Hope Cheston, who asked that her name be used in order to empower other women who have been victims of sexual assault, has been awarded $1 billion by a Georgia jury. The lawsuit against the security company Crime Prevention Agency was filed in 2015 by Hope’s mother, Renatta Cheston-Thornton because her daughter was a minor.
The incident occurred in October 2012. Hope and her boyfriend were outside their apartment by some picnic tables, when a security guard, Brandon Lamar Zachary, approached the couple. Zachary ordered Hope’s boyfriend not to move, while he raped Hope. She was only 14-years-old. Zachary was found guilty of statutory rape and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence, according to AP News. The judge in the case found the security company that hired Zachary to be at fault. The company in question, Crime Prevention Agency, hired Zachary even though he was never licensed to work as an armed guard. Therefore, the damages awarded to Hope must be paid by the security company.
However, experts believe it’s unlikely that the security company will end up paying the full $1 billion. Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association said that “This jury was clearly trying to send a message about bad conduct on the part of the company.” What is likely to happen, is that the company will appeal, and the amount can be lowered to be in line with other similar cases.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the judgment amount, Hope and her lawyer L. Chris Stewart see the award as symbolic. He commented that “A jury, from now on, will know there is no ceiling on the damages that rape causes to a woman… They literally thought a billion dollars was the value of a 14-year-old being raped in public.”
Hope wanted her name to be used in publications because she wants to empower other women who have been victims of sexual assault. She described that the rape changed her life, and her personality became “very shut off” as she distanced herself from friends and her mother, detailed the New York Times. Today, Hope is enrolled in college at the Fort Valley State University.
During an interview on Wednesday, Hope pointed out the importance of seeking justice as a survivor of sexual assault, saying “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 end.”