Hanna Stone has lived through devastating abuses that began in childhood. She was born in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1986. She is the eldest of two children and suffered her first loss at age eight.
“My dad died when l was only eight years old and my brother was six,” Hanna told The Weight She Carries. “My uncle (Dad’s older brother) was determined to raise us. He was helping my mother with our fees and other basic necessities.”
Hanna and her brother also had the privilege of visiting his home during the holidays not knowing her fate lay ahead of her.
“He stayed with his wife and children. The abuse started then from my uncle’s wife, even though I was still young, l can still hear and recall well all the words l would get insulted with in my head,” she said. “l remember always going back to my mom when schools opened and begging her not to let them take me [again], but l guess my mother turned a blind eye because of the help she was getting [from them] financially.”
One may think that going off to boarding school would be the end of the abuse from her aunt, but she was always a way to inject negativity into Hanna’s life.
“My uncle’s wife would come to school [for] meetings or visits and embarrass me or call me an orphan wasting her husband’s money in front of the other kids. When it was holiday time, l was not allowed to go to Harare, which l considered home because my grandmother was still alive. Instead, l would be in their house where l was starved, insulted, overworked and told how much of a burden l was daily. The friction continued till l was in Form 4 [Grade 12] and that term, l remember calling my uncle from school and begging him to let me go to Harare to no avail.”
When Hanna was 16, she experienced a life she had never known through her cousins who were streetwise. She was the quiet and shy one, but she was introduced to a life of partying.
She met a young man at one of the parties who kept eyeing her until he had the courage to speak to her. It was the beginning of a long painful journey.
“After meeting the guy at the party, he would call and ask me to go for movies, which l agreed to [about] two times. Then one weekend, he told me we were going to his cousin’s place for a party. It was a group of kids, so l tagged along. We got there and to my surprise, there was no party: just us. He asked me to sit with him inside and started touching me all over, kissing me and started unbuttoning my top. l clearly said no and he kept going. He became like an animal, pressed his knees on my thighs whilst hitting me in my face with his fists as l lay helpless. He did all he wanted. He overpowered me and broke my virginity.”
Hanna told The Weight She Carries that she felt lost and so defeated. Afterwards, the 19-year-old man kept tracking her down and apologizing, telling her he did it out of love and he was sorry. She did not know yet that she had fallen pregnant.
“When it was discovered that I was pregnant, I was beaten up and forced to stay with him. He abused me in every possible way. l would go to police stations after being beaten, but he was so manipulative that l would get turned away. At 17, I gave birth to my son. By then, my mom was back in Zimbabwe. It may have been the time my life changed as I ran to her countless times bruised and swollen, but she would advise me to go back.”
The abuse went on for eight years. Hanna had nowhere to run to and would nurse baby after baby. By the age of 22, she had three children.
“l was beaten with objects, with ropes, anything he felt like using. l was a child. l knew nothing about sex or contraceptives or any of those things. Like my uncle’s wife, he told me daily that no one loved me, not even my own mother, so l had nowhere to go.”
Like many victims of abuse, Hanna saw death as her only option.
“I then decided it was better to die. l took my kids and ran away, went to this river and held all my children crying. A man appeared from nowhere and pulled me out and we were taken to the nearest police station. Social Services was called and so was my mother who was questioned by one policewoman on how she could leave me [to] go through such [experiences]. It was a wake-up call for her. I finally went back to my mother’s house only to realize I was pregnant again. His threats to kill me and my family did not stop. I was so terrified that for the whole time I carried my last child with him, I stayed indoors all the time.”
Hanna said she was enlightened on having a protection order against the father of her children. At age 23, she was a mother of four and started selling clothes in a bid to survive.
“l was broken, angry, bitter, resentful and an emotional wreck. l struggled to take care of the kids all alone, but l pushed. Anyone who came into my life would turn away as soon as they realized my baggage. Relatives would not take us in. At one point, I was homeless and slept in the park.”
Hanna found brief solace in alcohol and partying with friends. But once she sobered up, she felt ten times her previous pain.
“Around that time, my mom had turned to God. She pressured me to come to her church and l would just go, but l did not feel it. One day in prayer, l just broke down. My spiritual journey from then on was gradual,” she said. “Bit by bit, peace started to come in my heart. Till this day, l am not [at] 100 percent, but looking back l am amazed at how God saved me. l never thought l would live over age 25. l was suicidal every day of my life. My church helped me to begin a healing journey.”
Fortunately for Hanna, her past life did not hinder her from finding love again. Shortly after her spiritual journey began, she found love. A mother of four young children with a broken past found herself being pursued by a single man with no children. She told The Weight She Carries that she met her now-husband through mutual friends. They exchanged numbers and their journey started.
“I was used to men being attracted to me because of my physical appearance. My body did not present me as a mother of four children. When he started pursuing me, I thought at the back of my head that as soon as he finds out about my children and the story of my life, he will leave. But to my surprise, he did not. He would stay up late to get to know me. l fell in love with him because of the way he has treated me. He has watched over me and protected me without expecting anything in return. Despite being ridiculed and questioned about choosing me from family and friends, he stood by me and now, two children later, he is the love of my life.”
How did the abuse affect you?
When l was young, l felt abandoned, unloved and neglected. Much of my resentment was towards my mother. l did not understand why she turned a deaf ear to every detail l would always tell her about the way l was treated.
It was difficult to leave [my abuser] as I felt I had nowhere to go. The man I had been married to was manipulative and had a way of always making people believe him.
l had no support structure whatsoever. That is why it is easy for me to say l am self-made. When l finally decided that dying was better and left, that is when strangers started helping me out. My biggest helper was someone who took me to the civil courts to apply for a protection order.
The major effects abuse had on me from a young age was lack of confidence. l craved to be loved and that made me a target for people to use and take advantage of. l grew a tough skin also. l am that type of person who will dress up and smile while l silently die inside.
l cannot say l have [fully] overcome, but my turning point was when l started knowing God. It took a lot of prayers, counselling, and from then on, there was a kind of peace l cannot explain in my heart.
I don’t trust anyone with my kids. l am very paranoid and put my kids first no matter the situation. I don’t trust letting anyone take care of my children or leaving them with relatives. l just find myself thinking, ‘What if they [are] being harmed in some way?’ That’s one of the major effects it had on me.
What have your achievements been?
My greatest achievement has been to take care of my children despite all that has been thrown at me. I was not formally employed and had no qualifications, but I managed to sell and survived. l did not even have time to think of me or my dreams, but God’s timing is always the best.
l am working on my foundation that will focus on abuse on the girl child and women, statutory rape and shelters for women under abuse and homelessness.
What is your advice to other women?
My advice for women who are living under abuse is to leave. An abuser will never change. Do not stay even if you think you’re doing it for your kids. The damage, even to the kids, is great and it will damage them forever.
Parents should stop this culture of chasing a child away because of pregnancy, whether it’s rape or a mistake or [mischief]. Pregnancy should not destroy a person’s future. Report statutory rape and do not marry off children because of social standards.
There’s life after pregnancy. Protect your children. Let your daughters [come] back home. A returned daughter is better than a broken one or a dead one. l survived by God’s grace. Till now, the memories haunt me, but l now have a strong support system through my husband and my church. Let’s stop that cycle; it’s a horrible road.
Teach your girl child that walking away is a power on its own. Self-respect and self-love [are] a great weapon. Rise up and fight against the manipulations. Report to women organizations and seek protection from civil courts.
For children, they should be taught about platforms such as Childline so as to know where to find help.