Victim Ordered to Pay Attacker Spousal Support

PHOTO: Crystal Harris, pictured here with her two sons, is fighting to change family law code in California.Courtesy Crystal Harris
Crystal Harris, pictured here with her two sons, is fighting to change family law code in California.

She was forced to have sex with him, and now she's being forced to pay his bills.

Crystal Harris of Carlsbad, Calif., had been financially supporting her unemployed, abusive husband Shawn Harris for years. But after he sexually assaulted her in 2008, she took him to court.

The jury heard a damning audiotape of the attack secretly recorded by Crystal Harris, and her husband was convicted of forced oral copulation.

Even so, in 2010, the year their divorce became finalized, he requested spousal support. The judge awarded him $1,000 a month, and also asked Crystal Harris to pay $47,000 of her ex-husband's legal fees from the divorce proceedings.

"It stunned me and I think it's shocking," said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who is fighting to close a loophole in the law that allows judges to exercise this kind of judicial discretion. "It's a priority for our office."

Harris, who turned 39 Thursday, makes between $110,000 and $120,000 a year as a financial analyst, and says she has been supporting her husband -- a former car salesman -- ever since their first son was born in 2002.

Under normal circumstances, Harris would have been required to pay $3,000 a month in spousal support after the divorce, but because of the domestic violence she endured, the judge said he would lower that amount to $1,000.

"I call that the rape discount," Harris said.

She appealed the judge's ruling, pointing out that her ex-husband will have no expenses while he's in jail.

The judge agreed, but when Shawn Harris, 40, is released from Donovan State Prison in 2014, he's entitled to ask for spousal support again. And California law entitles him to have it.

"I met him when I was 20 and head over heels in love," Crystal Harris said. "To this day I feel brokenhearted about the fact that this has all happened. I'm not happy about the way my life has turned out."

A Marriage Unravels

Crystal Harris and her husband began experiencing marital difficulties early on. They married in 1996, but by 1998 Harris said he had started abusing her. She got in a fight with her then-husband and "he grabbed the steering wheel and just reached over and backhanded me."

"I had always been the type of woman who said if a man hits me I'm out of there," Harris said.

So she filed for divorce, and got a restraining order -- but the divorce never happened.

"He was so apologetic and seemed reformed," she said. "Things were good for a long time and it wasn't until really after our son was born in 2002 that he started showing his true colors again. And it really just started to continue to escalate a little at a time."

The physical abuse resulted in several 911 calls during their 12 year marriage.

"Things really got bad in 2005 with the birth of our second son," Harris said. "He was born within a month of [Shawn Harris'] father dying," she said. "If there is anyone on the face of the Earth he gave a damn about, it was his dad."

She filed for divorce again in 2007, the same year she says her then-husband gave her this warning: "If you ever leave me or threaten to leave me I will kill you."

"And he was so deadly serious -- he's just one of those people where you just know if he's serious," she said. "And I believed him and if I ever addressed the subject with him -- like if we had a tender moment -- he never backed down from it. I was just dumbstruck."

Crystal Harris Fights Back

According to Harris, her husband sexually assaulted her for the first time nearly a week after a big fight in 2008. Their two boys, who were 2 and 5 years old at the time, were upstairs.

"He comes at me and decided he wants sex and he's really wanting sex and I'm like, 'No! We haven't even talked or made up or anything. I'm not having sex with you.' He said, 'This isn't up for negotiation," she said.

She filed charges against her husband, and after several delays, the trial began in 2010.

In court Shawn Harris admitted to past domestic violence, ABC News affiliate KGTV reported, but his defense attorney said he never raped his wife, arguing that the couple was merely "role playing."

"It was rough sex but at no time did I force her to do anything against her will," Shawn Harris said in court. "Just another opportunity to yell and scream to get our adrenaline pumping during sex."

Crystal Harris says the couple "never" engaged in role playing, and her hidden audio recording of the incident proves otherwise.

She bought the tape recorder because she said her husband had been making death threats.

"So I had set it in my underwear drawer and I thought if I get a chance I'll do it," she told ABCNews.com.

On the day of the assault, she says she went into the bathroom then came back out and pretended to change her underwear. That's when she hit 'record.'

It was that tape that ended up convicting Shawn Harris of forced oral copulation.

His criminal defense attorney, Herb Weston, was not immediately available for comment.

Although Shawn Harris was convicted of one crime and sentenced to six years in jail, the other two charges he faced -- spousal rape by force and sodomy -- resulted in a hung jury.

Although the beginning of the audio recording started with what Harris describes as "extremely violent" oral copulation, she said she wasn't protesting during the portion where they engaged in sexual intercourse, because she was "thinking about how our children are upstairs."

"It just tells you how hard spousal rape is to prosecute," Harris added.

Ordered to Pay Spousal Support

Her divorce was finalized in 2010. Judge Gregory Pollack ordered her to pay Shawn Harris' spousal support, and in October, he ordered her to pay his legal bills from the divorce.

In a statement received by ABCNews.com on Friday afternoon, spokeswoman Karen Dalton from the San Diego Superior Court said, "Per the California Code of Judicial Ethics, canon 3B(9), which prohibits a judge from making public comment about a pending or impending proceeding, Judge Pollack will be unable to discuss the details of the proceedings."

California family code currently states "the criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award" and it's that language that gives the judge discretion when making a spousal support ruling.

If a spouse is convicted of attempted murder, however, then a judge cannot award any spousal support to the convicted spouse.

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is now leading the fight to change the language in that exception so that it doesn't say "attempted murder," and instead says "violent felony."

She's assembling support for the new phrasing on both sides of the aisle, although she cannot yet reveal which politicians will author the bill.

"We've already began talking to a few folks who are outraged," she said. "When things like this happen it's not a partisan issue, it's the right thing to do."