A Massachusetts court just ruled against a father seeking to protect his daughter from the sexual advances of an adult. On Wednesday, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled a 16-year-old girl is permitted to enter into a sexual relationship with an adult despite parental opposition. The justices based their ruling on a Massachusetts law that established the legal age of sexual consent as 16. The law states that so long as the sexual relationship is not otherwise “unlawful” or with a “chaste” individual, an adult may “entice” a minor age sixteen and older to engage in sexual intercourse.
The 16-year-old girl at the center of the ruling was dating 24-year-old Gregory Compton of the United Kingdom. The relationship largely took place over the internet using Skype, Facebook, and other social media platforms; however, court documents revealed the couple had planned to meet on three separate occasions. The father, after instructing Compton and his daughter to end the relationship, was issued a restraining order against Mr. Compton by two Salem District Court judges. The SJC withdrew the orders on grounds the daughter was not in “immediate danger of abuse,” a prerequisite under M.G.L. c. 209A for orders of protection.
The father in this case may have acted in an extreme manner by seeking a restraining order, but was simply attempting to protect his daughter from a sexual threat. A 24 year-old man living nearly 3,300 miles away is not likely to have pure intentions with a 16-year-old girl. Even though Compton thought the daughter was 18, engaging in a relationship with a stranger living across the Atlantic has the appearance of being dishonorable.
Under Massachusetts law, the court’s ruling was appropriate, which raises questions about the decency of a law that permits 16 year-old children to consent to sexual relationships. There are scientific facts supporting why teenagers are not rational decision makers. The human brain is still developing at 16, especially the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for “impulse control and delaying gratification, foreseeing and weighing possible consequences of behavior, modulation of intense emotions, and inhibiting inappropriate behavior and initiating appropriate behavior.” Recent studies indicate the prefrontal cortex does not even reach full maturation until closer to 25 years old.
The Massachusetts legislature would be wise to reconsider designating the age of consent closer to a person’s cognitive maturity rather than his/her sexual peak. By deeming the age of consent sixteen, Massachusetts endangers children who are ill equipped to make rational decisions or shoulder the emotional and financial consequences of a sexual relationship.