A Louisiana judge gave an accused rapist custody of the child conceived from the 2005 attack and eventually ordered his underage victim to pay child support, a report said.
Crysta Abelseth told WBRZ that she was raped at 16 years old when a man nearly twice her age promised to give her a ride home from a local restaurant after a night out with friends.
“Instead of bringing me home, he brought me to his house,” Abelseth said about John Barnes, who was 30 years old at the time. “Once inside, he raped me on his living room couch.”
The teen became pregnant and had a daughter, who is now a teenager herself, the station said.
“Everyone assumed it [the pregnancy] was from a boyfriend, and I let them believe that,” Abelseth told the outlet.
Barnes reportedly came back into the picture five years later when he found out the child might be his.
“When my daughter was five years old, he found out about her, and once he found out about her, he pursued custody and wanted to take her away from me,” Abelseth said, explaining that a DNA test proved with near certainty that he was the father.
“They granted him 50/50 custody despite the fact that [the child] was caused by rape.”
Abelseth filed rape charges against Barnes in 2015 after she found out it was within Louisiana’s statute of limitations, the station reported.
“I thought if I didn’t do it the next day, there was nothing I could do about it,” Abelseth reportedly said. “I went to a trauma counselor, and he said, ‘No, you have 30 years after you turn 18.’”
The case was still open with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, and no charges had been filed, according to the station.
“It was never assigned to a detective, and nothing was ever investigated,” Abelseth said.
The now-32-year-old said she has struggled to gain any traction with the justice system and reportedly lost custody over her daughter over allegations she gave her a cell phone.
Court records in connection with the case were inexplicably sealed, according to the article.
“He’s well connected,” Abelseth told the station of Barnes, who owns Gumbeaux Digital Branding, a web company in Ponchatoula that works with local police.
“He’s threatened me multiple times, saying he has connections in the justice system, so I better be careful and he can take her away anytime he wants to. I didn’t believe him until it happened.”
Advocates and attorneys said the sequence of events was troubling.
“When I found out she was a rape victim, and this rapist could potentially get full custody, that’s when I stepped in and said something has to be done about this,” Stacie Triche of the non-profit organization Save Lives reportedly said.
“She’s been forced to pay her perpetrator,” Triche said. “Forced to pay her rapist child support and legal fees and give up custody of the child that’s a product of the rape. It makes no sense.”
Legal observers noted that even if allegations of forcible rape could not be proven, the age difference between Abelseth and Barnes would constitute statutory rape. The age of consent is 17 in Louisiana.
“It seems pretty straight forward that not only did a crime take place, but as a result of the crime, this person should not have custody of the child,” Sean Cassidy, a lawyer with the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault said, according to the article.
Barnes declined to comment to the outlet, along with Judge Jeffrey Cashe, who reportedly made the controversial custody ruling.
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