This situation isn’t uncommon, said Amily McCool, who works with the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She has worked on domestic violence cases and was not speaking about Barnes’ case specifically.
“When victims weigh whether it’s worth their while to go, even victims who want to participate in the process get frustrated by the process,” McCool said. “It’s not set up for the victim, it’s set up for due process for the accused.”
A similar rhetoric around sexual assault cases on college campuses has disappointed Blanchard.
“The rapists are totally protected by the law and the victim really isn’t equipped to fight that,” Blanchard said.
For years, Blanchard said she couldn’t confront her daughter’s suicide. It was the ongoing controversy about the University’s failure to properly handle sexual assault that drew her back into the conversation.
“I’m a Carolina graduate. I’m so embarrassed by the administration and how they handle rape cases,” Blanchard said. “I just see it getting worse.”
Sitting on a park bench at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, Blanchard exudes the kind of peace a person can only achieve when they’ve come to terms with tragedy.
“It’s not so much that there were more rapes than there were, it’s the fact that the cover-up still seems to be happening. And not like a cover-up, we just don’t want to talk about this. We don’t want parents to know girls are getting raped on campus and they are.”
Blanchard echoed some experts’ calls for colleges to review the processes in place for handling sexual assault. UNC released its own revisions to its sexual misconduct policies in August.
“(Universities) really don’t have the money or the manpower to set up a system, a process where people on campus who are victims can go where they know they’re going to be taken care of and not treated like they’re the guilty one,” she said.
‘The beginning of time’
About two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone who knows the rapist — a problem especially prevalent on college campuses. Blanchard said her daughter was raped by a family friend.
“Since women were getting raped from the beginning of time they have known that,” Blanchard said, her voice rising in anger.
“So why all these years, these decades, these centuries, where everybody knows that the woman is more than likely going to know her rapist, why hasn’t the justice system figured out a way around that instead of using this as an excuse to let (66) percent of them go.”
Sabrina Garcia, a crisis counselor with the Chapel Hill Police Department, said her department is trying to be more responsible about evidence collection for particularly sensitive sexual assault cases to improve the cases’ viability.
“In the role of law enforcement, you’re there to find out the truth — you’re fact finders,” said Garcia, who was not speaking about Barnes’ case specifically.
“As fact finders, you have to ask some very uncomfortable questions ... It’s a way of how you present that question.”
Garcia said better training for law enforcement means officers can now treat sexual assault victims with the sensitivity they deserve.
“When law enforcement begins to understand the counterintuitive types of behaviors, you have empathy,” Garcia said. “Your understanding ... becomes clearer. You understand why the (victim) might not want to fully report or fully charge. Understanding that many victims self-blame, try to minimize or deny initially.”
The good fight
For Blanchard, her disillusion with the criminal justice system won’t ever go away. She said she is convinced the wily and broken system took away her creative, beautiful daughter.
Blanchard began blogging about her experience with the Orange County District Attorney’s office in 2010. Though she’s begun to process her daughter’s tragic death, she’s still not sure how much help she’ll be when advocating for better prosecution of rape cases.
“We fought the good fight, someone else is going to help move things on,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard said there were many times when she and her daughter tried to press charges and she felt as though they were caught up in senseless bureaucracy.
“Basically, that’s what we came away with,” Blanchard said. “This is what irks me more than anything in the world.”
Going forward, Blanchard is committed to helping who she can, when she can.
There were five words carved in a railing where Chelsea was found dead. They were rape, terror, peace, freedom and goodbye.
And Blanchard sees that as Chelsea’s final message to her mom.
“Alright,” Blanchard says with a heavy heart. “She just had to stop the terror.”