With her striking good looks, a glamorous career in the media and a beautiful home in Sydney’s leafy inner west, former Masterchef contestant Renae Smith appears to have it all.
But behind her sunny disposition lies a painful past. Ten years ago, the single mum thought she’d found The One.
After meeting through friends, Sam* wooed Renae with sweet, romantic gestures. It was a relationship she describes as ‘intoxicating’.
'To have this grown man pressing me flowers was not something I’d ever seen before in a relationship,’ she says. ‘It made me want more and more. When I wasn’t with him, I’d be distressed that I hadn’t seen him for three or four days, and he would be the same.
‘You watch enough movies to think that if you are literally losing your mind over someone and cannot bear to be apart from them, then that’s love.’
But Sam had a jealous streak – which he attributed to being cheated on in the past – so Renae found herself having to explain her whereabouts and taking all her calls on loudspeaker.
Then the grabbing started. ‘I’d have fingerprint [bruises] on the back of my arms. I thought he didn’t know his own strength.’
But the controlling behaviour – and the violence – escalated. ‘He would choke me until I passed out,’ Renae explains.
The first time it happened, the reality TV star says she woke up and started to scream. Her ex – a professional fighter – then bent her body backwards in an excruciating wrestling hold, warning: ‘I know how to hurt you without leaving bruises.’
‘My legs went all funny. I was absolutely terrified, I thought I was going to be unable to walk,’ Renae laments. ‘I still have a bad back.’
Afterwards, Sam would be overwhelmed with self-loathing.
‘He would tell me about how his mother had died when he was young, his father remarried really early, his family didn’t love him and he had no-one else.
‘He would completely break. He’d say he was going to kill himself, then he would disappear for hours.
‘That’s why I would stay, because I would then try to help him,’ she explains.
The young mum was trapped in a vicious cycle, which repeated over and over again. But there was one small mercy.
‘He never beat the children,’ Renae, 33, says. ‘He knew that would have been the last straw.’
Over the course of their volatile three-year relationship, Renae describes many injuries – a broken rib, a dislocated arm, a broken finger and countless black eyes.
‘Once he made me stand in the kitchen and he poured a two- litre bottle of Coke over my head. I was crying and he put a pan on the stove, heating up oil, threatening to throw it all over me,’ she says.
As her ex ranted and raved, brave Renae managed to call the emergency services while the children hid in their rooms.
Just as the oil was beginning to smoke, the police arrived. Sam was arrested and handed an AVO. But as soon as he was released, Renae says he turned up at her house.
The tipping point for Renae came when Sam assaulted her on the stairs leading to the roof of his apartment building.
‘He pulled my legs from underneath me and I smashed my face on the stairs,’ she says.
‘He stamped on my ribs, I couldn’t breathe.’
As Renae screamed for help, Sam allegedly snapped a Champagne flute and held the broken stem to her throat.
‘He said: “I’ll put this through your neck and throw you off the building,”’ she recalls.
Renae still bears a scar on her lip from where she says Sam sliced her face.
When he resorted to threatening suicide, Renae seized control.
She steered Sam back to his apartment. When he ran out of cigarettes, Renae persuaded him to let her go to the shop.
‘I walked down two flights of stairs, then I just ran. I did not look behind me. I ran as fast as I could.’
A passing taxi took Renae home, where she immediately locked all the windows and doors. Sam turned up yelling, but eventually he went away.
Fearing the relationship would kill her, Renae got an emergency appointment with a therapist the next day – and vowed never to see Sam again.
Seven years on, Renae is ready to use her experience to help others trapped in violence.
She’s even found love again!
‘He’s wonderful,’ Renae says of her new partner, Moreton Horsley, 31. ‘With Moreton, it’s completely different. I’ve never met anybody who’s so kind to me.’
How you can help...
New Idea is raising funds for victims of domestic violence to provide them with We Care Packs. We helped one woman a day in 2016 – but we need your help to do more in 2017!
Please support our campaign and donate at wecarepacks.com.au, powered by Donate Planet.
Proceeds will go towards more packs, and as little as $5 can help us deliver this much-needed service to women everywhere.
The We Care Pack is a bag of essentials for women fleeing violence. Thanks to White Glo, Essano, Vaseline, Evo, Telstra, Tresemme, Toni & Guy and Dettol, New Idea – with Anglicare Australia – distributed 1000 packs to women in October. Children’s We Care Packs – which include baby wipes and activity books – are now being sent out, thanks to Artline, Spirax, Organic Care, Wotnot and Maped.
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