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Sex Offenders and the Law

What Is a Sex Offender?

A sex offender is a person who has committed a sex crime. Sex crimes vary by jurisdiction and culture. Most jurisdictions categorize sex crimes into groups such as trafficking, assault, and sexual abuse. Crimes that require a mandatory sex-offender designation may include second prostitution convictions, sending or receiving obscene material in text messages (called "sexting"), corruption of a minor through relationships between young adults and teens when the age difference between parties is greater than 1,060 days, and child molestation or sexual contact between an adult and minor. Similar serious offenses include sexual assault, statutory rape, rape, child sexual abuse, sexual imposition, and pandering obscenity. Pandering obscenity can range from possession of a sexually-explicit book to digital child pornography and everything in between.

What Is a Sexual Predator?

A sexual predator is a sex offender who is classified as severe or has repeated offenses. This category is below the classification of sexually violent sexual predator. The Adam Walsh Act proposes to grant funding to each jurisdiction that agrees to enact its terms into its laws. A few jurisdictions agreed to accept these terms and in those locations, there are Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III sex offender classifications. Persons convicted of petty crimes not addressed in the Adam Walsh Act are liable to adhere to prior regulations that classify them as sex offenders, habitual sex offenders, sexual predators, child-victim offenders, or sexually violent sexual predators.

What Is the Sex Offender Registry?

United States convicted sex offenders are required to register with their jurisdiction's sex offender registry. Those registry databases are open to the public for search queries. Sometimes sex offenders are classified by level, with the high-level offenders required to register as sex offenders for life and low-level sex offenders required to register only for a limited period.

The Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website contains the latest, up-to-date compiled information gathered from the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Indian Tribes about the location and identity of known sex offenders. The information is searchable to the public in the convenient package of a single website. To search, complete the following steps:

  • Log on to the website.
  • Go to the "Search" page.
  • Select the button under "Conditions of Use" called "I agree."”
  • Complete the Search form.
  • Press "Search."

It is also possible to run a search of the sex offender registry websites that are kept by individual jurisdictions. It is important to note that the information displayed and communicated in the national registry and registries for the states, territories, and tribes is identical. The only difference between the national and more localized registries is that the national registry permits a person to conduct a search across multiple jurisdictional lines.

The National Sex Offender Registry is a database that is only available to law enforcement professionals. Members of the public are restricted to the public website. The latter is administered by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division.