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'I am not the victim; I'm the victor,' woman tells attacker

Heidi Damon stared down the man who nearly killed her and told him she was a victor, he was a failure and she would never forgive him.
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Heidi Damon stared down the man who nearly killed her and told him she was a victor, he was a failure and she would never forgive him.

After her speech Wednesday, she turned away from the attacker and toward her boyfriend, who was standing next to her in open court. They hugged.

Watch video: Rape victim stands up to her attacker in court

"I feel better now," she told him. "I'm so proud of myself."

The impassioned five-minute speech to 18-year-old Javon Cooper might not have brought total closure, but it allowed her to move forward in the healing process, Damon, 40, told The Tampa Tribune in a Thursday interview.

"Do I think that this was a huge building block?" she asked. "Am I standing taller than I was before? Absolutely."

Brad Allan, the boyfriend she began dating after the traumatic attack, immediately saw a positive change in her.

"A gloom has been removed," he said. "There's a brightness in her eyes, a bigger smile on her face."

In an Ybor City parking lot on Aug. 19, 2009, Cooper, then 16, choked Damon and she passed out. When the battered woman regained consciousness, she saw him running away. She realized her pants and underwear had been removed, but she hadn't been raped.

The attack devastated Damon, causing nightmares and headaches. She became more suspicious of others and less motivated.

She missed more than a year of work at Florida Business Interiors, where she serves as a master networker.

Her boss, Kevin Baker, said he saw some fear in her after the attack but, "She's such a strong woman that she doesn't really show that to a lot of people."

The attack might have changed Damon in some ways, but it didn't stop her volunteer work. She was motivated about a year ago to join Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay, where she serves as vice chairwoman, working on fundraising and approving Crime Stopper rewards.

"Heidi is a very, very strong young lady, very articulate," said Lisa Haber, Crime Stoppers' law enforcement coordinator and program director. "She's a fighter. She's not one of those people that was going to let somebody victimize her and get away with it."

On Wednesday, before Cooper was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by 10 years probation, Damon finally got her chance to rip into him.

She had been thinking about his attack for 2.5 years, though she only spent a few hours working on her speech. She made bullet points but ad-libbed quite a bit.

She told Cooper that he hadn't broken her spirit or changed her belief in God. If anything, she said, Cooper had strengthened both.

"Oh and by the way, I do have one more thing," she told Cooper. "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."

Afterward, she again told the media her name and spoke up again about the crime.

"I've seen so many times when victims are either ... ashamed or they're scared, and I've never been that person," she said Thursday. "And if I have the power and the ability to step forward and help someone by using my name, by actually putting a face to what happened, great. I'm happy to do that. Because I have nothing to be ashamed of."

She said she will continue with volunteer work and one day might start an organization to help other victims.She said the community reaction to her speech was overwhelming.

Complete strangers reached out to her on Facebook and thanked her for her words. They told her she showed courage and that hopefully she gave others courage to come forward.

Damon said that after the 2009 attack, she never questioned why she had been the one victimized.

"It happened to me because I was strong enough and healthy enough for it to happen to me," she said. "I believe if it was someone smaller than me, not as healthy as me, whatever, they probably would have died. There was a reason it happened to me.

"This is part of the reason. I'm able to talk about it. I was able to tell him off. A lot of victims can't do that. And hopefully this will change that."