What’s a Sex Offender?

whats a sex offender

U.S. Society and policymakers have long struggled to find effective ways to protect the public from sex offenders.

Sex offenders coerce a person to engage in sexual activity. Such coercion can be physical, mental, or both. The word ‘sex offender’ refers to those convicted by judicial courts. But this should also be noted sexual offenses are also committed by those who do not get caught.

Several policies in the criminal justice system govern sex offenders. These approaches may incorporate detaining convicts, extending detention beyond the actual sentence through civil affirmation or further procedures, and registration and reporting by the sex offenders.

What’s a sex offender?

A person convicted of a sexual offense is called a sex offender. Sexual offenses include such offenses as rape, sodomy, and sexual abuse. Most states have sex offender registration laws that vary from state to state. 

A registered sex offender is a person who:

  • tends to victimize or injure others, 
  • has been convicted of a sex offense listed in the applicable state statutes, 
  • Has been convicted of an attempt to commit a sex offense listed in the applicable state statutes, 
  • has been found guilty except for insanity of one of these crimes. 

Registered sex offenders must report their residences to local authorities so that the public can access information about sexual predators in their neighborhoods.

A sexual predator is a person who is an adult or juvenile, has been condemned or claimed guilty to a sexually oriented offense, and is likely to commit other sexually oriented crimes in the future. Definitions differ from state to state, so local laws need to be consulted to determine the applicable laws in your area.

Sex offenses: State laws

The meaning of a sex offense alters from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, basic crimes are common in most jurisdictions, but some states prohibit other specific acts. Common sexual offenses fall into the following categories:

  • Crimes against adults: sexual assault, marital rape, or rape.
  • Crimes against relatives: incest.
  • Crimes against children: pornography, exploitation, harassment, kidnapping.
  • Crimes against nature: indecent exposure, sodomy.
  • Crimes against sex for sale: prostitution.

Most states, like New York, have a long list of items considered sex offenses. Some things are intuitive, and others are to solve specific problems. For example, Alabama targeted school employees who have sex with students as a particular sex crime, and several states include sodomy as a sex crime.

Simply put, a sexual offense is a crime that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another person.

Sexual Offenses: Federal law

Federal sex crimes focus on crimes involving children, the production of prohibited pornography, and interstate travel for prohibited sexual activity. Some of these statutes include:

  • Selling or buying children
  • Specific activities related to material that involves the sexual exploitation of minors, including the distribution and reception of visual representations in books, magazines, periodicals, films, and videotapes
  • Specific activities related to material containing child pornography
  • Transport a person in foreign or interstate trade to engage the person in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity.

Sexual Offenses: State vs. federal law

Most crimes involving criminal sexual conduct fall under the jurisdiction of state law, but federal law also covers several sex crimes. The offenses are mentioned in Title 18 of the United States Code. 

Some federal crimes apply to sex crimes committed in a United States territorial jurisdiction or federal prison. Other crimes include offenders who cross national or international borders to commit a sex crime.

Sexual offenses involving computers

The Internet has attracted many of the most vulnerable children to predators. After identifying a victim, the predator, who sometimes poses as a teenager on the Internet, tries to establish a relationship that can turn sexual. Some states have laws, which vary from state to state, governing the computer’s use to attract a child for sexual purposes. Such laws generally apply if the computer transmission originates or is received in the state.

Generally, a person is guilty of computer solicitation if that person is an adult and that person knowingly, by computer, with intent to commit unlawful sexual intercourse, attracts, seduces, persuades, prevails, advises, coerces, or directs a minor to meet the defendant or another person for intercourse, sodomy, obscene sexual conduct or sexual behavior, for his or her benefit. 

It may also be an offense to transmit obscene material to a child through a computer communication method that permits the output, input analysis, or transmission of obscene material by computer programs to engage in sexual acts with a minor.

Penalties for sex offenders and conviction

As with any crime, the character, circumstances, and parties involved govern the severity of the penalties and punishments that can get imposed. States vary widely in the length of the sentence. For example, incest is a Class 4 felony in Colorado and is punishable by 2 to 6 years in prison, but the same offense in Montana will be punishable by 100 years in prison.

Any sexual crime which involves minors or violence will get harsh punishment. For example, violating federal child sexual exploitation laws carries a minimum sentence of 15 years. Charges of first-degree rape or sexual assault are punishable by 15 years to life in prison, depending on the state and the crime occurrences.

Sex offender registry

Both states and the federal government have established sex offender registries. It is a database of information about convicted sex offenders. They require people convicted of sex crimes to register; if they don’t, it is considered a sex crime. The statutes establishing the registries also include compliance requirements that they do not live too close to schools and notify officials when they move. Again, failure to comply with registration requirements is a sex offense.

Sex Offender Registration and Reporting Act

SORNA is the Sex Offender Registration and Reporting Act, Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. SORNA provides a comprehensive set of minimum norms for sex offender registration and reporting in the United States. SORNA aims to eliminate possible loopholes that existed beneath previous laws and boost the national network of sex offender registration and reporting programs. In addition, SORNA does the following:

  • Expands jurisdictions requiring registration to include federally recognized Indian tribes, the District of Columbia, different states, and numerous U.S. territories.
  • It includes a more comprehensive group of sex offenders and sex offenses for which registration is required.
  • It requires sex offenders to register and update their registration in each jurisdiction where they live, work or attend school.
  • It requires sex criminals to provide more comprehensive registration details.
  • It requires sex offenders to make regular in-person appearances to verify and update their registration information.
  • Expands information available to the public about registered sex offenders.
  • Make variations in the minimum length of registration for sex offenders.

Office of Sentencing, Monitoring, Arrest, Registration, and Tracking (SMART)

Sex Offender Sentencing, Tracking, Arresting, Registration, and Monitoring (SMART) is an element of the Office of Justice programs within the U.S. Department of Justice. It is also known as SMART Office. This office administers sex offender registration standards, grant programs, and assistance to states. The Sex Offender Registration and Reporting Act, a part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, established the SAMRT office.

SMART Office is responsible for:

  • The leadership of jurisdictions in matters relating to the implementation of the Adam Walsh Act
  • Giving technical assistance to states, territories, Indian tribes, local governments, and public and private organizations
  • Observing significant legislative and legal developments relating to sex offenders
  • Management of grant programs related to sex offender registration, management, and reporting


A sex offender is a person who is condemned for specific sexual crimes, such as sexual assault or sexual conduct with a minor. Due to the seriousness of sex offenses, several aspects come into play when sentencing sex offenders at both the state and national levels.

SORNA aims to strengthen the national sex offender registration network. The legislation states that sex offenders need to register in the jurisdictions where they live, work and attend school. They must also provide more extensive registration data and regularly update their data. It also expands the information available to the masses about registered sex offenders.


What would happen if a sex offender did not register?

A person who intentionally fails to register their registration as directed by the Sex Offender Registration and Reporting Act (SORNA) is a nationwide offense.

What is the purpose of SORNA?

Sex offender registration and reporting programs are necessary for public safety purposes. The registry provides important information about convicted sex offenders to local and federal authorities and the public, such as the offender’s name, current location, and prior offenses.

What information do the masses have about the offender?

The information that the public can view will vary by jurisdiction, and it includes names and nicknames, present addresses, offenses, and photos.
The website may also include a physical description (height, weight, etc.), date of birth, other information about the offense, including statutes violated and the date of the offense, and more.

Who must register as a sex offender?

A person convicted of specific sex offenses and crimes against children is usually required to register as a sex offender. They typically must re-register yearly (sometimes more often) and whenever they move.

Where can the public get information about the offender?

The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website (“NSOPW”) is a good one-stop shop. It provides access to public registry sites for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 5 U.S. territories, and federally recognized Indian tribes. You can search in a specific jurisdiction or run a nationwide search that queries all registries.