A Black woman who was raped at the age of 14 was told by a jury, “You’re worth it” — the “it” being $1 billion.
Hope Cheston, now 20 years old, was awarded a $1 billion settlement by a jury in Clayton County, Ga.
Cheston was assaulted by a security guard in an apartment complex. The lawsuit was filed against the security company that hired the rapist, Brandon Lamar Zachary, who was 22 at the time. Zachary was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 years. But the company, then called Crime Prevention Agency Inc., did not try to reach out to Cheston or issue an apology.
Cheston, meanwhile, struggled with common side effects following sexual trauma: guilt and self-blame.
“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 explained.
According to statistics, anywhere between 40 and 60 percent of Black girls experience sexual abuse before their eighteenth birthday. And for every Black woman who reports her rape, at least 15 women do not come forward.
Sexual violence disproportionately impacts communities of color. According to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, “Of women who are raped in their lifetime: 17.9% are Caucasian, 11.9% are Latina, 18.8% are African-American, 34.1% are American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 6.8% are Asian or Pacific Islander. 24.4% are mixed race.”
Cheston thought her story was going to be yet another rape case that gets forgotten — which is, all too often, the case.
“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.
Her original lawsuit also named the apartment complex where the rape occurred and the property management company — HACC Pointe South Inc. and Hammond Residential Group, Inc., respectively. Both parties were dismissed.
The company that hired Zachary was called Crime Prevention Agency Inc. but changed its name — a move Chris Stewart, Cheston’s attorney, criticized and one that brought forth an additional lawsuit.
“You can’t change names or try to hide from your responsibility,” he said.
Stewart also called the settlement “a huge victory for women.”
Even if Cheston never sees the full $1 billion, the fact that it was awarded to her symbolizes something that you cannot put a dollar amount on, her lawyer said.
According to Stewart, “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.”
Cheston said her victory is meant to be shared.
“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.”