A Louisiana woman whose rapist seized control of the daughter conceived during the sex attack says he’s never been charged, thanks to his ties to the local police department – and has accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting their child.
Crysta Abelseth, now 32, claims that John Barnes raped her in 2005 after she accepted a ride home from him in Ponchatoula, a town of 6,000 people 50 miles north of New Orleans.
She was 16 at the time, and he was 30. The age of consent in Louisiana is 17, meaning that even if she consented the act would be considered statutory rape: a felony punishable, in the most severe cases, by life in prison.
The married mother of five told DailyMail.com that she believes her attacker has avoided imprisonment, or even being charged, because of his status in the town as a contractor for the police.
Barnes runs a graphic design company, and Ponchatoula police are among his clients.
‘He has openly threatened me, saying he is well connected in the justice system and in the courts,’ Abelseth told DailyMail.com.
Asked why he has escaped prosecution, Abelseth said the fault was ‘within the justice system’.
‘I think people can put two and two together,’ she added.
On March 20, she lost custody of her daughter, and has been forced to pay Barnes, 46, child support: furthermore, she says that Barnes is blocking their court-mandated daily phone calls.
Abelseth is said to have lost custody after giving her daughter a phone. But no further details on exactly what prompted the court order have been shared, and the mom was cagey when asked for further details on Wednesday evening.
Asked how the teenager is faring, Abelseth replied: ‘I don’t know.’
Crysta Abelseth is shown with the daughter she had with Barnes in 2005. Crysta was 16 at the time – one year under the legal age of consent in Louisiana. The girl is now 16 and in full custody of her father
Abelseth said that Barnes (right) is now blocking her from speaking to their daughter. The pair will meet in court on July 15
Barnes has not commented about the case, or responded to DailyMail.com’s questions.
The pair will next meet in court on July 15.
Abelseth’s saga began when she went in 2005 to the Pine Street bar, Ponchatoula Pub, with two of her friends, because one of her friends’s brothers was in the bar. Barnes was friends with the brother, but Abelseth had never met him.
LOUISIANA’S STATUTORY RAPE LAWS: ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 17 IS AUTOMATICALLY A VICTIM
Louisiana has statutory rape laws known as Carnal Knowledge of a Juvenile which dictate that anyone under the age of 17 is automatically a victim if they have sex with an adult, regardless of whether or not they physically consented to it.
The crime is a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
Not knowing whether the victim is under 17 at the time of the crime is not a defense.
It’s unclear why Barnes was never charged after staking claim to the child, and after DNA proved he was the father.
‘I did not know him,’ she said firmly.
The person who drove them to the bar wanted to leave, and Barnes said he would drive Abelseth home.
Her friends got lifts home with other people, leaving Abelseth and Barnes alone in his car.
Abelseth said she was ‘highly intoxicated’.
‘John Barnes offered to take me home,’ Abelseth explained, in a later police report.
‘Instead of bringing me to my house, John Barnes brought me to his home.
‘He proceeded to rape me.’
Abelseth did not tell anyone – not her friends or parents – that she had been raped.
‘I felt people would shame me,’ she told DailyMail.com. ‘They’d say, you shouldn’t be doing this, doing that.
‘They are shaming me now. But at this point, I don’t care.’
Abelseth said her family believed that her then-boyfriend was the father.
‘Everyone assumed he was,’ she said.
‘And he just wanted to be.’
Asked if he knew the circumstances, Abelseth replied: ‘I can’t speak to that’.
She never considered terminating the pregnancy.
‘I was terrified, but never in any doubt,’ she said.
‘I guess the mothering instinct kicked in.’
For the first five years of her daughter’s life, Abelseth raised her child in peace.
She never saw Barnes again: despite the pair of them living in the same small town, she managed to avoid crossing paths with him.
‘The only time I ever came into the same vicinity as him was when this same friend I was in the bar with wanted to stop off in the bar, and say hi to her brother. And Barnes was with him.
‘Apparently he asked about me. But I have no idea what he said.’
In 2010, Abelseth’s world was turned upside down when Barnes learnt he was the girl’s father.
How he found out, Abelseth said, she was ‘not 100 percent sure.’
She added: ‘I couldn’t say.’
A DNA test proved that the child was his.
Barnes then began legal proceedings, attempting to wrest custody of the girl from her mother.
‘He was bringing me to court two or three times a year – he was filing and filing,’ she said.
‘It was exhausting emotionally – I was dragged through the wringer. All those years of legal fees and debt.’
Traumatized by the proceedings, Abelseth sought out a counsellor, who told her that she was still within the statute of limitations to press charges – something she said she did not know.
The mother filed this police report in 2015 alleging that she had been raped five years earlier
‘I knew the gravity of the situation,’ she said.
‘And the court hearings made me relive it over and over again.
‘But I wanted justice. I wanted to see him behind bars.’
It remains unclear why Barnes was never charged.
Judge Jeffrey Cashe (pictured) has forced Abelseth to pay child support to her alleged rapist, in what her advocates have branded an outrageous miscarriage of justice
She believes that the sexual assault report she filed against him with Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office has not been thoroughly investigated.
‘It was never assigned to a detective, and nothing was ever investigated,’ Abelseth alleged, in an interview with her local TV station.
The sheriff’s department told WBRZ that the investigation into Abelseth’s claims was open and ongoing – but has not moved since 2015.
Sean Cassidy, an attorney with Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, told WBRZ he had never come across a case like this.
‘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,’ he said.
Stacie Triche, an activist who set up the Save Lives organization, has helped Abelseth navigate the legal system.
‘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,’ she told WBRZ.
‘She’s been forced to pay her perpetrator.
‘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.’
Records obtained by WBRZ show that a DNA test proved Barnes was the father of the child
Barnes has nine hunting licenses in three states. He has not commented on Abelseth’s allegations
Triche told DailyMail.com she had been astonished by the ‘arrogance’ of Barnes, in demanding financial support from Abelseth.
Barnes was awarded joint custody in 2015; in March this year, he won full custody.
Abelseth said that he made ‘accusations against me’, but refused to elaborate.
‘They have not been tested in court,’ Triche said.
One of the reasons for losing custody, Abelseth said, was an allegation that the teenager had been given a cell phone without Barnes’s consent, and which he did not have access to.
He argued that it violated their agreement.
Triche said his claim was ‘a lie’.
Asked how the small, rural Louisiana community was reacting, Abelseth said that there had been ‘divided responses’.
Barnes, who has nine hunting licenses across Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi, was well known in the community.
‘His friends defend him,’ she said.
‘But for the most part, I don’t read the comments online.
‘Most people have been amazing.’
Asked what she would say to Barnes, if she saw him, and Abelseth falls silent.
‘I don’t know,’ she eventually says.
‘He knows what he’s done.’