A California Mom Pushes To Change Spousal Rape Law

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:
1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).

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:

Orange County:

Riverside County:

Ventura County:

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

American Bar Association

  • duh

    The law worked for her, but she’s dissatisfied with the overall outcome.


    My sympathy for married partners is somewhat muted based on the fact that if you agree to marry someone, you agree that you’re a big enough adult to handle such a private relationship. Not just sex, which of course is important, but financially, parenting, etc etc. If your spouse is doing anything illegal in any of these marital categories, there are already a plethora of people, groups and attorneys that can get you the help you need.

    We don’t have the luxury of hearing her ‘tape’, so we can’t decide for ourselves how bad this was. A trial was mentioned, so I guess a panel found him guilty. That definitely gets her some sympathy from me, and I’m glad she’s no longer being victimized. The problem here is that changing the laws doesn’t affect her case, and unfortunately gives yet ANOTHER tool for less-scrupulous women (and there are MANY) to gain a slam-dunk victory in a failed relationship.

    The best changes come in the form of prevention and education. Don’t run off, marry someone, and put together a partnership complete with kids if you know that there is a history of abusive behavior. You can’t change them, only they can change themselves when they are ready and willing to. She says he only changed for the worse after the death of his father. Did she try and get him help? Did she stand beside her husband and support his grief? Or was this marriage already failing at this point and he had no connection with her any longer? Again, many missing variables…

    There’s a lot on the table when a marriage collapses. Money. Assets. Custody. Alimony. I’m for changing any laws to hold violent people accountable, as long as there are sufficient checks in place to thwart attempts to abuse those laws. There currently isn’t much in that arena, and I think there really cannot be, lest we install video cameras into everyone’s house and bedroom. It’s still a ‘he said, she said’ environment inside families.

    I think she should be satisfied, and begin her own healing process. We don’t need new laws every time someone gets in over their head. She got life educated and lived to tell the tale. I seriously doubt she’ll put herself into that type of situation again, and she would better serve other uneducated women by volunteering or creating an education organization. People who scream ‘legislation!’ before doing anything else come across as lazy and unable to take responsibility for their own decisions that get them into trouble.

    • Saber 1

      If your having problems, why are you still there and sleeping with him? She asked for it.

      • Cindy

        because he threatened to KILL her if she left, and she believed him and she had children to protect. It’s not always as simple as black and white.

    • JJ

      Duh, you are so aptly named. I want to reply to your comment below about him being innocent pending trial. We are talking about two different courts of law here. There is Criminal Court and Family Court. Both have two different burdens of proof. In a lot of criminal cases, they can take years to get to trial. In Family Court, that Judge can make his own finding based upon the evidence before him as to whether or not crimes have been committed. In Crystal’s case, the Judge did just that and did indeed determine that all of the felonies alleged did occur. The Judge then went on to order her to pay her rapist Spousal Support. She is also likely going to have to pay his $75,000 in attorney fees. These are the laws she is trying to change.

      • duh

        JJ – “Duh, you are so aptly named.”

        Only angry people who cannot back up their statements with facts reduce themselves to name-calling. So be it.

        Let’s be clear, there is no judge in the entire US of A who has the ability to ‘determine that all of the felonies alleged did occur’ without a trial where ALL evidence is heard.

        That’s laughable, and the rest of any response on my part is unnecessary.

    • JJ

      You’re the one who named yourself. I just made an observation.
      And it’s done all the time during a “Hearing”. They’re not trialsl to determine guilt or innocence for freedom’s sake, they’re to determine facts for the sake of determining restraining orders, spousal support, etc. People testify, and the Judge makes his determination based on the preponderance of the evidence. It’s done all the time in Family Courts.

      • duh

        JJ – Making determinations for restraining orders on weight of statements is a far cry from your assertion that this judge determined ‘that all of the felonies alleged DID OCCUR’. A restraining order based on assertions is TEMPORARY, lasting only about 3 weeks before a FULL HEARING is had where the accused can provide his/her own testimony. It’s pretty much a trial at that point.

        The spousal support awarded, likewise, was temporary while AWAITING his trial, which is PROPER. What if he had been found not guilty? What if Ms. Harris suddenly recanted her story? This is why crimes before trial are known as ALLEGED incidents.

        This story is creepy, not only on the husband’s side, but the wife’s side too. I find it completely reasonable that a judge may not have the ability, in such short period of time, to unwind such a tangled web, and go ahead and TEMPORARILY award support payments pending the criminal trial.

        Monday morning quarterbacks are always righteous in knowing EXACTLY what the best tactics SHOULD have been. Delusion prevents them from seeing that life isn’t really that simple. I’m sure you think a woman should just whisper ‘rape’ and the accused immediately go to prison. Unfortunately, society realizes there’s just way too much power in that by itself.


    • JJ

      she’s trying to change the law that forces women to pay her rapist husband spousal support…even when he’s been found by the court to be guilty of raping her. She’s also just trying to raise awareness of this crime to help other women because these cases are so rarely prosecuted.

      • duh

        JJ – Reading Comprehension 101

        “In Harris’ case, she was ordered to pay spousal support WHILE AWAITING TRIAL.”

        In the USA, you are INNOCENT until proven guilty. Therefore, PENDING trial, he absolutely had the right to anything reserved for a spouse up until his conviction. She can try to get laws changed that would deny support for accused spouses, but that would ultimately be unconstitutional. You cannot deny ANYTHING to the accused while they are awaiting trial, as they at that point have not been convicted of anything.

    • JJ

      It is only a “hearing” to make a restraining order permanent. It is a “hearing” to determine spousal support. These are all hearings. The judge in Family Court uses the evidence presented to him to make his findings and his orders. It is perfectly reasonable to use the evidence, such as a 30 minute audiotape, police reports, Preliminary Hearing Testimony from the Criminal case, etc. to determine whether or not a woman was raped by her own husband. Of course, for the purpose of his freedom, he is still innocent until proven guilty, but for the purposes of making rulings in his or her own court, a Family Judge can decide whether certain things did or did not occur. And if the Judge does decide that a woman was raped, it is horrible, as was decided in Crystal’s case, to then go on and make her pay Spousal Support to the very man that raped and sodomized her. Many criminal cases take years to get to trial. To make a woman pay spousal support to her rapist for years before he is finally convicted, is disgusting.
      Another statistic to keep in mind is that the DA’s office only takes 3% of cases that are presented to it. There is a very high bar for the DA to even take on any criminal case. To think that a woman can just “cry” rape and the DA will prosecute is ludicrous.

  • OJ Simpson

    Duh – She wants to change the law to make it easier to prosecute. It was only after she VIDEOTAPED the rape that he was arrested and sentenced to a prison term.

    • Laura Connett

      Getting a spousal rape into court is much more difficult than stranger rape. It is treated by the authorities as less of a crime than stranger rape. There are ridiculous laws in place to ensure than unless you have done something like videotaped the rape – then it can’t even see a court room.

      • duh

        It absolutely SHOULD be more difficult. As I stated, there’s so much on the line when a relationship fails, there absolutely must be certain checks and balances for accusations of this sort. These checks and balances are NOT needed in cases of stranger rape. When an accusation can be motivated by REAL money, REAL assets, and REAL custody judgements, the courts have to be allowed to be skeptical. In this case, a tape recording obviously proved wrongdoing by the husband. I’m sorry it can’t just be as easy as her saying he raped her, but I again believe you inherit this extra red tape when you submit your life, body and soul to someone by marrying them. You make the choice to put yourself in that position of needing extra proof, and I won’t apologize asking you for it. This isn’t being insensitive, it’s being realistic.

      • Laura Connett

        I disagree. Acquaintance rape should be treated and investigated equally to stranger rape because it is no less a crime. Rape is rape.

        Why should victims of acquaintance rape be treated sceptically and stranger rape victims not, just because, in someone’s opinion, it is less likely that an acquaintance rape victim is genuine. There are reasons both type of rapes could not be genuine, that doesn’t mean the victims should be treated any differently by the police and authorities and the amount and kind of evidence required should be different. In the same way as the accused should be treated innocent until proven guilty, so should the victim! But at the moment the police are still treating them impartially and questioning them with obvious suspicion and disbelief not based on any evidence but stereotypes and “feelings”. A minority of in un-genuine women should not lead to acquaintance rape victims to be treated guilty until proven innocent. Every part involved whether that’s a stranger or acquaintance rape victim AND the accused should ALL be treated impartially before the case is investigated properly.

        It is very dangerous to get into the game of the police thinking victims of acquaintance rape are lying, all victims should be treated the same because chances are that they are telling the truth. It is not right to go about “investigating” by interrogating the victim and seeing them as the guilty party just because their partner or husband raped them. It’s completely unprofessional. The level of proof needed in all cases of rape is already so high, there is no real danger of a husband/partner getting falsely found guilty. No case gets convicted purely on a he says she says argument. It’s never that simple, but it’s even more difficult for acquaintance rape survivors to get justice. When the vast majority of rapists go free – this isn’t justice!

      • duh

        Reply to LC “Acquaintance rape should be treated and investigated equally to stranger rape”

        Wow, you people really need to quit mincing words to justify the outrage on your sleeves. Marital rape does NOT equal acquaintance rape does NOT equal stranger rape. They are 3 EXTREMELY different things, and are handled as 3 different things.

        Both you and JJ are full of a lot of hot air, but no solutions. The flat out fact is, there ARE women who will falsely accuse men, for whatever reason they find justifiable in their minds. You are talking about potentially sending a man to PRISON for many many years. You don’t think ALL women making these accusations should be put under some reasonable scrutiny? You don’t think they should be asked tough questions? You believe every single accusation of rape in the US is VALID, no questions needed? If you do, you’ve obviously crumbled beneath the weight of your issues and anger. You no longer are a valid juror due to your bias. If you believe even 1 out of every 1,000 accusations might be false, then you have absolutely no choice but to agree with me that that accused man DESERVES the right to have that false accusation exposed.

        Enough of this rubbish…

      • Laura Connett

        Yes they are different, every single case of rape is clearly different but they don’t differ in the criminality of the act – it’s rape the same no matter who the rapist is. Of course all cases should be investigated just as well.

        As I’ve already said, there are reasons a minority of women might lie in ALL the differing types of rape, so again that isn’t an excuse to single out acquaintance rape and make it even more difficult to reach court than stranger rape.

        A very high standard of proof is needed to get any case into court – one of the highest for ANY crime so there isn’t any real danger of false convictions. It cannot be just one word against the other. There HAS to always be proof. It always has to be proved before the person is jailed, all I’m saying is that the investigation itself and police attitudes should not be biased and treat acquaintance rape more lightly, less seriously and more suspiciously. Which is what is happening right now. Acquaintance rape can be just as bad or worse than stranger rape. Often the abuse is repeated and goes hand in hand with physical, mental and emotional abuse too which doesn’t happen in stranger rape cases.

        “You don’t think ALL women making these accusations should be put under some reasonable scrutiny? You don’t think they should be asked tough questions?”

        YES! women who are raped by boyfriends/husbands SHOULD be treated she same as those raped by strangers. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying, they should be treated equally.

        “You believe every single accusation of rape in the US is VALID, no questions needed?”

        No, I’ve already stated that isn’t the case but you clearly ignored it. Again though, all cases should be treated the same. The victim should also be treated as innocent until proven guilty and then investigated to find out what actually happened.

        “…might be false, then you have absolutely no choice but to agree with me that that accused man DESERVES the right to have that false accusation exposed.”

        Well yes, of course false accusations should be exposed, false accusations are absolutely sickening. As I have already said, again, all parties should be treated innocent until proven guilty. That means spousal rape victims, stranger rape victims AND the accused. I’ve already said all of this before. You seem to be so intent on arguing that you’re ignoring how reasonable I am being.

        Yes I am a victim and yes maybe that does make be ‘biased’ to some degree. It doesn’t make me wrong though, it gives me the knowledge to talk from direct experience. Unless it’s happened to you, you won’t be able to ever understand.

        As for what I “propose” will help this situation. For a start treating victims innocent until proven guilty, treating all cases equally without stereotypes and judgements included. More awareness to be raised (through articles like this) to educate both the authorities and the public on the inequalities and discrimination victims face when they come forward.

        I believed everything was investigated properly and professionally until I learned the hard way, though experience, that this really is not the case.

      • duh

        You are obsessed with acquaintance rape issues, which this is not, but that’s ok.

        No offense, but imo no violent crime is different than the others. Rape is not special. It is unique, however, because it can be USED as a weapon in the form of an allegation. Since our society right now is also quite obsessed with sex, it amplifies an already tender issue.

        There are victims of violent crimes who are horribly disfigured, but who weren’t raped, and maybe a few them had wished that was all they had to deal with? Again, I mean no disrespect… but let’s be honest here. We have men and women overseas who are being shot at on a daily basis, or being blown up by roadside bombs. They come home missing body parts, and they must move on with their life.

        You were raped. I guess by an acquaintance. I do hope you can move on. I can’t be anymore sympathetic than I can to someone who is shot during an armed robbery… violent crimes are violent crimes.

        Curiously, you have stated, really MANY times now, that you wish the victims were treated as ‘innocent’. Who really knows what that means to you. I’m sorry victims have to have a rape kit done. I’m sorry they have to be asked to tell their story a hundred times, to a hundred different law enforcement personnel. I’m sorry they have to be confronted with the perp’s story, and asked if it’s true.

        None of those things are treating a victim as ‘guilty’ of anything. It’s called doing an investigation. It’s necessary so that a man does not go to prison for 20-30 yrs simply because you’re mad at him. Investigators and prosecutors have to dig very deep in these cases. It’s human nature and it’s not meant to be offensive. Maybe you feel victimized twice. We cannot make a law to stop that, otherwise we would just be listening to your version and throwing people in prison.

        Take care and heal. You simply must move on. Life is waaaaay too short to let these things consume you.

        Best –

  • Karen

    I am outraged. In my opinion, a married partner IS NEVER RAPING the other partner.

    She admits he was abusive BEFORE THE MARRIAGE.


    Women like this give the rest of us a bad name.

    I DO NOT SUPPORT HER AT ALL. This is dumb.

    • Laura Connett

      Erm excuse me but marriage does not entitle one person to rape the other! nothing does!

      You are implying that it was her fault because she should have known better than to marry him, rather than blaming the person whose fault it is – the rapist/abusers! This is typical victim blaming behaviour which is part of the reason so many rapists get away with raping.

      The fact is that it’s easy for an outside to just say “oh why didn’t she leave him” or “it can’t have been that bad if she stayed with him” but it’s not that simple when you’re scared for your life and being threatened by violence and abuse.

      Your view is utterly disgusting. This woman is not to blame.

      • OJ Simpson

        Thank you!!! couldn’t have said it better.

  • OJ Simpson

    Karen – so forcing sex on ones spouse of okay even if he or she says no? NO means no unless you are married? Please clarify – I fail to see your logic.

  • HooDatIS?


  • Laura Connett

    Wow, Crystal you inspire me!

    I followed this link from your Facebook post on rape is never justified. You are such a brave woman and well done for speaking out about this. I know from personal experience that sharing your story can be hurtful especially when people make horrible comments implying blame on your part. I’m sure you already know that those people are naive inconsiderate wastes and they are to be ignored.

    I went through a similar experience as yourself. I also put up with it for a long time because I was scared and couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone or admit it to myself. He physically hurt me, controlled me, made me do everything his way, emotionally made me a wreck and he repeatedly raped me too.

    I know for a fact that the “justice” system is not “just” and is catered more towards stranger rape victims. A really high level of proof is needed before a case can even get into court. You have to prove it happened before it can even be judged and rape is committed privately where there is very rarely any kind of proof.

    I know how hurtful and common it is to be disbelieved too – so you were right in that videotaping the abuse was the only way to get a conviction. My ex-partner wrote me a letter admitting to raping me and using that word. He also sent me emails to the same effect. Even though he admitted writing them to the police, he said that he just admitted to it to get our relationship back on track. That ridiculous excuse and obvious lie was enough for the prosecution service to decide I didn’t have enough evidence and he was free to go.

    I was also interrogated and immediately disbelieved when I reported it to the police. I think even the police and affected by stereotypes and myths that it isn’t real rape if a husband or partner commits it, or that it must just be a simple mistake. I went through during the abuse, then through hell bringing myself to report the crime, it took me two years. Then the police put me through that hell all over again. I never got justice.

    I am glad you did.

    Best wishes.

  • Laura

    That’s really misogynistic. I mean, hilarious.

  • Chase

    Shes smiling when shes talking about being raped.


    • Laura

      Ah, I forgot that victims have to be hysterical all the time in order to be genuine and can’t smile any more. She got justice – that’s enough to smile about!

  • OJ Simpson

    I am at a loss for words. Some of these responses are absurd.

    Duh – perhaps you should just move on – let it go. Why are you getting so worked up about rape and false accusations. Let the people who have a brain discuss this like rational people.

    • duh

      No one getting worked up on this end… I replied, was replied to, and responded back as I saw fit. Having an opinion WITHOUT getting worked up is actually having a brain. It’s called a debate. I’m not calling anyone names, or like yourself, demeaning people to make yourself feel smarter.

      I have scanned this article quite closely for any clues that the only comments allowed would be by those who have experienced rape, or agree with making new laws. I could find no such criteria… but if there was such criteria, I have stated that I do support tougher laws against rape as long as they are balanced with aggressive investigations. Unfortunately then, that apparently goes against the whole concept of laws that make it ‘easier’ to prosecute.

      I believe in fairness to all, but that’s apparently unpopular amongst y’all. That’s fine. I never comment on news articles to enter a popularity contest. I comment with my opinions, and try to have a few facts to back them up. May you be the first in line to try and take that right away from me.

  • Eva Marie Woywod

    For those of you who think it’s justified for a husband to rape…physically force sex…on his wife, then how do you feel about husbands who kill their wives? Is that justified and should be considered a “relationship” issue? I ask that because often spousal rape occurs with the escalation of power and control in an abusive relationship – Emotional abuse, financial abuse (controlling money) physical abuse, and sexual assault all fall under that umbrella of domestic violence – none of which has anything to do with love, and relationships – but everything to do with an abusers power and control over a victim – and unless you’ve walked in that victim’s shoes you will never know the fear – the trauma – the isolation that is involved in every moment of their life – It takes courage to leave such a relationship because by the time it gets out of control the victim is often shattered into many pieces – self worth is alien to them – and when they do attempt to leave, it is THE MOST dangerous time – victims who are murdered are often killed as they were leaving or planning to – and if you want to know why they don’t reach out more to people around them …well, take a look at these comments – and then place yourselves in their shoes…they already feel isolated, like they are worthless and weak….

    And yes, I am also biased – I am a woman who pressed charges against my estranged husband who held me and my children basically hostage for an hour while he physically, emotionally and sexually assaulted me with my two sons present – and like Crystal, I too audio recorded that final attack – It was the only way I would be believed…as after all – I was still legally married to him – And if anyone thinks it is easy to press charges then they are clueless – the justice system leaves victims raw – the abusers are sentenced but so are the victims – there’s NO child support when they sit in prison – and not every woman has a financial cushion to fall back on –

    But, hats off to Crystal and her courage to move forward in making changes against the wind of judgement.

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