Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The fight against Spousal rape

Four years ago, Crystal Pretzer Harris was repeatedly assaulted and raped at home by her own husband while her two young children were in the house. Although her husband has now been convicted and is serving jail time for his horrendous crimes, Crystal illustrates that it is extremely difficult for victims of rape to receive the justice they deserve. She is currently continuing to fight against the law and court system which has ordered her to pay the legal fees and spousal support to the man who abused and raped her.

While she was trapped in the abusive relationship, Crystal was afraid of what her husband would do if she tried to leave him. She realised that a restraining order would not provide enough protection from her husband who was violent and proclaiming frequent death threats. She considered buying a gun but there was a 20 day waiting period in the state of Califorina, where she lives. As a result, she opted for buying a tape recorder to collect evidence of her husband’s threats. Instead of receiving the death threats as she expected, that day Crystal recorded her husband raping her. “I knew for sure that I would need that tape if I wanted to have evidence in a criminal courtroom”, she explains. “The exact thought going through my head as it was happening was, ‘a horrific crime is happening to me; how can I make sure to document that it is happening to me?’” Crystal’s quick thinking during the attack is what she believes lead to her husband’s conviction. Even with her husband’s violent background, without the tape recorder being at hand and her bravery in using it, she states that her husband would never have been prosecuted. Crystal describes that her husband was only convicted for one of the three criminal charges brought against him; “it shows how hard it is to convict in marital rape cases. I had a frickin tape of his crime, two of them on tape, and the jury convicted him on only one charge. That should show you how difficult it is.”

Although Crystal lives in America, there are low conviction rates for rape all around the world. In the UK, government reports estimate that only 20% of victims report their rape and of those, only 6% are ever convicted. Crystal may owe her life to that tape recording, but for millions of others who were not able to record their assault, they are extremely unlikely to receive the justice they deserve. Victims in the UK are told it has to be demonstrated beforehand that they’ll receive a ‘guilty’ verdict before they’re even given a chance at trial. Strong evidence such as a signed confession and some forensic evidence have been considered “not enough evidence” to proceed to court.

Crystal illustrates the on-going victimisation she feels at the hands of the law; “A Judge ordered me to pay my husband's family court attorney fees of $47,000 as well as $1000 a month in spousal support while we awaited trial. Once he is released, if the law doesn't change, I will be subject to paying the spousal support again.” Currently she is fighting against this and has just passed the first hurdle in changing the law. “I think the law has perhaps not taken marital rape seriously enough in the past. But I believe attitudes are changing about it. I do not want any other woman, or man, to suffer the way I have had to.”

Thank you Crystal for the interview and for continuing the fight.