Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

Kat’s Story, Part 1

The family members don’t use their real names, but when they talk about the pamphlet that showed up in in mailboxes on that Thursday afternoon in February of 2007, it’s as clear as if it happened yesterday. Its arrival would cancel 8-year-old Kat Tanis’ invite to a friend’s birthday party. Later, it would change her life forever.

A third of the way into the pamphlet was a photo of Kat’s father Phil. Underneath was his name and address and the license plates for both family cars. And under that were the words “moderate-risk violent sex offender.” It noted that his victim had been 10 years old. It also showed photos for 20 other men—all of them residents of the two adjacent school districts and on the state sex offender registry.

The previous summer, the New York legislature had changed its laws to allow information on all sex offenders to be released to the public, including those who were low risk. That prompted the superintendents of the two upstate New York school districts and the town police department to work together to produce and send the pamphlet out to every parent before the school year started. In case people missed it in their mailboxes, a story ran in the local newspaper reminding readers to look for it. It helpfully listed all 20 names in a big box in the middle of the article.

“We (the police and the school districts) are working hard to get this information out to the public,” a police officer told the paper. “This is something that the chief really supports us doing. He agrees that keeping people informed about these convicted sex offenders is a great way to protect our residents.” The police also set up to presentations for the public on Megan’s Law, the Amber Alert system, and how to protect children from stranger abductions.

When Saturday morning came, Phil and his wife Kendra sat Kat down on the living room couch to give her the bad news. She couldn’t go to the party because her friend Maggie’s parents had called and asked them not to bring her. To explain why, Phil and Kendra had to tell her a much bigger story, one they were hoping they wouldn’t have to share until she was much older.

Next: Phil’s story and the move to New York

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