Relationships and online dating have become huge within the last ten years. People have taken advantage of the internet to find that special someone, or just maybe have some fun with someone and nothing serious. People would register on dating websites and find someone that they would stuff in common with. They don’t always turn out to be a happy ending. A documentary called ‘Catfish’ shows you that. A man called Nev Schulman fell in love with a girl he met online called Megan who was actually someone else called Angela.
Someone could just lie about their gender, age and physical appearance. A high court in Boston decided last week that an online relationship may count as a “substantive dating relationship” for the purposes of 209A restraining orders. The court also ruled that a father’s allegation that a 24-year-old man was seeking a consensual sexual relationship with the father’s 16-year-old daughter did not rise to the level of “abuse” required for issuance of a 209A order.
In the case, E.C.O. v. Compton, the father obtained a 209A order against the defendant in the district court. The father alleged that the defendant was a safety risk to the daughter because the defendant intended to “use alcohol with her” and to have sex with her. The daughter had met the defendant during a family vacation in Europe. She initially told the 24-year-old defendant that she was born in 1992, which would have made her 18 or 19 years old. Upon returning home from the vacation, the daughter maintained electronic communication with the defendant through e-mail and social media. During the course of the electronic communications, the daughter admitted to the defendant that she was 16 years old. The pair continued to exchange messages, some of which involved sexual innuendo. The defendant made plans to visit the 16-year-old in the Boston area and suggested a “sneaky sleepover” in a hotel. The parents became aware of the relationship, and the father sought and obtained the 209A order on his daughter’s behalf.
In deciding that there was no basis for issuance or extension of the order, the Supreme Judicial Court reasoned that the defendant was never physically harmful to the daughter and that the daughter, being 16 years old, was legally capable of consenting to sex. Therefore, the court concluded, there was no “abuse” within the meaning of the statute.
The court went on to decide that, while there was no abuse and no basis for extension of the order, there was evidence of a “substantive dating relationship.” It reasoned that the relationship between the daughter and the defendant had lasted three months and involved regular communication. Even though the communication was electronic for most of that time, the pair used “Skype,” which is in real time and “face-to-face.” The communications were intimate and involved discussion of mutual desire to engage in sex.
This decision is another example of how modern technology and social media are transforming both human interaction and the legal landscape. The SJC took this case on its own initiative, and it likely did so in order to weigh in on the “substantive dating relationship” issue. Not only are technology and the Internet affecting the legal definition of “relationships,” but they are also leading to new types of criminal accusations, with law enforcement increasingly using social media and the Internet in criminal investigations.