There are a number of unspokens in the most silent of crimes. The one is that most rapists experience erectile dysfunction, in other words they get it up but they can’t keep it up and that is when the person raped is in most danger because they will often become angry.

Ananias Mathe, who is due for sentencing in the Johannesburg High Court this week after being convicted of 64 charges of rape, indecent assault, attempted murder, aggravated robbery and housebreaking, as well as escaping from C-Max at Pretoria prison, experienced profound erectile dysfunction as one rape survivor after another testified against him. And it was then that all were most at risk of harm from him.

As an aside, his psychologist, Wickus Coetzee, who testified that Mathe suffered from anti-social personality disorder (no prizes for that diagnosis) asked the court that Mathe should not be given a life sentence because he was a remorseful and intelligent individual who was prepared and able to rehabilitate himself. It is a statement that brings an honourable profession into disrepute. Detectives who investigated Mathe and brought him to book told this journalist that he was the most evil and dangerous individual they had ever investigated. It does not take great intellect to understand either, that a person who faces so many charges of rape has zero chance of rehabilitation and is an acute danger to society.

There is a second unspoken secret and that is that some of those raped experience orgasm. It has nothing to do with sex. Rape is a profound debasement of the person performing the act and much of the horror is that an individual hates himself so much that he uses his body to perform such vile self humiliation.
So how then does a person raped orgasm when it may be difficult with a beloved? It’s quite simple. Our bodily functions respond to certain stimuli: when you go into a dusty room you sneeze, there is no emotional or intellectual connection; it is nasal passages responding to irritants. And so it is with rape and orgasm, but with an added impetus — the body is in a state of profound fear so adrenalin is coursing through it at a heightened rate, leaving all the senses on high alert and all of those factors combined can cause orgasm. And the most profound mourning in the person who experiences it. These are the people most likely to refuse to discuss the rape; they are also at highest risk of engaging in serious self-destructive conduct after, including suicide.

In all of us raped, we need to relearn that touch is good, that it is a powerful healer. Touch is the way we communicate without speaking. Little can soothe the way a loving touch or warm hug can. It is vital that a person raped gets touched as much as possible afterward, gently and with pure tenderness.
Immediately after a rape it is almost as though we are in a different place, disconnected from mere mortals, we need the positive energy of caring touch to reconnect us with life and ourselves.

It is often the men in our lives who often have the greatest difficulty with sexuality after we are raped, especially if they have been present. They are angry with themselves and totally emasculated, for some it raises their own rape in childhood that they have tried to block and now it all comes rushing back at them creating intense grieving.* My advice: that they meet other men who have successfully worked through issues with a partner who has been raped, and there are so many it is heartbreaking, that they sit and discuss with them, that they listen and learn.

For women in the lives of men who have been raped, your task is nothing less, don’t question, don’t ask why, don’t blame, just listen, just be, just love.
Go to a sexologist if necessary, we have excellent sexologists in South Africa.

Don’t try and have sex in the first few weeks or perhaps months, focus on rebuilding and finding the essence of a good relationship — quiet time together, reading, going for walks or to movies; focus on quality, fun time; touch in non-sexual ways, a kiss on the brow, an arm around a waist, holding hands; progress to just sitting close on the couch and know that with such loving patience; real, intense, powerful, beautiful lovemaking in the fullest sense of the word will come.

Good relationships are not destroyed by rape, they are strengthened. But it requires wisdom from both and small steps.

After I was raped I, who had never liked being hugged before, actively encouraged people to hug me and now I hug and touch a lot. I encouraged it because I feared losing the ability to connect with others and harm to my sexuality.

But about six weeks after the rape a friend paid for me to go for aromatherapy. I was almost destitute as a result of all the post-rape costs — medicines, extra security, battling to concentrate so work suffered and as a freelance journalist my earnings plummeted — and so a friend paid for a treat.

But as the therapist, who did not know I had been raped, touched my leg near my ankle I could feel myself seizing up inside. I thought, “oh no, I have a problem,” but so committed was I to healing that I inwardly kept telling myself, “I can do this, I can do this”.

However, when I turned onto my back and she again touched my leg, my whole body began violent trembling. She was alarmed and said, “Are you cold?” I didn’t want to make her anxious so I lied and said yes. She got big infra-red lamps and we got through the aromatherapy but I realised I had a problem with intimate touch. Yet another friend, the writer Sue Grant Marshall, paid for me to go to another masseur who she told what had happened. I went twice a week, first for hand massages, then over time we progressed to hands and feet, then hands, feet and head, and finally my back, before a full-body massage in a process that took about three months.

The person I was involved with at that time was a Canadian television executive who lived in Toronto and had put up with months of endless emails or he would call and listen to me cry — mostly about what had happened to others because I was already dealing with dozens and dozens of others.

We’d planned a trip to Zanzibar and I’d sent him a long list of what not to do — don’t come up behind me suddenly, don’t place your hands over my eyes, don’t carry me … all things related to the rape. But because he had been so open, had listened for so long without comment, without advice, without saying what I should not do and what I should — when we met, everything was perfect. I luxuriated in the gift of controlling my body again and the pleasure that loving intimacy can bring.

I never allowed the rapist back into my bedroom after the night of the rape. I never allowed him to control my body or my mind. I’ve used the power of positive revenge — using pain to create a happier, better life. There are things about the old Charlene I miss, but I really like this person now, she has been given gifts in abundance and met some of the most remarkable people in the world, most of them other rape survivors from whom I have learnt everything I write on these white screens. I gained much in refusing the rapist any victories.

  • According to Childline one in four girls under the age of 16 get raped and one in five boys.
  • Author

    • Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which she has worked have also won awards. She has worked as a broadcast journalist and radio-station manager. Smith's areas of expertise are politics, economics, women's and children's issues and HIV. She lives and works in Cambridge, USA.


    Charlene Smith

    Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which...

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