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A jury in Georgia has awarded $1 billion to Hope Cheston, who was 14 when an armed security guard raped her on a picnic table outside an apartment complex, after she attended a friend’s birthday party in October 2012 in Jonesboro, Ga.
Her mother filed the civil lawsuit in 2015, accusing the security company of negligence in their training and performance and of failing to keep a 14-year-old girl safe, according to news reports.
On May 24, jurors in Clayton County, Ga., awarded her $1 billion in compensatory damages in a civil lawsuit against Crime Prevention Agency Inc., the security company that employed her rapist. Her lawyers believe it is, by far, the largest jury verdict ever awarded in the United States in a sexual assault case.
Many women suffer sexual assault, do not pursue justice, and try to put it behind them, Cheston, now 20, said at a recent news conference. “My verdict basically shows if you stick with it and do what you need to do to get your justice, there’ll be a brighter e
For the longest (time), I thought it would be pushed under the rug and no longer mattered … but come to find out 12 strangers feel like what I went through and my story and how I feel six years later is worth a billion dollars,” Cheston said.
Still, she almost certainly won’t end up a billionaire. According to news reports, the security company isn’t worth a billion dollars, and the judge could still reduce the amount of such a verdict.
But she and her lawyer both said the judgment offered a symbolic win for all sexual assault victims.
“A jury, from now on, will know there is no ceiling on the damages that rape causes to a woman,” her lawyer, L. Chris Stewart, said. “They literally thought a billion dollars was the value of a 14-year-old being raped in public.”
The security guard who attacked her, Brandon Lamar Zachary, 28, began serving a 20-year prison sentence for statutory rape in 2016.
The judge in the civil suit had already ruled the company was liable for negligence, and the jurors were brought in to determine the amount of the damages. They appeared to be touched by her story; after the verdict was read, several of them came over to hug her, she said.
Cheston’s whole personality changed after the attack, she said. She was “very shut off,” losing friends and straining her relationship with her mother. She stayed inside more. She still distrusts authority figures, especially male ones, and wouldn’t feel comfortable going to the police in an emergency.
“Knowing that just one encounter can change your life forever is terrifying,” she said.
She’s now a sophomore at Fort Valley State University, majoring in social work, and volunteers helping the homeless during the summer, she said. She intends to continue working toward getting her degree.
At the press conference on May 23, Cheston added, “Sexual assault is sexual assault. It’s not right, and it needs to be punished.
By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide