LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Spousal Rape is hard to prosecute and often doesn’t carry a tough punishment but one Southern California mom is pushing to change the law.
Behind the closed doors of their suburban San Diego home, Crystal Harris says the man she trusted turned her dream marriage into terror with abuse, violence and the unspeakable crime of spousal rape.
“He put his hands around my neck. He choked me so long I started to black out see spots…it was long enough to think I didn’t even get to say hello to my boys upstairs.”
While she admits Shawn had history of abusive behavior, Crystal says only after the death of his father and the birth of their son did he become increasingly paranoid, physical, and threatening.
“Up until that point I thought I’m going to die if I leave. If I stayed I thought I could control the situation somehow…When he was chocking me it was paradigm shift and it dawned on me what an idiot I had been and I realized I’m going to die if I stay.”
After 12 years of marriage, a judge sent Shawn Harris to prison last year and according to Harris, the only reason is because she had proof of the crime, on tape.
Initially she was afraid to call police, fearing he’d only be released and come back with a vengeance. But determined to leave the marriage, she planted a recorder in her underwear drawer, hoping to catch a threat on tape.
The night she recorded the rape was the last time she saw him until his trial. In court, Shawn’s defense claimed the couple’s marriage was filled with role-playing and acting out sexual fantasies.
“Rape is not an act of sex it’s an act of violence,” says Attorney Nelson Cutter who is not involved in the Harris case but handles domestic cases.
“Through the 80s and early 90s finally it was debated and now all 50 states have laws on that.”
According to support organizations, cases of spousal rape are severely under-reported out of fear. Generally,the penalties for spousal rape are less than those for stranger rape — 10 years versus 30. Even in California, one of few states where penalties are parallel, a spouse can be eligible for probation while a “normal” rapist is not.
Cutter says allegations of abuse are sometimes made to avoid paying alimony. In Harris’ case, she was ordered to pay spousal support while awaiting trial. Now she’s working with legislators to close loopholes and hoping to create awareness.
“I want people to be aware of this crime before they walk into courtroom. I want women to know that there is a way to get justice, and I just want people to know that this happens.”
Shawn Harris was ordered to serve six years with time served for two. He’ll likely be out in four.
If you need help, contact the following organizations:
National Domestic Violence Hotline:
The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women
They specialize in supporting male victims of abuse and offers a 24-hour helpline 1-888-7HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754)
LAPD Domestic Violence Hotline (Los Angeles, Orange County):
LAPD Domestic Violence Website:
Domestic Violence Council:
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
American Bar Association