New to Kat’s story? Start with part 1.
Kat got over the missed birthday party. What her parents had told her seemed unreal at first, so she didn’t stay upset. Given a little time, she thought her life would go back to normal. She’d been a happy, social kid: parents and children coming and going from their apartment constantly, a birthday party every other week, play dates twice a week, running back and forth to friends’ houses.
The following week was spring break, and she looked forward to seeing her friends.
One day that week, her friend Maggie was walking up the street with her mother. Kat waved and called out, and Maggie waved back. But not Maggie’s mother. As Kat walked up to them, her mother wouldn’t look at Kat. And as Maggie ran to Kat, her mother called her back and held her to her side, away from Kat, as though protecting her. When Kat tried to talk, her mother interrupted, telling Maggie: “You can’t play with her anymore. And don’t come near her house!” Kat felt sick to her stomach.
And Kat got no more birthday invites herself. There were almost no play dates. In her third-grade classroom, kids would hand out birthday party invitations to everyone except her.
Her isolation extended to her grandmother’s neighborhood a couple of miles away, where she went often and had friends. One day while staying with her grandmother, she knocked on her best friend Clair’s house across the street. But Clair didn’t come to the door—her parents did. “Clair can’t play with you,” they told her. “Don’t come over here, don’t try to play with our daughter, and stay away,” they told her and slammed the door. Kat stood frozen. Through the door, she could hear her parents telling Clair not to go out looking for her.
It wasn’t just parents– kids had gotten the hint too. Back home, she knocked on the door at her friend Lilly’s house. Lilly came out, but another girl was there too, and the two of them made a game out of running away from Kat, pointing at her and laughing as they kept their distance. It felt like anything but a game to Kat.
Kat and her parents talked about what was happening—they thought it all had to blow over soon.
But it didn’t. The following fall, Kat was running around with two boys her age in their front yard four or five houses down the street. One of them, Kurt, played a little rough, and sometimes their play would end with someone upset. One morning, Kurt, who was learning martial arts, kicked her so hard that she fell. When Kat started crying, Kurt’s father came out the front door. Kat thought he’d settle things down. Instead he shouted and walked toward Kat, yelling “Get off my property! Your father is a sex offender! Stay away!” He was 6 feet tall, and Kat thought he looked mad enough to hit her. She ran home sobbing.
“It was like I was put into a bubble by everyone around me, and I couldn’t understand why,” says Kat. “All I wanted to do was pop that bubble and go and have friends again.”
A few parents told Phil why they were singling out his daughter, and he developed a kind of taxonomy of their reasons. The kinder ones said they had no problem with Kat but feared an association with her and her family could endanger their jobs–some thought they or their kids might become targets themselves. Somewhat less generous were those who thought that having their own kids spend time around Kat, even at their own houses, might allow Phil to get close, putting them in danger of sexual abuse. And the coldest group said that the fact that Kat lived with Phil meant she was probably being sexually abused and must be deviant herself. They thought she posed a danger to their children.
But it was when she went to middle school in fall 2009 that her isolation turned into harassment and migrated from the neighborhood to the school. Older boys started approaching her in the hall and on the street, suggesting sexual acts she might perform on them. A group of boys crowded her up against a wall one day in school. “Since you’re screwing your dad, you shouldn’t mind screwing us, one of them told her.
That spring of 2010, she was in gym class, and students were standing around waiting for class to start. One girl started a group of kids chanting insults like “loser” and “Kat sucks.” Others whispered worse things to her—“you’re doing your pervert dad, aren’t you?” one said. Kat ran back into the locker room sobbing. A teacher pulled aside the girl who’d started it and forced her to apologize. To Kat it sounded anything but sincere.
And she was being harassed on the street too. “Pervert!” a guy from a passing car yelled at her as she was walking home one day. Another yelled out a graphic act he thought she should perform on him. Boys in their teens started following her, and she’d only be able to shake them by ducking into a store or running home.
The family itself wasn’t doing well either. When the pamphlet came out, Phil’s employer had fired him from his job as an engineer making aircraft testing systems. He’d been making about $60,000 at the time. He sent out hundreds of resumes after that, but never worked again. At one point, GE offered him a job but then retracted it when they found out he was on the registry. Kendra worked too, and now the family depended on her $30,000 salary.
Desperate for friends, she started spending time with a classmate named Mary who was a social outcast herself, coming from a troubled family—her mother was depressed and had been hospitalized several times after trying to kill herself. Mary’s mother had been sexually abused as a child, and Mary was convinced that Kat had been as well. She started graphically describing to Kat how girls are abused by parents.
Phil tried contacting his state representative about how he might get off the registry. His staff told Phil there was nothing they could do.
So they took the only option they thought was left. In March 2013, they left the country for another they won’t disclose. The neighborhood they live in now is poor and dirty, they say. But unlike at home, “people here treat us with respect,” says Kat.
They haven’t learned the language, and Phil and Kendra can’t afford to send Kat to an English-speaking school because they’ve run up about $20,000 in debt since Phil lost his job. Still it’s “a thousand times better than what we were facing in the U.S.,” says Kat. Now she’s trying to pass her high school proficiency exam so she can apply to U.S. colleges. She wants a psychology degree she says, so she can begin to understand “why so many people were so irrationally cruel to me.”
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