BEVERLY — When he found out that his 16-year-old daughter was planning a secret rendezvous with a 24-year-old man, a Beverly father did what most fathers would do: He tried to protect her.
But his effort — obtaining a restraining order against the man on his daughter’s behalf — went too far, the state’s highest court said this week.
The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that Gregory Compton’s plans, “while understandably reprehensible to the father,” did not rise to the level of physical abuse. The court ordered that the restraining order against Compton not only be vacated but literally destroyed.
But the court did agree with the dad and the Salem District Court judge who issued the order on another point, finding that relationships carried out primarily online can still be considered “substantive dating relationships” under the state’s domestic restraining order law.
“The content of the conversations were intimate, reflected a mutual romantic relationship and expressed a mutual desire to engage in sexual relations,” Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote. “In these circumstances, we conclude that a substantive dating relationship was established.”
That decision on Wednesday sets a precedent that now allows judges to consider forms of contact like instant messaging or Skype when deciding whether someone qualifies for a restraining order.
The case started in 2011, when the parents, who monitored their daughter’s email, became aware that she was emailing and engaging in online chats with Compton. She had met Compton while traveling with her family in England, and they exchanged email addresses. At first, she claimed to be 18 but quickly admitted that she was younger.
For two months, the two engaged in increasingly explicit discussions online, sometimes spending hours a day communicating.
Then Compton, who lives in England, told her he was planning a visit and wanted to see her. He urged her to enlist her friends to concoct a cover story for her so she could spend a night with him at Salem’s Hawthorne Hotel, where, he promised, among other things, to kiss her “all over” and serve alcohol.