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A Highland Park Student is Accused of Rape, and Culture Map Kicks Off the Victim Blaming

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Update, January 29, 2013: A Dallas County grand jury has declined to indict Romo.

On Tuesday, Ryan Adam Romo, an 18-year-old Highland Park High School senior and star baseball player, was charged with sexual assault of a child, a second-degree felony. Romo is accused of raping a HPHS classmate after a Ghostland Observatory concert at the Palladium Ballroom Saturday night.

Given the ingredients involved -- a prominent high school athlete, a rape allegation, and an alleged victim who knows the person she's accusing -- it seemed inevitable that there would be a lot of chatter about the case, and probably some poorly informed opinionizing from the peanut gallery. We just thought it might take longer than one day.

Shows what we know. Claire St. Amant, the managing editor at Culture Map Dallas, the newish digital-media venture, dove right in with both feet yesterday, in a bizarre article that asks, "Is this Highland Park baseball star a rapist?"

St. Amant doesn't have the answer to that, obviously -- the ink is barely dry on Romo's bond paperwork after his release from Lew Sterrett Tuesday. There is no public information available apart from the arrest warrant affidavit.

Here's what we do know: according to the arrest warrant affidavit, the alleged victim and Romo "know of each other only in a school setting." After the concert, they caught a cab together to Romo's Chevy Tahoe. They climbed in the back seat and began kissing, the affidavit says. But when Romo eventually removed his pants, the victim told him she didn't want to have sex.

"Defendant Romo told Victim Smith [a pseudonym] it would be ok and to allow it to happen," the affidavit reads. The girl then screamed and told Romo to stop several times as he raped her, she told investigators. After it was over, he drove her home; her mother noticed she was upset and asked what had happened. Eventually the girl told her: "I said no, but he didn't care."

The girl was taken to Medical Center of Plano; a sexual assault exam revealed vaginal tearing and and abrasions on her buttocks. After a follow-up exam with her regular gynecologist, the doctor told investigators he believed the trauma he observed "to have been forceful."

University Park Police recorded two conversations between the alleged victim and Romo between Sunday and Tuesday. In the first, he told her he'd had fun and that the two should "hang out again." He also offered to buy her the morning-after pill "if she was really worried about it," the affidavit reads. During the second, she told him: "I wish it didn't happen like that," and "Like I wish, cause I said stop... I said no... I wish you'd stopped, you know, or not done it."

Romo replied, "Okay, you're making me feel bad. Wow." Very little of that -- nothing about the phone calls at all -- made St. Amant's story. Instead, she starts her piece on this sad mess by pontificating, incorrectly, about the legal definitions of childhood and adulthood: "There are few things more complicated than the line between adolescence and adulthood," she writes. "While the Texas legal system makes a clear-cut distinction from age 16 (a child) to age 17 (an adult), the transformation occurs only on paper."

Actually, the Texas justice system allows children as young as 14 to be certified as adults in capital or first-degree felonies, or felonies involving an aggravated controlled substance charge. But St. Amant is seemingly after a larger point here, one about the alleged victim, whose age we don't know: "Romo is one week shy of 19 and legally an adult," she writes later. "However, it still seems bizarre to call a girl his peer while they are kissing but a child if their clothes come off."

This might be an argument, albeit not a good one, and still poorly timed and really tasteless, if the charge were statutory rape. But it isn't. St. Amant also notes that "[I]rrespective of one's age, no means no, and the girl in questioned reportedly uttered that all-important word." In reality, a person can be raped even if they don't verbally say "no." Sexual assault is not a "magic word" situation.

Then, for some reason, St. Amant adds: "Her name and age have not been released, but Romo's has, along with his mug shot."

Well, yeah. The police routinely withhold the names of alleged victims of sex crimes and children. And even if the police had released her name, it wouldn't be reported; virtually every serious news outlet in the United States doesn't identify alleged victims of sexual assault. Yet she implies that Romo is already receiving unfair or unusual treatment.

"Kids are supposed to mess up," she then adds. "They lie. They cheat. They get caught. They grow up. But throw a sex act in the mix, and childish ways are all but left behind."

So true. "Throwing in" a little forcible rape, as is alleged here, does have a way of messing things up.

St. Amant concludes by writing:

No matter the facts, there is no good outcome in this case. If Romo forced himself on a girl in the backseat of his Chevy Tahoe as alleged, then he's a sexual predator. If it's a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt, then no one suffers more than 18-year-old Ryan Romo.

Whose impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt are we talking about here? The implication seems to be that the alleged victim may have had consensual sex, regretted it, and then went on to say she was raped. That's a staggering bit of speculation, and would be at any point in an investigation. But it's especially obnoxious to bandy about just hours after the alleged incident was first reported.

"Is this Highland Park baseball star a rapist or just a kid who got a bad rap?" St. Amant tweeted yesterday, with a link to her own piece. It's phrased as a question, but she sure seems to have made up her mind.

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