Megan's law, in the United States, a state or federal statute that requires the notification of public organizations and private citizens when a convicted sex offender has been released from prison and is present in their community. Aimed primarily at stopping the abuse of children by pedophiles, the first of these laws was passed in New Jersey a year after the 1994 rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka by a convicted child molester who, unknown to her family, lived across the street from them. The federal Megan's law dates from 1996, and most states have passed some version of the statute. The actual effectiveness of such laws is unclear, and they have raised concerns over whether they encourage vigilantism.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.