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ECO v. Gregory J. Compton, 464 Mass. 558, 984 N.E. 2d 787 (2013)

In ECO. v. Compton, a father obtained a MGL .c. 209A Abuse Prevention Order against the Defendant, a 24 year old man, to prevent his 16 year old daughter from engaging in voluntarily sexual relations with the Defendant. Although the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a “substantive dating relationship” existed, the Order was vacated as the Defendant’s conduct did not rise to the level of “abuse” required under the statute.

The 16 year old daughter met the 24 year old Defendant, a citizen of the United Kingdom, while traveling in Europe. Following her return to the United States, the two maintained contact via email, Skype and social media. In their communications, the Defendant revealed intentions to engage in sexual conduct with the daughter and also suggested that he might supply her with alcohol. After the Defendant made plans to visit Boston, the father filed for a 209A, and the Defendant was served while in Massachusetts.

Following a hearing, the 209A was extended for one year. Under MGL c. 209A a person may obtain an abuse prevention order against a family or household member, including those who “are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship.” “Abuse” is defined as causing or attempting to cause “physical harm,” or “placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm,” or causing another to “engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress.” The Supreme Judicial Court found that the father admitted that the Defendant did not physically harm the daughter who was over the age of 16 and legally capable of “consenting” to sexual relations.  Further, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the father conceded that the daughter voluntarily engaged in sexual relations.  Although the father argued that the Defendant placed the daughter in “fear of imminent serious physical harm” by suggesting that he was going to supply her with alcohol, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the Defendant’s suggestions that he may provide her with alcohol was insufficient evidence to suggest physical abuse or that he planned to give her alcohol in order to have involuntarily sexual relations with her. Thus, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to meet the definition of abuse, as required under 209A.

The Supreme Judicial Court held that a substantial relationship did exist in this instance, since the daughter and the Defendant had a three month relationship that included regular, mutual communication, including real-time face to face communications through electronic means such as Skype, which added to the intimacy of the relationship. The Court concluded that had the Defendant, in fact, threatened to harm the daughter, a 209A would be available to protect her.