Online sexual predators are a legitimate and terrifying concern for many parents. Can a parent get a restraining order to protect his or her teenager against someone the parent dislikes? An S.J.C. case limits the situations where a protective order may be issued.
In E.C.O. v. Compton, 464 Mass. 558 (2013), a father wanted to prevent his sixteen-year-old daughter from engaging in a sexual relationship with the twenty-four-year-old male defendant, whom she had met while traveling in Europe. Upon returning to the United States, the daughter and the defendant communicated through emails, Skype, Facebook, instant messaging, and email. The defendant made plans to travel to visit the U.S. and stay near the daughter’s home. The defendant and the daughter discussed the defendant visiting for a “sneaky sleepover” when the girl’s parents were out of town. The court notes that the defendant “graphically and expressly made known to her his intentions to engage in sexual relations with her.”
The father sought and obtained an abuse prevention order against the defendant under G. L. c. 209A. On this appeal, the S.J.C. ruled that the order should be vacated, since the daughter was above the legal age of consent and not in danger of abuse. (The age of consent in Massachusetts is sixteen. See G. L. c. 265, § 23; G. L. c. 277, § 39.)
The court held that c. 209A can apply to online relationships such as the daughter’s. Its language protects those “suffering from abuse from an adult or minor family or household member,” and those who “are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship.” “Chapter 209A 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.” E.C.O., 464 Mass. at 565.
According to the S.J.C., online relationships can be “substantive dating” relationships, depending on the “(1) the length of time of the relationship; (2) the type of relationship; (3) the frequency of interaction between the parties; and (4) if the relationship has been terminated by either person, the length of time elapsed since the termination of the relationship.” Id. at 564, quoting G. L. c. 209A, § 1.
In this case, the S.J.C. found that a substantive dating relationship existed, but that there was no threat of abuse within the meaning of 209A. Since the girl was above sixteen, the legal age of consent, the abuse protection order was vacated.
If you have concerns about how the law could protect or affect your children or family members, contact the attorneys of Hutchins Law, P.C.