Friday, November 30, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Heidi Damon faces her attacker in court

Just over a year ago, Heidi Damon stood up in court and said, "My name is Heidi Elizabeth Damon. I have a name. I have a name that will go on forever."

She wasn't being an egomaniac. Instead, Damon--who'd been attacked and nearly raped and killed two and a half years earlier--was shedding her "Jane Doe" status while she faced her attacker in court.

"I survived. You have simply victimized yourself. I will be free for the rest of my life. You will be a prisoner for the rest of yours," she told him in front of a courtroom full of people and cameras.

Damon later said she decided to disclose her identity and speak in court "to help other people that might not be as able to come out and talk about difficult things. If I didn't come out and put my name out there, it would be just another case of someone almost murdered, almost raped, and that it would be another story that just passes by...if I were just to go by Jane Doe, which I did for two and a half years, up to this point, I think that people would be more apt to forget."

The short statement was put together in 90 minutes, and read from a script in case she lost her nerve or train of thought, but Damon said "it's nothing to prepare for, it's been in my mind for two and half years." She reminded other speakers facing difficult topics that "it's okay to give yourself permission to many times we're so embarrassed or so worried about what people will think."

Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Your voice is a part of your identity: Damon could have submitted a written statement or saved her thoughts for therapy, and stayed anonymous and safe. But taking the risk to speak out loud and in front of cameras and witnesses underscored that speaking up can help define you as much as your name does. Are you representing yourself? Damon did, in spades.
  • Facing your nemesis makes for powerful speaking: Sometimes only one person in the audience matters. Damon's attacker grins and avoids looking at her while she makes her statement, but she confronts him with pride and strength.
  • Speak for yourself with "I" statements: No one can speak for you but you, particularly about such a violent and personal event. Using "I" is the way to start the sentences that describe how you feel. Damon does a good job avoiding all "you" accusations by alternating "I" and "you" statements that underscore the differences between herself and her attacker.
The video below includes a news report about Damon's statement, with some footage of her in court, and an interview. What do you think of this famous speech?

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