In the new millennium, meeting a significant other is no longer 2 consenting adults at a bar or night club flirting; dating is not a set up by mutual friends. Most dating relationships are a matter of swipe left or right on Tinder; answer 1000 questions on Eharmony; or clicking on interesting profiles and messaging back and forth on Plenty of Fish.
When you meet a prospective significant other on the internet, there are so many unknowns. Because the circle of possible mates has expanded by a million, there is no way to know for sure you are getting what you are looking for.
A large danger of online dating is catfishing. Catfishing occurs when someone is untruthful about their identity in their online profile. This can include lies about gender, age, appearance or other characteristics.
From a legal prospective, lies about age can be extremely dangerous to the other party. Many of the websites require participants to be a certain age and to check a box that they are 18 or to enter a birthdate, however, there are no safeguards in place to ensure that the parties are actually over the age of 18.
In Massachusetts, mistake of age of your sexual partner is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape, even if that mistake is reasonable. If the child claims to be 17 years old, and produces a drivers license indicating they are in fact 17 years old, it is not a defense to statutory rape if that child is in fact 15 years old. (Commonwealth v. Miller, 432 N.E.2d 463 (Mass. 1982).)
Criminal charges can result when the parties in the above scenerio engage in sexting with one another. Sending or receiving or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photos or images to a person under the age of 18 is a crime in Massachusetts. It is illegal for ANYONE to knowingly send out or desseminte pictures of a person under 18 in the state of nudity or engaged in a sexual act. This includes the act of the child sending out the lewd pictures, which can actually result in felony charges being filed AGAINST the child taking the pictures and sending them out. In the same vein, mere possession of these photos (without further dissemination) is also a felony, and can result in charges to anyone that knowingly possesses these photos, even if they were not solicited.
With internet dating becoming predonimant, the danger of children posing as adults on social networks and on dating websites has become a growing problem. A lack in adult supervision with internet use, and growing popularity of types apps and websites make it a clear danger to anyone who is actively looking to date. If you are involved in internet dating, do your homework. Make sure your partner is who they claim to be before engaging in sexual conduct. Make sure your partner is of age before engaging in sexting.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have been catfished and need legal advice, contact Broadbent & Taylor at (508) 438-1198 for a consultation.
THIS BLOG WAS WRITTEN BY ATTORNEY KELLY BROADBENT. IT IS NOT INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE AND DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.