Sex offenders are often required by their state to remind neighbors and the local community of their crimes by registering as a sex offender. That means informing authorities of where you live and keeping them aware of any move. And for those that have committed a sexual offense, all it takes is a conviction to be made a sex offender.
What Is a Sex Offender?
A sex offender is anyone that has been convicted of a specific type of sex crime, such as sexual assault or sex with a minor. Due to the seriousness of the crimes, as well as the likelihood of repeat behavior, sex offenders are sentenced and penalized differently from other types of crimes. As for what qualifies someone as a sex offender, that depends on the particular laws in your jurisdiction. States all have different laws on the books as to what constitutes a sex crime, though most of the core offenses and penalties are similar.
When considering what makes someone a sex offender, it's important to look at the category of the sex offense and who the victim was. Most sex offenses fall into one of a few main categories, such as crimes against adults (rape, sexual assault, marital rape), crimes against relatives (incest), crimes against children (molestation, exploitation, abduction, pornography), crimes against nature (indecent exposure, sodomy, bestiality), and crimes against the sale of sex (prostitution).
Other Types of Sex Offenses
While a conviction can be enough to make you a sex offender in your state, it's true that you can also become a sex offender even if you haven't engaged in sex. Some states have recently added laws that target computers and related sex offenses, such as the sharing of underage pornographic material, even if you did not take or create the image in the first place.
If you're already a sex offender and are required by your state to register as a sex offender but you neglect to do so, that can also be seen as a sex offense, regardless of whether you've committed an actual sexual offense. That may be enough to send you back to prison, as well as considerable fines and other penalties.
State vs. Federal Law
Most sex offenses fall under state law. However, there are federal laws that can make you a sex offender, too. They're found in Title 18 of the United States Code and mostly apply to sexual offenses that are committed outside of state jurisdiction, such as in a federal prison, U.S. territory or if an offense is committed while crossing state lines or international borders.
Section 2251 of the United States Code spells out the different infringements, including the printing, publishing or distribution of illicit depictions of minors. That means certain sex offenders can be taken to task for merely sharing illicit materials online or privately with others.
Other federal law sex offenses include the selling or buying of children; the sexual exploitation of minors in books, magazines and other imagery and recordings; activities related to the generation or distribution of child pornography; transporting individuals for prostitution or other sexual activities; interstate or foreign travel with the purpose of engaging in sexual acts with a minor; or sharing information about offers or solicitations about sexual activities with minors.
Sex Offender Sentencing
Since what makes someone a sex offender can be many different things, it follows that sentencing for a sex offense can also vary wildly. In Colorado, for example, incest is viewed as a class four felony and carries a two to six year prison sentence. That same crime in Montana, on the other hand, carries a 100 year prison term. If a child or violence is involved, sentences are often much harsher, such as a minimum sentence of 15 years for a federal sexual exploitation charge. First degree rape and sexual assault also carry steep sentences of 15 years to life.
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