16 years of cruelty: How one woman managed to escape and rebuild her life

Warning: This story contains vivid descriptions of domestic violence and cruelty, and the video contains language that may offend. Discretion is advised. Helplines can be found below.

Zania McCauley describes surviving almost two decades of physical and sexual violence at the hands of her former partner as a bad nightmare you're waiting to wake up from.

The 44-year-old was in a relationship with Hoani John Chase for 16 years after a chance encounter at a party in the late 1990s.

She's telling her story for the first time to Three's The Hui to help other women who are in a similar situation break free.

"I went over everything that I wanted to see in my life, and how it was going to help me beat what I was going through, and that meant putting my trust back in people."

What happened to Zania reads like something out of a horror film, but before her nightmare began, life was good. She was a single mum, 21 years old and working hard at her fulltime job. She even managed to buy her own home in Waiohau, in the Bay of Plenty.

But on a night out with friends, Zania's path crossed with an older man - Chase.

"Our first encounter was at a party after drinking a bit. I didn't drink much but that night I drunk too much and woke up the next morning with him next to me," says Zania.

Hoani John Chase.
Hoani John Chase. Photo credit: The Hui

A few days later, Zania would realise her terrible mistake. Chase arrived at her house wearing a Mongrel Mob patch.

"That's when reality hit me like wow, and then I just said, 'I can't have this with my son. I can't have this and I don't want this in my life.'"

The cruelty begins

But Chase didn't take no for an answer - he returned later that night, and this time he wouldn't be turned away.

"I opened the door and I just went to say 'hi' and all I saw was this fist coming for my face. I just remember dropping back on the floor. I was quite hard to actually know what was going on until I came to, and when I fully focused he was just leaning on me, had his knee pressing against my chest, so that was the pain I could feel."

Chase told her that he was the president of the Te Teko Mongrel Mob, and threatened her he would shoot her son if she went to police.

"I just was in that much shock - it wasn't until I looked at my son and then I saw he had a sawn-off shotgun in his hand and he had it to my son's head."

Within days, Chase announced he was moving into Zania's home.

"As stupid as it sounds I just went with it because I didn't know what to do - where do I go, what do I do? He just told me he runs the town, you know he's going to shoot my son if I say anything to the police."

Zania McCauley.
Zania McCauley. Photo credit: The Hui

But a few weeks later a desperate Zania did just that, having a confidential chat with a police officer who played rugby with Chase - and word eventually got back to him.

Speaking out would cost Zania dearly. After Chase got her son out of the house, he then subjected Zania to the most unimaginable acts of cruelty, for days on end.

"He made me sit on the chair and duct-taped my feet to the chair arms behind the chair. I just heard all the abuse, all the names, 'This is what you get for being a nark. This is what you get.'

"I didn't eat I didn't drink. I lost count of days I didn't even know what day it was. I pissed myself, I shit myself on the chair.'"

She would only be untied when Chase raped her.

"Sometimes didn't even make it to the room - it was there on the floor and I'd just get tied back up."

Where to find help and support: 

Zania had gone from single mother with a good job and her own home to a prisoner of the violent and controlling Mongrel Mob president. It was a far cry from her upbringing. Her family were afraid of Chase, and one by one they disappeared from her life. 

Zania's story has all the hallmarks of a classic case of domestic violence. She was beaten into submission, controlled and isolated from her family, friends and community.

"It got to the point where I couldn't even take my son to school because his Dad lived down the street and he didn't like that. I had to finish work because in customer service I had to talk to people. But he didn't like that. He didn't like me talking to people.

"I would get timed when I went to the shop, he would check my account, he'd check my car where you'd been, he would he take the mileage too, so he would know how far I went - so the mileage always got checked before I left."

Chase was so consumed by jealousy he made Zania get his initials tattooed on her neck, marking her as his property.

Mongrel Mob
Chase was a high-ranking Mongrel Mob member. Photo credit: The Hui

Speaking to another man would set him off in a rage. One such occasion had near-fatal consequences for Zania when she was seen talking to a man while picking up Chase from the gang pad.

"He just walked out, swore at me, 'What the f**k am I talking to him for?' and then he flipped and I went from getting hit to a rope being tied around me and he tried to drag me behind the car." 

Zania was a broken woman. She would endure the rapes and beatings for 16 years.

The one person she believed could have rescued her from her nightmare was her beloved father, Michael McCauley, but he passed away suddenly when Zania was 17. Chase even used this tragedy against her, forcing Zania to marry him on the anniversary of her father's death.

"Marriage is a sacred thing for people and that was sacred for me. My marriage was a horror story and it's sad because he took that from me. He took my special day."

'I'm going to bring this child into this life'

Despite never wanting to have a child to Chase, eventually Zania fell pregnant.

While she adores her twin daughters, River and Rain, finding out she was bringing two innocent lives into such a violent home was heartbreaking. 

"It shocked me to find out I was pregnant and I was so, so saddened. I'm going to bring this child into this life. And I love children, but I just didn't want this child to go through this life. I couldn't protect them".

To her shock, Zania found out she was having twins.

"I had my twins on my birthday, just before midnight. When River come out she wasn't breathing, she was the smallest of them and the doctor said 'you have a girl, she's just not breathing' and he was in the room when he told the doctor 'to shove her back up my arse', because he didn't want a girl. He missed the whole fact that the doctor just said she's not breathing."

Zania did her best to protect her girls from the horror of their father's behaviour, but she would try multiple attempts at ending her life.

After her one of her daughters interupted her fifth suicide attempt, Zania had reached rock bottom. She then enrolled herself onto a suicide prevention course, finally reached out to her whanau and focussed on the key elements that she hoped would set her free. 

"I called it 'STEP UP for life Whanau'. So the 'Step Up' stood for Support, Talk, Encourage, Praise, Unite and Protect. That is what I felt I needed in my life to get through what I was going through."

'I'm going to do it fighting'

Supported by whanau and police, a much stronger and empowered Zania was ready to stand up to the man who had raped and beaten her for 16 years. 

"I wasn't even prepared for it, but I just felt 'now or never' and I thought 'this is do or die'. I'm going to die outside my girls' room, but I'm going to do it fighting. He walked up to it into my face like literally right there which he would always do, but this time I thought, 'I'm looking at death in the eye,' and he said, 'What the f**k did you just say?' And I said, 'You heard me,' and he goes 'You f***ing think you're tough bitch?' 

"I said, 'I'm not tough I am f***ing over it. Do your worst, because I'm ready.'"

Chase left in a rage, but did not touch Zania. He drove off into the night to get a gun.

Zania called police, who arrested Chase on weapons charges and put him behind bars. 

But for Zania, that glimmer of hope was short-lived. Police didn't have enough evidence to keep him there, and Chase walked out of court a free man. 

"He walked out the same door I walked out. He stood there and looked at a policeman and said, 'Can I talk to my wife now?'

"If a car came past I was going to walk out and step in front of it, that's how hurt I was, and from that time I thought it would never end."

Despite a protection order, Chase began a campaign of stalking and harassment.

"He would go past my work. He would give me fingers, he would threaten me, everything he could think of. He was still succeeding trying to scare me, to hurt me, to ruin my life when he wasn't in it anymore."

Even the house she'd worked so hard for was set on fire. But this only made Zania more determined to bring him to justice.

Crown prosecutor Anna Pollett.
Crown prosecutor Anna Pollett. Photo credit: The Hui

She went back to police and this time she told them everything - recounting all 16 years of her living hell. 

"I can tell you this level of offending in this case is one of the most serious of its kind that I've seen," said Crown prosecutor Anna Pollett, who took on Zania's case.

"I've seen others, yes, but this is up there with those. What I find remarkable is Zania endured this 16 years of very serious sexual and physical violence, and it's the most serious I've seen where a victim is still here to tell her story." 

Her case was based on mainly circumstantial evidence. It would rely heavily on Zania's testimony, which would be crucial for a conviction.

"It was harrowing in its detail, but she remained so strong throughout giving her evidence and she could recall it in great detail," said Pollett.

Justice finally served

Zania would get justice. Justice Sarah Katz found Chase guilty on 28 violence and sexual abuse charges, including rape, and sentenced him to 18 years in prison. It's one of the longest prison terms for domestic violence this country has ever seen.

Chase would also be de-patched from the Mongrel Mob and refused entry into joining any other chapter in the Bay of Plenty.

"I didn't even think a human could act like that toward our women. You're supposed to love our women, treat them right," said Slob, a Mongrel Mob member from the Kawerau chapter.

"They're the ones that give you kids to carry on your generation - treating them like that, I don't think it was right at all. For her to even speak about it, it just goes up to another level. You've got to be so strong to do something like what she's gone and done".

Mongrel Mob member Slob.
Mongrel Mob member Slob. Photo credit: The Hui

Today, Zania is re-writing her brutal past and has begun a new chapter in her life, but it's hard to come out of such a violent and abusive relationship without sometimes being haunted by the past. 

"I was I was scared of him coming out. I still have nightmares about the day he comes out, or him getting early release or bail.

"But those are just dreams for me now. Those are nightmares... I wake up thankful that he is in there. I wake up thankful that I've got this life now."

Zania McCauley today.
Zania McCauley today. Photo credit: The Hui

Her life includes a new career working with at-risk youth, grandchildren and a new partner, with whom she's built a stable and loving home. 

"I'm a stronger woman now. I've got strong support around me. I've got a great family. I've got a great partner, a partner you dream of. I'm living the life I should've lived 18 years ago.

"I am free from him, and I love it."

The Hui