A Jury Just Awarded A Rape Survivor $1 Billion In Damages

The courtroom put a price tag on her experience — and her lawyer says they got it right.

The cost of sexual assault is incalculable. But when 12 jurors in Georgia were assigned an all-too-common courtroom task — to somehow attach a monetary value to a rape survivor's heartbreaking experience — they did something decidedly uncommon, and awarded her $1 billion.

In what's being called a historic first, Hope Cheston, who was 14 years old when she was raped by the security guard at an apartment complex, was awarded the colossal settlement on May 22. Cheston thought that her case had been forgotten, but this year, she was granted a trial, and last month, she got an extraordinary verdict — one her lawyers believe is by far the largest settlement ever given to a sexual assault survivor.

"I was very shocked," Cheston told A Plus of the verdict. "I was very surprised because historically sexual assault victims don't get that much money... It was the fact that 12 strangers felt like what I went through and the pain and suffering was worth a billion dollars. Like, I am worth a billion dollars."

Cheston's lawyer, Chris Stewart, who had tried several high profile sexual assault cases in Georgia, had a similar reaction.

"I've handled a lot of sexual assault cases and I've gotten some pretty good results here in Georgia with some pretty big verdicts, some involving children, but nothing like this before," Stewart told A Plus. "It took my breath away."

Cheston had filed her lawsuit against the security company that employed the security guard, Crime Prevention Agency, as well as the apartment complex and the property management company, according to The Washington Post. Both the apartment complex and the property management company were dismissed from the case, leaving the security company the focus of the ruling.

While neither Cheston nor Stewart are expecting her to collect the full $1 billion, Cheston believes it's the jury's recognition of her value, and the pain she experienced, that has garnered national attention and praise from anti-sexual assault advocates.

"For a sexual assault case to be awarded that money, it shows the magnitude of the situation," Cheston told A Plus. "It shows people are still caring about the cause and it just brings recognition that... nowadays, it's no longer going to fly when people are wronged. That billion dollars is just a reiteration that sexual assault victims matter."

Cheston said that most of her most recent testimony was not about the rape itself, but about how it affected her and what happened to her afterward. After the jury delivered their verdict, its members  asked the judge for permission to stand up and hug Cheston, which they each did one by one. 

"I had never seen that before," Stewart said. 

Cheston's case also stood out because she decided to make her name public, something that is rare in sexual assault trials. Stewart said he was really proud of her decision to come forward, and Cheston said she felt like it would have been selfish to stay in the dark, explaining that the decision was "bigger" than her.

Now a sophomore in college, Cheston is working for the summer and — before the verdict — had been planning to find a car, get a license, and continue to work. The shocking settlement isn't changing her degree aspirations, but it may serve as a financial relief. 

Cheston had advice for other women who have experienced assault, saying that counseling and therapy played a big role in helping her.

"Talk about it," she said. "Find someone who is on your team who will advocate and fight for you... people should speak on it, get it out of their system, because if you can transfer that energy to somebody else it just makes it a lesser load to carry."

Cover photo: Courtesy of Stewart, Seay & Felton Trial Attorneys

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