The teenager who once nearly killed her stood uncomfortably only a few feet away in a courtroom last week when an empowered Heidi Damon delivered a stern message.
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“I am not the victim,’’ she said during an impassioned five-minute speech. “I am the victor.
“My name is Heidi Elizabeth Damon. I have a name. I have a name that will go on forever. You have a number and the title of the crimes that you've committed. Your name is Sex Offender, Attempted Murderer. Nice to put you away."Story: 'I am not the victim; I'm the victor,' woman tells attacker
Javon Cooper, 18, pleaded guilty to assaulting Damon, 40, in a Ybor City parking garage in Tampa, Florida on Aug. 19, 2009. He choked her until she passed out in broad daylight at 3 p.m. When Damon regained consciousness, Cooper was running away; her pants and underwear had been removed but she had not been raped. On Dec. 7, in the courtroom where he was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation for attempted rape and murder, Damon addressed him directly.
Damon appeared on TODAY Monday to discuss why she chose to make a public speech when many women who are victims of assault often conceal their identities.
“I felt that if I didn’t come out and put my name out there that it would be just another case of someone almost murdered, almost raped, and that it would just kind of be another story that passes by,’’ Damon told Ann Curry. “If I were to just go by Jane Doe, which I did for 2 ½ years up to this point, I think that people would be more apt to forget.’’
Damon became emotional when she reminders others who have been attacked to remember that they have done nothing wrong.
“It’s OK to give yourself permission to cry, and to not be ashamed,’’ she said tearfully. “It’s not your fault. You’re not the bad person. The person that did it to you is.
“I think so many times, we’re so embarrassed, or we’re so afraid of what people will think. There’s so much vanity out there that if this happens to someone, they should be able to go and talk about it and reveal who attacked them and not be ashamed. Feel empowered to say, ‘No. I’m still going on with my life. You have not taken that away.’’’
Damon has suffered constant nightmares and headaches as a result of the attack and missed more than a year at her job as a master networker at Florida Business Interiors.
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“I look over my shoulder more than I ever have,’’ she said during her speech to Cooper. “Sometimes it feels like someone’s behind me even if they’re not.’’
She joined Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay a year ago and, as vice chairwoman, has been a fundraiser. She plans to continue her work with the organization and may start her own victims' group. She urges all of her friends to get hands-free devices because she was on her cell phone at the time of the attack and did not see Cooper coming.
“I woke up ecstatic today, happier than ever,’’ she said in her speech. “You know why? Because I’m alive. I lived to tell the truth. I will not address you by your birth name, but what you deserve to be called: Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!’’
“A gloom has been removed," her boyfriend, Brad Allan told Tampa Bay Online after her speech. “There's a brightness in her eyes, a bigger smile on her face."
Allan stood by her side as she addressed Cooper in the courtroom.
“I didn’t really know how I would react,’’ she told Curry. “I didn’t know if I would be able to get through the whole thing, so I put down bullet points. It’s nothing to prepare for because it’s been in my mind for over 2 ½ years, so when I stood up there, a lot of it was even things that just popped in my head as I’m standing there.’’
In the middle of her speech, a piece of her speech came to her: To say her full name while reminding her attacker that he is a sex offender and attempted murderer.
“At the very end of my talking to the person who did this to me, that just popped in my head that, ‘Wait a second, I have a name,’’’ she said. “ I’m going to go on and on and on. You won’t. You will always be known by what you did and the number that you have in prison.’’’
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