The Supreme Judicial Court today vacated an order that had prevented a British man from seeing the then 16-year-old Massachusetts girl with whom he had had a dalliance while she and her family were on a European vacation.
After the family returned to the US, the two continued exchanging romantic messages via e-mail and Skype - even after the girl admitted she was only 16 and not 18 - and Gregory James Compton, then 24, eventually booked a flight to Boston in October, 2011, to spend more time with his stateside sweetie.
But when the Essex County girl's father found out about that, he went to court and obtained a "prevention order" under the state's law on domestic abuse that barred the swain from going anywhere near the girl - an order served on him not long after he landed at Logan.
The judge who issued the order shouldn't have, the state's highest court ruled today.
In Massachusetts, once the girl turned 16, she was free to voluntarily engage in sexual activity, the court said. And the father failed to provide any proof that Compton had either abused her in any way or coerced her into having sex.
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. We conclude that this conduct does not meet the definition of "abuse" under G.L. c. 209A, § 1 (b ), and thus fails to serve as a basis for issuing the extension order. Because the judge had no basis to issue the extension order, it must be vacated
To buttress its conclusion, the court included in its ruling some of Compton's communications with the teen:
In these communications, the defendant refers to the daughter as "babe," "honey bee," and "my love," and ends communication by writing, "lov u: heart" and "xxx." In addition to telling the plaintiff that she is "amazing," the defendant talks about visiting her, their first lunch date, "a v gd hotel" where she could visit him, and engaging in conversation "with a glass of somthing gd in our hands." The defendant's communications include many sexual innuendos. He also graphically and expressly made known to her his intentions to engage in sexual relations with her. In their electronic exchanges, they discussed the "age of consent" to engage in sexual intercourse (see note 3, supra), as well as the age difference and physical "distance" between them. Despite these "challenges," the defendant stated, "i wouldnt even entertain this normally but with you it [ ] just makes sense."
Even though it was moot in this case, the court also considered the issue of whether the two were engaged in the sort of "substantive dating relationship" that the law requires to show domestic abuse, since the bulk of their relationship was carried out electronically, rather than in person, which was the custom when the law was enacted.
The court concluded that, yes, in this electronic age, a case could be made for abuse in an online relationship:
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. See id. ("Dating is inherently personal and idiosyncratic, and relationships exist in endless variety"). See also King-Ries, Teens, Technology, and Cyberstalking: The Domestic Violence Wave of the Future?, 20 Tex. J. Women & Law 131, 152 (2011) (study results showed teenagers "are incorporating technology into their intimate relationships"). 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.