality is nothing but a mask which disguises both leer & lecher.

    “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made . . . .” And so too with Franken & Weinstein & Gore & Clinton & O’Reilly & Spacey & Louis CK &&&&& They had come to believe their wealth & power & position & media presence & public virtue signaling had given them a “get out of jail free card”, had earned them the right to indulge without consequence.

    Were they wrong in that estimation?

    If measured as a function of time & cost, we might speculate that they were completely right. Years & decades have come and gone without a murmur — nary heard, a discouraging word — and all these individuals (just like all those who preceded them, even unto Caligula) took what they wanted time & time again without consequence. (As Franken himself pointed out, he’s had thousands of photo ops with women. Do we really think he’s only grabbed 3 rears in all that time?)

    Today, of course, in this flurry of sexual self-righteousness they’ve been exposed….but how often were they right as they took what they wanted, over & over again (and who is still right and still unexposed?) And how quickly will this dust settle? And how long will this natural avarice be suppressed?

    So the question becomes, is there really such a thing as “deterrence”? Can the individuals who live their lives “smashing up things & creatures” (albeit in private, when they think no one is watching) be kept from Sin (when eternal damnation obviously didn’t do the trick) by the addition of More Consequence? Maybe. It’s one thing to burn in a hypothetical hell, another to be the butt of SNL humor. But the more important question is, do we really want to elect, recognize, immortalize, and celebrate these crude Satyr-like caricatures of human beings…. or do we wish, instead, to find & elevate the Decent Man who behaves decently, just because it’s the right thing to do?

  12. Congresses “secret” committee aided and abetted sexual predators by quietly paying out millions for silence and non-disclosure agreements. When it came to light John Conyers said he was innocent and is not resigning from Congress. It’s a win/win for politicians who are protected by their own. How many others have kept their jobs and not been indicted at the taxpayers expense?

  13. This is just a political hit piece by a partisan against those he opposes. I’m fine with that, but the rose-colored glasses view that we were once much more noble than we are now is nonsense. I had to laugh at “we can no longer rely on now ancient notions of self-restraint” as if humans have become aggressive only since the 1960’s. But then, if you can write “A sex-sick Phaedra was not a pretty sight” you can write just about anything in a fancy way.

  14. I find it curious that neither Moore nor Trump are mentioned here. Selective memory? Kudos, though, for mentioning Ailes and O’Reilly, at least.