Ordered to Pay Alimony to Her Attacker, Victim Seeks Help from Calif. Legislature
Crystal Harris was ordered to pay her ex-husband alimony upon his release.
March 21, 2012— -- A woman who was sexually assaulted by her husband and then ordered by the court to pay alimony and legal fees to her ex -- once he is released from prison, may get relief from California lawmakers.
Crystal Harris, 39, told the judicial committee of the Calif. State Assembly Wednesday that the judgment, which was handed down in 2010, "amounted to making a rape victim write a check to her own rapist every month."
She described to lawmakers how her husband would choke her and sexually assault her while the couple's two children were upstairs. One of the attacks was caught on tape.
"It is extremely traumatizing to have to go through that process. If I could only describe what my life was like when I was living it," Harris told ABCNews.com. "Once it happened to me I couldn't let it stand."
After Harris' story was brought to the attention of Assemblywoman Toni Atkins by the San Diego County district attorney, the lawmaker was compelled to introduce a bill that would keep any victim of violent sexual crime perpetrated by a spouse from eventually having to pay alimony to the abusive former spouse.
"Most logical people hear this and think you've got to be kidding," Atkins said, of Harris' case. "That seems to make a mockery behind the intent of laws that govern a fair division of assets."
The seven person bipartisan judiciary committee passed the bill with just one dissenting vote. The bill will now head to the Assembly floor for discussion. If passed, will be forwarded to the state senate.
"[Crystal Harris'] story is incredible, from what she went through and then to have to go through the courts and have this happen to her seemed like a double punitive attack," Atkins said.
Shawn Harris, 40, was convicted of forced oral copulation and will be released from Donovan State Prison in 2014. The other two charges he faced -- spousal rape by force and sodomy -- resulted in a hung jury.
Crystal Harris, who earns between $110,000 and $120,000 a year as a financial analyst, said she had been supporting her husband, who worked as a car salesman, ever since their first son was born in 2002.
Under normal circumstances, Crystal 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 was also ordered to pay her now ex-husband's $47,000 legal bill. Even if the new law passes in the legislature, Harris will still be on the hook for her husband's legal fees.
She tried appealing the judge's ruling last year, pointing out that her ex-husband will have no expenses while he's in jail.
The judge agreed, but pointed out that California law entitles Shawn Harris to alimony.
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.
The law was enacted after Barbara Bentley was ordered to pay her husband alimony after he was convicted of attempted murder. Bentley lobbied for the law to be changed in 1995 and was successful.
Harris, who has received the support of Bentley, is hopeful lawmakers will consider her case.
"This is a very common sense measure that must be passed in order to address a need that exists in our justice system -- to not make rape victims get victimized twice," she said.