Clayton County, GA — Hope Cheston, an African American woman who was raped at the age of 14, has been awarded a $1 billion settlement after six long years of legal fight. “You are worth it,” the jury told her.
Six years ago, Hope was sexually assaulted by a security guard in an apartment complex. The suspect, Brandon Lamar Zachary, who was then 22-years old, was hired by Crime Prevention Agency Inc. A lawsuit was filed against the company because they did not issue an apology or even reach out to Cheston.
Zachary was convicted of rape and was sentenced to 20 years. Cheston, on the other hand, struggled with guilt and self-blame which is usually the side effect of sexual trauma.
“Every victim has that — ‘Well I should’ve did this, I should’ve did that, I shouldn’t have been here in the first place,’” she said.
At least 40 to 60 percent of Black teenage girls experience sexual abuse, according to statistics. And in every one victim who reports the assault, about 15 do not speak
Cheston, who is now 22 years old, thought that her case was going to be just one of those who have been forgotten.
“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,” she said.
The apartment complex where the incident happened and the property management company — HACC Pointe South Inc. and Hammond Residential Group — were also included in the lawsuit but were dismissed.
Crime Prevention Agency Inc., the company that hired Zachary changed its name which Chris Stewart, Cheston’s attorney, thought the move was inappropriate and caused an additional lawsuit.
“You can’t change names or try to hide from your responsibility,” he said.
Stewart described the settlement as “a huge victory for women.” The billion dollar, even though Cheston would not see it in full, signifies something that not any amount of money could suffice.
“The money, at the end of the day, isn’t going to matter. It’s what the jury writes down that’s going to fill the hole in her heart that that man tore out,” Stewart said.
Cheston also considers it a victory for all.
“This $1 billion isn’t just my $1 billion,” she said. “This number on this sheet of paper — it’s my case, yes, but it’s all of our case.”