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Georgia Jury Awards $1 Billion In Lawsuit Over Girl's Rape

A jury in Georgia has awarded $1 billion to a young black woman who was raped by an armed security guard when she was 14.

Jurors in Clayton County, Ga., on Tuesday awarded $1 billion in damages to Hope Cheston, now 20, in a civil lawsuit against the company that employed the man who raped her outside an apartment complex.

Cheston's attorney, L. Chris Stewart, called it a "record" amount. "Juries are saying no to sexual assault and holding companies accountable!" he wrote on Twitter.

"The value of a woman ... definitely has been shown," Cheston said at a news conference Wednesday. She said she thought the attack she suffered in October 2012 had been "swept under the rug" and "no longer mattered," but the size of the decision changed that.

NPR does not generally name underage victims of sexual assault, but Cheston has spoken publicly about the attack.

"Twelve strangers feel like what I went through and my story and how I feel — after six years — is worth a billion dollars. That is life-changing, history-making, just beautiful news to know," she said.

The security guard, Brandon Lamar Zachary, was convicted of statutory rape and child molestation. He began serving a 20-year sentence in June 2016, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Cheston's mother, Renetta Cheston-Thornton, filed the civil lawsuit in 2015 against Zachary's employer at the time of the assault, Crime Prevention Agency Inc. The suit argued Zachary should never have been hired because he did not have a license to be an armed guard. The company has since changed its name to International Security Agency, Stewart said, saying he planned additional litigation.

Cheston is unlikely to be awarded anything close to $1 billion — "we know they don't have a billion dollars," Stewart told reporters. The amount could be reduced by a judge.

But Stewart said the symbolism was the important victory.

"They said a little black girl in Clayton County who was raped is worth $1 billion. That was a big win for us," he said.

"There is no amount that can ever fix the harm that's done when a woman is raped," he added, calling it "a huge victory for women around the United States."

Cheston said she plans to advocate for other survivors of sexual assault.

"Sexual assault is sexual assault," she said. "It's not right and it needs to be punished."

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