In ‘he said/she said’ sexual assault claim, newspaper writer decries ‘victim blaming’ that assumes the accuser is lying — but has no hesitation in making the accused look guilty

March 21, 2013

Several months ago, Ryan Romo, a high school baseball standout, was arrested on his front lawn after a classmate accused him of sexual assault in a “he said/she said” claim. Subsequently, a grand jury failed to find probable cause to indict Ryan, and he was cleared of the charges. As a result of the charges, Ryan says he lost his college baseball opportunities and is no longer a potential Major League Baseball prospect.

Now Ryan is back in the news. He and his parents are suing the still-unnamed girl and her parents and step-father for defamation. We discuss the suit below. If the assertions in the suit are factual, they are disturbing and need to be underscored. Before we discuss the suit, we highlight one of the most odious aspects of the accusation against Ryan Romo.

A writer for the Dallas News named Jacquielynn Floyd took offense at the reaction of some Dallas News readers who, she said, engaged in “victim blaming.” In the course of denouncing them, the writer did something even more unjust: she made Ryan Romo look guilty (don’t take my word for it — her column is reprinted at the end of this post). That’s unpardonable for a writer at a major newspaper.

First, Floyd recounted the “facts” as shown by the affidavit of arrest warrant, which related only the girl’s story, not Ryan’s. Here is what the Dallas New writer wrote — read this carefully:

“The basic facts are known. Romo, who will turn 19 on Tuesday, ran into the girl at a concert Saturday night. After the show, the pair took a cab back to his Chevy Tahoe. They drove to his home and parked outside, got in the back seat and began kissing. According to the affidavit, when Romo began physically pressing for sex, the girl told him ‘no’ and ‘stop’ several times. She later told her mother, ‘I said no but he didn’t care,’ again according to the affidavit. A hospital rape exam, and a second examination by the girl’s own doctor, both found physical trauma consistent with forcible assault.”

Floyd wrung her hands: “I was genuinely poleaxed with disbelief at some of the crazy, cruel scenarios some people are spinning to explain this particular set of facts.”

Remember, Floyd prefaced the above rendition of purported events by asserting “the basic facts are known.” But note how she slips in assertions from the arrest warrant affidavit without bothering to relate that “this particular set of facts” did not tell Ryan’s side of the story. Didn’t her readers deserve to know that the accused’s side of the story was not included in “the basic facts” that she claimed were “known”? Or would that simple assertion have undermined the point she was trying to make? (When Floyd sees this — and she will — I would ask her if the police even bothered to ask Ryan a single question before they came for him on his front lawn.)

The Romos’ lawsuit does tell Ryan’s side of the story — and it is markedly different than “the basic facts” related by the Dallas News writer: Ryan asked the girl point blank if she wanted to have sex in the backseat of his car. She reportedly answered “yes” and even gave Ryan “instructions” on how to proceed. The girl told Ryan to “put it in all the way” and then to “wait” because she was in pain, and that Ryan only resumed when she told him, “Okay, I’m good.” After the teens had sex, Ryan allegedly declined the girl’s offer to sleep over and drove her home.

Second, let’s look at the “victim blaming” that Floyd found so terribly offensive. She was upset that some readers dared to question the “particular set of facts” related in the warrant affidavit. “Their automatic disbelief is so sad, so utterly lacking in compassion, that they sound like savage animals tearing at the flesh of a wounded member of their own pack.”

Among the comments Floyd found so repugnant: “Several writers characterized the case as ‘he said/she said,’ as if conflicting stories make it impossible to get at the truth.” And: “One woman wrote The Dallas Morning News that the accused attacker ‘should not be put in the paper with his mugshot like a rapist who breaks into homes and preys on women.’”

How crazy, savage, and cruel these people are!

Then, Floyd’s coup de grâce: Although she bemoans what she terms “victim blaming,” she, herself, is guilty of something even worse. This is a quote from her piece: “What’s unfortunate about this case — wait, scratch that. What’s revolting, what’s sickening about this case, is the outpouring of comments on public forums vilifying the victim, an unidentified teenage girl.” (Emphasis added.) She also complained about a reader “who shares a little forensic gynecological expertise by explaining the victim’s physical trauma as being ‘most likely from the intense sex that they just had in a car.’” (Emphasis added.)

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. In a piece where a Dallas News writer bemoans that some readers have rushed to judgment and assumed the innocence of the accused, she, herself, declared the accuser a “victim.”

Words matter. In this context, calling the unnamed girl a “victim” can only mean that Ryan Romo must be guilty. This would have been unjust at any time prior to an adjudication of guilt, but here, Ryan hadn’t even been charged with a crime, much less convicted. The grand jury subsequently couldn’t find even probable cause to charge him.

As a professional writer for one of America’s major dailies, shouldn’t Floyd be held to a higher standard than those casual readers she compares to “savage animals”? Or is it okay to rush to judgment and assume guilt but not innocence in rape cases? Branding the accuser a “victim” does a grave disservice to (1) the presumptively innocent young man who, unlike the accuser, is named in the Dallas News, and (2) Dallas News readers, who are entitled to accurate reporting but receive something less than that when she transforms an accuser into a “victim.” People reading the newspaper assume the people who write for the Daily News are writing responsibly, and the writer shows elsewhere in her piece that she is capable of being responsible — sometimes she does refer to the “alleged” victim and the “alleged” perpetrator. But slipping in “victim” without the “alleged” is unpardonable.