E.C.O. v. Compton, SJC – 11259

Recent case on 209A restraining orders–E.C.O. v. Compton, SJC – 11259 The issue in this case was whether a parent may seek an extension of an abuse prevention order under G.L. c. 209A to prevent his daughter, who was sixteen years of age, from voluntarily engaging in a sexual relationship with an adult. The adult defendant in this case was twenty-four years of age, and a citizen of the United Kingdom. He met the daughter while she was traveling in Europe. After the daughter returned home to Massachusetts, they maintained a relationship via electronic communication. The defendant was aware of the daughter’s age. The electronic communication between them suggested a mutual attraction, including sexual remarks and some comments about furnishing the daughter with alcohol. The defendant planned a trip to the daughter’s hometown, and reserved space in a nearby inn while the daughter’s parents were out of town. The father filed a complaint for protection under G.L. c. 209A, but admitted during cross-examination that the defendant had not threatened physical harm to the daughter, or had involuntary sexual relations with her. The SJC held that there was no “abuse” under G.L. c. 209A, §1(b) and as such there was no basis for issuing the extension order. The father tried to argue that there was “abuse” because by suggesting that he was going to supply the daughter with alcohol, the defendant placed the daughter in fear of imminent serious physical harm. The court disagreed, comparing the definition of “abuse” under the statute with the common-law definition of the crime of assault. In order to be considered “abuse”, the defendant’s behavior must have placed the daughter in reasonable apprehension that the defendant might physically abuse her. The defendant’s act of making passing references to alcohol in his electronic communications with the daughter did not rise to the level of “abuse” as defined under the statute. However, the court did find evidence of a “substantive dating relationship”, noting the “real time” nature of many of the couple’s electronic communications. The court noted the changing technological nature of relationships, and the importance of Chapter 209A including substantial “electronic” relationships within the definition of “substantive dating relationship”. Nevertheless, because abuse was not established, the abuse prevention order issue by the lower court was vacated.

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