Spousal sexual asssault victim won't have to pay ex-husband thanks to law she inspired

Case of Crystal Harris inspired change in law

SAN DIEGO - A Carlsbad woman who was sexually assaulted by her own husband and then forced to pay him spousal support while he sits in prison has won a legal victory.

A series of Team 10 investigations helped Crystal Harris change the law for other victims. To her surprise, she is one of the first to benefit from the law.

Her fight to help all spousal abuse victims began when it happened to her. She recorded a disturbing attack during which she can be heard screaming, "You're hurting my neck. My neck ... OK, OK."

The recording of her then-husband Shawn Harris sexually abusing her in 2008 helped convict him. However, it did not stop a judge from ordering her, the bigger breadwinner, to pay spousal support to her attacker.

"I wouldn't have even known that the law needed to be changed if that hadn't happened to me," she said.

In September, it was changed. Starting Jan. 1, "an award of spousal support to the convicted spouse from the injured spouse is prohibited" after divorce. That includes legal fees.

However, Crystal Harris was in for another shock.

"Lo and behold, I guess my husband wasn't done trying to squeeze more money out of me," she said.

He now wanted her to pay $25,000 in his legal fees, but a judge citing the new law even before it takes effect ruled in her favor.

"Relief was the very first thing I felt," she said.

Now, she says she may fight an earlier settlement in 2011 that forces her to pay $47,000 in her ex's legal fees. The new law does not allow victims to reclaim money already paid, but she pays in installments out of her income and still has about $44,000 left to pay.

"I'm looking into what my legal options are," she said.

However, her biggest fight is yet to come. She is appealing a judge's order to reunite her two young sons with their father when he gets out of prison in 2014. She says she fears for their safety.

"He threatened to kill me for months before he raped me," she said, "I don't know what he's capable of and so that scares me."

While she does have sole custody, she says she is not trying to terminate her ex-husband's parental rights. She says she just wants to make sure any visits are in a safe environment.
 

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