René was sexually abused from the age of 10. She was 26 before anyone listened to her.

This post deals with child sexual abuse and suicide and might be triggering for some readers.

René Michele's earliest memories are pretty sketchy until the age of 10, when she can zero in on a particular event with such clear focus she can replay her inner monologue verbatim. 

"If I just pretend I am asleep, surely he will leave me alone. It's an adult thing he's trying to do... he will realise I am not an adult if I am asleep. This isn't something you do until you're fully grown. He will realise..."

The now 44-year-old can remember everything about the strange man in her room, her Tweety Bird pyjamas, the sensation of pain, and being frozen with fear. 

Watch: René talks about how the abuse began.

Video via René Michele/YouTube.

He wouldn't be the last man to molest a young René in her bedroom either - she'd go on to be sexually abused and raped by six different men between the ages of 10 and 13 alone and it would continue until she was 16. 

All of the men were invited into the family home by the person she trusted the most.

When she was 10, René's parents broke up and her mother - who was completely unable to cope - started bringing strange men she'd met at the pub back to the house.

It was a revolving door of men who preyed on René's vulnerability. While her mother was drunk or out of the house, the men would abuse her. 

"She would bring men home and go to work the next day, but they would still be in the house. So they would then come into my bedroom," René tells Mamamia.

Sometimes they'd sneak into her bedroom to molest her during the night, pass out drunk, before waking and sneaking out again.

"I would disassociate... I would go to my happy place and just shut down. We know about the fight or flight reaction.... I always froze."

The first time Rene tried to take her own life she was 10. At 17, she tried again.

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Smiles are often a mask worn to hide unbearable pain...💔 This is 13 year old me... smiling through the misery of being abandoned, neglected, beaten for three years, and only weeks prior to this photo, raped in my own bed, twice... by a man 2.5 times my age.💔 All I craved for was someone to say... ➡️ "Hey, how are you?" or ➡️ "René you've become so withdrawn and quiet, are you ok?" or ➡️ "I hear you crying in the school toilets, what's wrong?" or ➡️ "I love you and I'm here for you"... Never did anyone ask, or reach out...💔 I guess the smiles fooled them, despite the constant tears, erratic behavior, social isolation, sudden drop in grades, cuts on my arms, and increasing absences.😥 Smiles can be easily forced, so may I suggest that we ALL take 2 mins and check in with everyone we care about with any of these simple phrases.👇 Then LISTEN, don't speak, LISTEN!👂 💛 "Hey, how are you doing?" 💛 "I love you, and I'll always be here for you." 💛 "You are amazing, and very special to me." Human connection takes mere seconds, don't trust a smile or a nod of the head, pay real attention and go the extra mile to ask the real questions.💬 Life is too short to miss the signals, care enough to be THAT person, that person that TRULY cares.💯 #childabuserecovery #childsexabuse #trauma #traumarecovery #survivors #childabuse #mystory #herstory #mylife #rapevictim #rapesurvivor #abuserecovery #coach #traumacoach #traumainformed #NAASCA #battlescarsarebeautiful #fromvictimtovictory #refusetoquit #refusetobeavictim #unstoppable #itaintweaktospeak #survivor

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Her life continued to spiral, a web of drugs, alcohol, and abuse, leaving her with absolutely no sense of self worth. Her abusers had made sure of that.

"They'd say things like 'if you say something, you're a naughty girl. What do you think your mum's gonna think? You're disgusting. You're an idiot, you're stupid.'" 

"So you take that on as your identity and that becomes your mirror reflection," René tells Mamamia. "When you look in the mirror, you no longer see you, you just see the words spoken over you."

By the time she got to high school, she'd gone from being a bright, bubbly kid to being introverted, shy and insecure. 

"I would lose control of my bladder in the classroom if there was a loud noise. Your nervous system absorbs trauma so all of a sudden my body was just acting on its own. I was bullied terribly at school," she says.

None of the teachers thought to check on why René might have been acting out, or skipping class, or always needing to go to the bathroom. 

"People just think you're a naughty kid. But nobody asks 'what's going on?' Nobody pays any attention. You're penalised rather than helped, and that's still what happens today." 

After a third suicide attempt at 19, René decided she had to turn her life around. 

But it wasn't going to happen overnight. 

René would continue to fall into the wrong crowds. Eventually she married a narcissist who unfortunately became the first person she opened up to about her trauma. He'd "physically recoil" when she'd tell him about her abuse, she tells Mamamia

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I spend every day grateful that I have the freedom to observe the beauty of a sunset and sunrise...☀️ That I have the freedom to walk along the beach whenever I choose...🌊 That I have raised two healthy children who understand the power of compassion, generosity, kindness and integrity. TODAY, and every day I am grateful for the opportunity to love upon and help others. I am grateful I learned how to transform pain into passionate purpose... To serve others... To give back... To be a conduit to hope, happiness and healing... Gratefulness is a powerful self discipline, what are YOU grateful for? #grateful #gratefulness #resilience #survivor #author #trauma #traumarecovery #traumainformed #childabuse #childsexualabuse #domesticviolence #genderviolence #riseup #sherises #overcomer #battlescarsarebeautiful #fromvictimtovictory #mystory #selfcare #selfcompassion #healedandwhole #healed #restored

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"He would say to me, 'you've been abused so many times since you were 10... Why did it keep happening? Maybe you liked it?' And that sort of anguish was harder, I felt, then any of the abuse that I'd been through, because this man was supposed to love me," she says. 

It wasn't until she was 26 and gave birth to her daughter, that René opened up a phone book and found the details of a local Sunday church service, a decision that would shift her world forever. 

"I confided in some pastors there and they really were the people that helped me get on my feet. One of the pastors looked at me and said 'Oh my gosh, René, what do you need? What can we do for you?' and I just burst into tears. Not one person in 26 years had ever asked me that question," she says. 

Eventually René got the courage to leave her toxic marriage, although it took another decade. She'd tried to stick it out, thinking that if she broke up the family unit like her parents did, she'd be traumatising her child in the same way she'd been traumatised. 

But when she finally left her marriage, she got on the "straight and narrow" as she calls it, building a life that her 19-year-old self would never have thought possible.

Now, René is a university graduate, counsellor, author, public speaker and trauma consultant. But more importantly she has two incredible children who have grown up in an alternate universe to her own.

"My daughter is 18. She's studying a double degree in social work and psychology and wants to work with traumatised children. My son is almost 16 and is just the most amazing, sensitive human being. But the most exciting thing for me is neither of my children have been abused."

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🔼1 in 5 children in Australia will be sexually harmed before their 18th birthday.🔽In 2018 alone, 1.5 children had been exposed to sexual violence before the age of 15. THIS IS NOT OK!!!! 👇 ➡ Do these statistics alarm you? ➡ Do you know how to speak to your children about body safety? ➡ Do you know how to teach your child about abuse and what to say to help them guard themselves from abusers? ➡ Do your children know and use the correct names for their genitalia? 💎 If you don't know how to answer any of these questions please, PLEASE contact me or look up and download your free safety guide and other tools that can help you equip your child to win the fight againt child abuse. 🌟These are all essential tips to help you as caregivers educate, empower and equip your kids to stay safe and NOT become a statistic! #saam #sexualassault #survivor #nomore #standup #rainn #metoo #enoughisenough #silentnomore #refusetobeavictim #battlescarsarebeautiful #standwithme

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Growing up, René never allowed her children to go to sleepovers and she drilled into them that "their body is theirs and nobody touches it."

"Early intervention is key. This is where we really go wrong everywhere in the world. We need to be talking in primary schools about abuse - obviously using age appropriate language and age appropriate tools. But these are the things I did with my children. We need to teach children that your body is your body. Mum doesn't touch it, dad doesn't touch it. Nobody touches it. This is yours," she tells Mamamia.

It took decades for René to heal from a horrific childhood. But she not only managed to break the cycle in her own life, she is dedicating her future to helping women living with similar pain.

"Childhood abuse and trauma is not a life sentence. You have to just hang on day after day. You can and will get through this," says René. 

Feature image: René Michele.

Stepping Out Program has announced the launch of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) Awareness Week from 19 to 23 October 2020 – in recognition of the Commonwealth Government’s National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional CSA on 22 October 2018. Stepping Out Program is a specialist service, working with female survivors of CSA and its related trauma. The purpose of CSA Awareness Week is to lift the veil of shame and open the topic for discussion, breaking the cycle of abuse.

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts (an organisation providing support to victims of child abuse) here.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from the Child Abuse Protection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting their website. You can also call the 24-hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478).