GEORGETOWN (LEX 18) — In the nearly three years since a rape was reported at Georgetown College, the name of the woman who was attacked had not been released. Now, after the man accused was convicted on multiple counts, Ava Stokes says she wants to show the public — and others who've been through a similar nightmare — that she's a survivor, not a victim.
On the night of Sept. 23, 2018, Stokes, then an 18-year-old Georgetown College freshman, told police she was held at knife-point and raped multiple times by a stranger who wandered in through the unlocked door of her student housing unit.
As is typical in sexual assault cases, Stokes' name was kept largely private during the investigation and the trial that followed. A recent interview with LEX 18 was the first time she's spoken about what happened publicly outside of a courtroom.
"Now I'm ready for my voice to be heard," Stokes said. "I want other survivors to know that you are allowed to be proud of yourself for surviving something like this, you're allowed to feel angry and want justice."
Stokes survived not only the rape but the reliving of the gruesome details of that assault in front of a courtroom of people as she took the stand at 35-year-old Cody Arnett’s July jury trial.
"I'm not gonna lie, that was the hardest thing I ever had to do, especially with my family in there and describing the awful things he did to me for hours," Stokes told LEX 18.
At trial, Arnett's defense attorneys argued that Stokes' story was not true and that everything that happened on that night was consensual.
"I understand why survivors don't come forward, because of the fear of being called a liar," Stokes said.
In the United States, about one in every five women are raped or experienced attempted rape in their lifetime, according to The National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In 2018, only about a quarter of rapes or sexual assaults were reported to police, according to the center.
In the end, it took the Scott County jury less than an hour and a half to find Arnett guilty on two counts of first-degree sodomy, three counts of first-degree rape involving a weapon, and counts of burglary and tampering with evidence. The jury also found that Arnett was a "persistent felony offender," which gave them the ability to strengthen his recommended prison sentences for each count.
Arnett is set to be sentenced on Oct. 4, and the jury said he should serve a total of six life sentences and an additional 20 years in prison.
Arnett had multiple previous felony convictions, including a robbery case out of Fayette County in 2015, according to court records. He was sentenced to 15 years in that case but ultimately served less than three years before being released on parole. The Georgetown rape happened less than three months after his release.
In 2018, the year Arnett was released, the Kentucky Parole Board considered 16,541 cases and recommended parole in about 41.5 percent of those cases, according to a report by the board.
"It doesn't make any sense to me why they'd even consider letting out a violent person," Stokes said. "Letting them walk the streets and trusting that they would magically become a good person."
Stokes told LEX 18 that she believed Arnett was going to kill her on the night of the attack, but she fought back with skills she learned from her father.
"If he had not taught me the basic things about defending yourself, I wouldn't have known what to do, and he would have killed me," Stokes said. "My dad saved my life."
Stokes is now attending college out of state to pursue a career in criminal justice, possibly as an advocate for people who've experienced the kind of trauma she has.
"He took my entire college experience," Stokes said. "I will never get that back ... but I will not allow him to take away my future and not allow him to destroy anything else."
Stokes was able to see a living example of how someone can move on from this kind of trauma in commonwealth's attorney Sharon Muse, who prosecuted Stokes' case. Muse has previously spoken publicly about being kidnapped by a man who attempted to rape and kill her.
"Being able to watch how confident she is and how powerfully passionate she is about her job it only made me want to be strong with her," Stokes said. "It made me want to be strong, fight harder because I got to see what can happen when you're able to heal."