What Crimes Make Someone a Sex Offender?

What Makes Someone a Sex Offender

You’ve probably heard of a sex offender registry before. Established in 2006, such registries are supposed to help the public stay informed about convicted offenders in their neighborhood.

Each state maintains its own registry. As such, the specific requirements for registration and public notification vary from state to state. These registries are available to the public, and they are usually searchable by name and/or geographical region.

Over the years, certain misconceptions about the registry have developed. Some may think that, if someone’s a registered sex offender, that must mean they’re a potential risk for violence. Or, they are on there because they are likely to commit the same kinds of crimes again.

In some cases, that may be so. But in others, maybe not.

With the implementation of Megan’s Law, sex offender registries were created with the intention of keeping the public apprised of convicted sex offenders. Yes, this could include violent repeat offenders. But it’s important to keep in mind that, while certain crimes may require an individual to register as a sex offender, they don’t all necessarily indicate a person’s tendency toward violence or repeating their offense.

A person must register as a sex offender if they were convicted of:

-Exploitation of a minor

-Sexual assault (rape)


-Statutory rape


-Indecent exposure


-Failing to register

Exploitation of a Minor

This is one of the most obvious sex offender crimes. And it’s actually one of the main reasons the government created the sex offense registry to begin with. This broad category can apply to an individual being inappropriate directly with a minor, or it can apply to an individual exposing a minor to inappropriate content.

Less-serious offenses may still constitute exploitation of a minor if someone previously committed a serious offense with a minor.

Sexual Assault

Different states have different definitions when it comes to “sexual assault,” especially when it comes to whether an assault constitutes a misdemeanor or a felony. Generally, it includes most instances where someone forces another person to have sexual contact. Offenses against children are usually considered more serious, and so they are more likely to come with a harsher sentence.


In most states, this includes both consensual and non-consensual incest between relatives. The reason the courts consider incest such a serious crime is that it involves an imbalance of power. This is similar to the imbalance you might find in a relationship between an adult and a minor.

Each state has its own definition of incest, which covers a smaller or larger circle of family and determines if it’s a sex offense.

Statutory Rape

This refers to a relationship between someone below the age of consent and someone above the age of consent. (Again, the age of consent varies between states; it typically ranges from 14-18.) As such, this falls under the same umbrella as exploitation of a minor, since minors can’t consent to sexual contact with anyone over the age of consent.

Legally, there’s no such thing as a consensual sexual encounter between a minor and an adult.

Soliciting Prostitution

Prostitution is illegal nearly nationwide. (Only Nevada has a few counties where it’s legal.) But it’s often treated similarly to other crimes that don’t involve sex.

In a few select states, solicitation (when someone pays a sex worker) may be reason for someone to register with the sex offense registry. This applies even if the encounter is consensual.

Indecent Exposure

This is a huge umbrella term, and it might surprise you how much ground it covers. On one hand, indecent exposure can have a sexually violent motivation: flashing. The intention is to alarm or disturb a victim, as well as some kind of sexual gratification for the perpetrator.

But on the other hand, indecent exposure also often includes non-sexual exposure, like streaking and public urination. So the actual crime, while certainly ill-advised, might be much less severe than it sounds.

Some Types of Sexting

Possessing sexual images of a minor is considered exploitation of that minor. But while minors may legally have sexual contact with each other under some circumstances, it’s entirely illegal for a minor to take or send nude pictures. This can lead to sex offense convictions for both the minor who took the picture and the minor who received it.

Not Applying to the Registry

In some states, failing to apply to the sex offender registry is itself a sex offense, and is listed on the registry. If someone moves, the person has to re-register with their new address. Failure to register usually counts as a violation of the person’s sentence.

How Do You Know Who to Trust?

The sex offense registry is helpful in many ways. But it’s not perfect. The actual crime that landed someone on the registry can range from fairly minor incredibly severe.

To try and confirm the degree of severity, a good option is to try and get the details using a public records site. You can perform a criminal records check to try and get information about a person’s criminal background, including any sex offenses. That way, you can try to make yourself more fully informed about the crime and its actual circumstances.

Image attribution: antoniodiaz – www.shutterstock.com

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