The state’s highest court said today that a father cannot block an adult from having consensual sex with his 16-year-old daughter by getting a restraining order of the type aimed at preventing domestic violence between intimate partners.
In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court also noted that it was updating the legal definition of a dating relationship so it now can include romantic liaisons that happen mostly over the Internet, using Skype and other means that allow face-to-face contact between people anywhere in the world.
The domestic violence prevention law “must be interpreted to protect all who are in a substantive dating relationship from abuse, regardless of whether the relationship was developed or conducted by the use of technology,’’ Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote for the court. “It also reflects the changing nature of relationships and, specifically, the fact that an increasing number of relationships, including ones involving teenagers, are being conducted electronically.’’
The ruling came in the case of a father, referred to in the opinion as E.C.O., who went to Salem District Court after learning that his daughter, E.O., planned to meet Gregory James Compton at a nearby hotel where they planned “a day spent in each others arms,’’ according to the SJC.
According to the SJC, under Massachusetts law, a person 16 years old or older is legally capable of consenting to sexual intercourse. The court also said there was never any sign of violence or criminal behavior by Compton during his interaction with the girl and the Massachusetts courts.
Compton and E.O. had met while the teen was traveling with her parents in Europe in July 2011. At the time, E.O. was 16 years old, but told Compton she was 18 years old. When E.O. returned home, she and Compton stayed in contact via e-mail, Skype, instant messaging, and Facebook, the court said. E.O. disclosed her true age, and the Internet relationship blossomed, the court said.
In October 2011, Compton, who was 24, and E.O. planned to meet “for a sneaky sleepover’’ when her parents were out of town, the court said. Her parents, who had previously told Compton that contact with their daughter should end, learned of their plans. They also learned that Compton was hoping to provide the girl with alcohol, the court said.
Pointing to Compton’s plan to provide alcohol to a minor, the father convinced two different district court judges that Compton’s plan to meet with his daughter at a hotel and provide alcohol to her amounted to abuse under the state’s domestic violence prevention law.
Two judges issued the restraining orders, which are civil matters until they are violated, against Compton, a citizen of the United Kingdom, on the grounds that his plans for the “sneaky sleepover’’ that would include alcohol consumption amounted to abuse under the state’s anti-domestic violence law, known as Chapter 209A.
The SJC agreed that the two were in a relationship, a necessary prerequisite for a 209A restraining order, even though most of it had been conducted over the Internet, while the two were on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
But it threw out the orders after concluding there was no evidence that Compton planned to physically abuse E.O.
“The defendant’s passing references in his electronic communications with the daughter implying that he might furnish her with alcohol, while understandably reprehensible to the father, is not evidence suggesting physical abuse or evidence that the defendant planned to give alcohol to her in order to have involuntary sexual relations with her, certainly a form of physical abuse,’’ Ireland wrote.
The court noted that “as conceded by the father, the defendant [Compton] has neither physically harmed nor attempted physically to harm the daughter. In addition, because she is over the age of sixteen, she is legally capable of ‘consenting’ to sexual intercourse.’’
Moreover, the court said, Compton “has not caused the daughter to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress. Thus, there was no basis for the judge to issue the extension order under G. L. c. 209A.’’
The court ordered copies of the restraining orders issued against Compton to be destroyed.John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.