Sex Offenders and Sex Offenses

Miscellaneous sex offenses include voyeurism or peeping, solicitation for prostitution, and “lewd conduct," a catchall term for anything that seems sexual but doesn't fit any other category. Some of these charges, such as indecent exposure, are misdemeanors. 

Sex crimes are some of the most serious crimes in our society. Victims suffer lasting physical and emotional harm. Offenders face long prison sentences and penalties that follow them long after they complete their terms. Because of the way society views sex crimes, sex offender registrations will impact offenders for the rest of their lives. Many sex offenses require convicts to register as a sex offender, usually for their entire life.

Read on to learn more about sex offenders and sex offenses, including the different restrictions imposed on those convicted of sex crimes.

Examples of Sex Offenses

Sexual offense crimes are a patchwork of state and federal laws. Each state has its own definitions for sexual offenses and degrees of criminal behavior. Although there are federal definitions for most sexual crimes, they have little effect on state laws.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), there are as many different names for the sexual crime of rape as there are states. However, most states are identifying the same components of sexual conduct as criminal, regardless of the actual charges.

The most common sexual criminal offenses include:

  • Child Pornography: Also called child sexual abuse material and colloquially “kiddie porn," this is any material that involves the manufacture, distribution, or possession of the sexual exploitation of minors. Some state laws have expanded the definition to include computer-generated images if the image is realistic and created with prurient intent.
  • Rape: Also known in some states as sexual battery or sexual assault, the general definition of rape is penetration of the genitals or anus without consent. Some states still have a marital exception on their books and have a separate law for marital rape.
  • Sexual Assault: In states with rape laws, sexual assault covers all other types of sexual contact, such as consent by fraud or groping or fondling the victim without penetration. Sexual assault can also include sexual conduct between two minors that does not meet the definition of statutory rape.
  • Statutory Rape: This is a status crime, meaning it is a crime due to the age of one of the participants. All states have an age of consent, below which minors cannot consent to sexual contact. In most states, the age is 16, although in some, it is as young as 14, and some have raised it to 18. “Romeo and Juliet" laws protect some couples where one partner recently turned 18, and the other is still below the age of consent.
  • Indecent Exposure: Letting it all hang out is a crime, but sex crime cases require intent before conviction. Courts consider if the defendant meant to offend or excite others or themselves when they flashed their private parts.

Most are felonies, and many have multiple levels or degrees. All can land an offender on the sex offender registry.

Restrictions on Sex Offenders

Defendants convicted of sex crimes often face lifelong restrictions. These may include registration requirements or preventive measures. These restrictions may apply even in less serious cases, such as sexual encounters between high school students or minors engaging in sexting. Society's revulsion for sexual crimes takes the form of zero tolerance, even for lesser cases like these.

Sex Offender Registries

Beginning with Jacob's Law in 1994, sex offenders have had to register in a national registry. Megan's Law, two years later, required local law enforcement to advise parents of the location of all registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods.

States have tried other community alert systems over the years. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act gave states broader latitude in classifying offenders and expanded the amount of information available about juvenile offenders.

State Restrictions

In some states, more drastic measures are on the table. Nine states allow so-called chemical castration via injections of DepoProvera, a hormone that causes impotence, in cases of serious or repeat sexual offenders. The theory is that reducing the sex drive of offenders will reduce their sexual activity.

Other states place living restrictions on convicted sex offenders, stating they may not live within a certain number of feet or even miles of schools, playgrounds, or other places where children gather.

The civil commitment of habitual sex offenders has a long and troubled history. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state civil commitment laws were constitutional, it held federal civil commitments unconstitutional. According to the Court, civil commitment belonged to the states. The states that do allow civil commitments reserve them for habitual violent offenders.

The efficacy of these state restrictions is questionable. Many offenders do not register and return to their former behavior. Others register and find themselves homeless and unemployable because of the registry. Some advocates suggest the gain to public safety is minimal because the restrictions give an illusion of security but do nothing against any new offenders.

Have Specific Questions About Sex Offenses and Sex Offenders? Ask an Attorney

Sex offense laws are broad in scope. They have significant repercussions for offenders. In most states, sexual offenses are not available for expungement. If you are facing criminal charges for a sexual crime, you need the services of a criminal defense attorney immediately. Any plea bargain will stay on your criminal record, so discuss things with an attorney in your jurisdiction before making any promises or agreements.

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