32-year-old Crysta Abelseth was raped when she was 16. When the alleged rapist found out she bore a child from the assault, he requested custody of the child.
Trigger warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
When 16-year-old Crysta Abelseth met John Barnes, 30, in the city of Hammond back in 2005, she was under the impression that he would drop her at her house as she was leaving the bar heavily intoxicated and her friend had had to leave early. However, she found herself in Barnes' house, where he allegedly raped her on his living room couch. Now, 16 years since that fateful night, Barnes has full custody of the child—whose name remains unmentioned as they are a minor—that Abelseth bore from the assault.
Abelseth came away from the traumatic incident pregnant with a child everyone believed she'd had with a boyfriend. "I let them believe that," the now 32-year-old told WBRZ. She gave birth to a baby girl and everything was going smoothly for the mother-daughter duo, until 2011 when Barnes—who is now 47—found out that he might have a daughter with Abelseth. A DNA test presented in court shows with 99.97% accuracy that Barnes is indeed the father of the child. "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 explained. "They granted him 50/50 custody despite the fact that [the child] was caused by rape."
Two days after WBRZ exposed the case, secret documents related to the case have been made public.https://t.co/MZmbDLhCHa— WBRZ News (@WBRZ) June 15, 2022
According to Louisiana law—where the age of consent is 17—even if the victim had given consent to the perpetrator (which Abelseth maintains that she hadn't), it would be illegal for a man almost twice her age to engage in sexual intercourse with her. Abelseth filed a police report against Barnes in 2015, detailing her experience of what happened that night in 2005. The report was filed in the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office. She revealed that she had waited so long to press criminal charges because she didn't know the law. "I thought if I didn't do it the next day, there was nothing I could do about it," Abelseth said. "I went to a trauma counselor, and he said, 'No, you have 30 years after you turn 18.'"
Woman forced to give up daughter to man she accuses of sexually assaulting her https://t.co/6IFn6TZgJB— New York Post (@nypost) June 15, 2022
However, despite Abelseth's police complaint, there has been no progress since 2015. She told reporters that the case was never assigned to a detective and that nothing was ever investigated. Meanwhile, an internet search for John Barnes revealed that he owns Gumbeaux Digital Branding—a web company in Ponchatoula—and that his client list includes the Ponchatoula Police Department.
Court records in the Tangipahoa Parish courthouse show that the alleged perpetrator, Barnes admitted to being the biological father of the child. This year, he was granted full custody of the now-16-year-old child despite a criminal complaint having been filed against him in 2015. Appalled by this chain of events, Stacie Triche, who works for the non-profit Save Lives, has been helping Abelseth get out of the custody mess.
Crysta Abelseth says the man, who impregnated her when she was 16, is “well connected” with the local justice system and has been threatening her. https://t.co/ohnto2LJgF— HuffPost (@HuffPost) June 16, 2022
A judge reportedly granted Barnes full custody of the child after he alleged Abelseth gave her child a cellphone. She has also been ordered to pay him child support. "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."
Barnes has allegedly also threatened Abelseth by telling her that he is well connected with the justice system. "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," she said. "I didn't believe him until it happened."
The National Sexual Assault Hotline— RAINN (@RAINN) February 18, 2022
-Call or chat options
-Anonymous, confidential, safe
There is a hearing scheduled next month to revoke Barnes' parental rights. While the police maintain that the case against Barnes is still open, Attorney Sean Cassidy with the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LFASA) pointed out that Barnes should have never been given custody. "It seems pretty straightforward that not only did a crime take place, but as a result of the crime, this person should not have custody of the child," he said.
2022 Has Several Bills that Will Support Survivors https://t.co/uewPVaiJ5u— LaFASA (@LaFASAorg) May 9, 2022
The office of Judge Jeffrey Cashe, who moved to give custody to Abelseth's alleged rapist, has cited judicial canons as a reason for not discussing the case with reporters. Those interested can support Abelseth with her mounting legal expenses here.