US & Canada

Jury awards $1bn to woman raped as a teen

Photo of Hope Cheston, her lawyer, and her mother after the verdict Image copyright Stewart, Seay & Felton Trial Attorneys
Image caption Hope Cheston (right), lawyer Chris Stewart (centre) and Ms Cheston's mother, Renetta Cheston-Thornton (left)

A US jury has awarded $1bn (£750m) in damages to a woman who was raped by an armed security guard when she was 14.

Hope Cheston, who chose to be named, had her mother file the lawsuit on her behalf in 2015, and says the verdict is a symbolic win for survivors.

Her lawyers say it is the largest jury verdict awarded in a sexual assault case in the US.

The security firm is not worth $1bn and the judge may reduce the award so any final settlement figure is unclear.

Image copyright Clayton County Sherriff
Image caption Brandon Lamar Zachary was 22 years old when he raped Hope Cheston, then only 14

Ms Cheston, now 20, told the New York Times the verdict shows victims can get justice.

"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," Ms Cheston said.

Her rapist, 28-year-old Brandon Lamar Zachary, has been serving a 20-year prison sentence for statutory rape since 2016, according to prison records.

In 2012, Ms Cheston was at a friend's birthday party in Jonesboro, Georgia, with her boyfriend when the armed guard approached her, told her boyfriend not to move, and raped her on a picnic table.

The civil lawsuit, filed by Ms Cheston's mother, Renetta Cheston-Thorton, accused Crime Prevention Agency, the security company that hired Zachary, of negligence in training and failing to safeguard a minor.

The judge ruled against the company, and the jury decided upon the $1bn damages on Tuesday.

After the verdict, several jurors hugged Ms Cheston.

"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, told the Times.

"They literally thought a billion dollars was the value of a 14-year-old being raped in public."

Ms Cheston is currently studying social work at Fort Valley State University.

She told the Associated Press: "This shows that people do care about the worth of a woman."

Most rape victims get far lower settlements from US juries.

According to the Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey, there are an average of 321,500 rape and sexual assault victims each year in the US.

Image caption Khristen Sellers: "I was trying to fix my life. And this put a halt on it."

Sexual assault and harassment in the housing setting is an overlooked problem in the US - read more in our investigation here

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