A sex offender (also sexual offender, sex abuser or sexual abuser) is a person who has committed a sex crime. What constitutes a sex crime differs by culture and by legal jurisdiction. Most jurisdictions compile their laws into sections such as traffic, assault, sexual, etc. The majority of convicted sex offenders have convictions for crimes which are of a sexual nature. Some sex offenders have simply violated a law contained in a sexual catergory. Some of the titles of crimes which usually qualify you for a mandatory sex-offender classification are: second prostitution conviction, sending or receiving obscene content in the form of SMS text messages--sexting, relationships between young adults and teenagers have resulted in corruption of a minor, so long as the age between them is greater than one thousand and sixty days, if any sexual contact was made by the adult to the minor then child molestation has occurred. If sexual conduct occurred, unlawful sexual conduct involving a minor has occored. Other serious offences are sexual assault, statutory rape, child sexual abuse, rape, sexual imposition, and pandering obscenity. Pandering Obscenity offences range from the possession of the book, within the United States, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by author John Cleland, to digital child pornography. In our modern world of technology, many jurisdictions are reforming their laws to prevent the overprosecutiuon of sex offenders and focusing on crimes involving a victem. The term sexual predator is often used to describe a sex offender, a sex offender, or any of the Teir offenders, however, only the category just below sexually-violent sexual predator is reserved for a severe or repeat sex offender: Sexual Predator. The Adam Walsh Act (AWA)proposed to provide funding to each jurisdiction which would agree adopt its Act into their law. In the few jurisdictions which did accept this agreement, there are either Teir I, Teir II, or Teir III sex-offenders. Individuals convicted of petty crimes not covered by the (AWA) are still liable to abide by the previous regulations denoting them as a Sex Offender (Or sex-offender, habitual sex-offender, sexual predator, sexually violent sexual predator, child-victem offender, etc.)
In the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries, a convicted sex offender is often required to register with the respective jurisdiction's sex offender registry. In the US, registry databases are often open to the public. Sexual offenders are sometimes classified into levels. The highest level offenders generally must register as a sex offender for their entire lives, whereas low-level offenders may only need to register for a limited time.
A 2002 study by the United States Department of Justice indicated that recidivism rates among sex offenders was 5.3%; that is, 5.3% of released sex offenders were later arrested for another sex crime. The same study mentioned that 68% of released non-sex offenders were rearrested for any crime (both sex and non-sex offenses), while 43% of the released sex offenders were rearrested for any crime (and 24% reconvicted).
A collection of official studies spanning the years 1983 to 2010 across all 50 states and the federal government has been assembled . This URL provides a spreadsheet and .zip file containing sources supporting the DOJ study, where the average recidivism of sex offenders committing new sex crimes since 1983 is approximately 9%, compared to the 42% average recidivism rate for all felony offenders committing any new felony offense.
According to the Office of Justice Programs of the United States Department of Justice, in New York State the recidivism rates for sex offenders have been shown to be lower than any other crime except murder. Another report from the OJP that studied recidivism of prisoners released in 1994 in 15 states accounting for two-thirds of all prisoners released in the United States that year, reached the same conclusion.
In 2007, the State Bureau of Investigation in North Carolina made significant changes to its sex offender registration system, including new search criteria that include an "offender status" search, enabling an explicit search for convicted sex offense recidivists in the sex offender database. Manual searches by county using the new criteria yield some of the lowest recidivist percentages ever disseminated by any law enforcement establishment. In the entire State of North Carolina, there are only 71 recidivists shown on the registry, if incarcerated offenders are included. Per-county results for "Registered" status offenders compared against "Recidivist" status offenders on the North Carolina registry yield actual convicted recidivist percentages ranging from zero to fractions of one percent.
- Within 3 years of release, 2.5% of released rapists were rearrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for a new homicide.
- Sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense –– 43% of sex offenders versus 68% of non-sex offenders.
- Sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime after their discharge from prison –– 5.3% of sex offenders versus 1.3% of non-sex offenders.
- On a given day in 1994 there were approximately 234,000 offenders convicted of rape or sexual assault under the care, custody, or control of corrections agencies; nearly 60% of these sex offenders are under conditional supervision in the community.
- The median age of the victims of imprisoned sexual assaulters was less than 13 years old; the median age of rape victims was about 22 years.
- An estimated 24% of those serving time for rape and 19% of those serving time for sexual assault had been on probation or parole at the time of the offense for which they were in State prison in 1991.
- Of the 9,691 male sex offenders released from prisons in 15 States in 1994, 5.3% were rearrested for a new sex crime within 3 years of release.
- Of released sex offenders who allegedly committed another sex crime, 40% perpetrated the new offense within a year or less from their prison discharge.
- Approximately 4,300 child molesters were released from prisons in 15 States in 1994. An estimated 3.3% of these 4,300 were rearrested for another sex crime against a child within 3 years of release from prison.
- Among child molesters released from prison in 1994, 60% had been in prison for molesting a child 13 years old or younger.
- Offenders who had victimized a child were on average 5 years older than the violent offenders who had committed their crimes against adults. Nearly 25% of child victimizers were age 40 or older, but about 10% of the inmates with adult victims fell in that age range.
Post-incarceration registries and restrictions
A sex offender registry is a system in place in a number of jurisdictions designed to allow government authorities to keep track of the residence and activities of sex offenders, including those who have completed their criminal sentences. In some jurisdictions (especially in the United States), information in the registry is made available to the general public via a website or other means. In many jurisdictions registered sex offenders are subject to additional restrictions, including housing. Those on parole or probation may be subject to restrictions that don't apply to other parolees or probationers. Sometimes these include (or have been proposed to include) restrictions on being in the presence of minors, living in proximity to a school or day care center, or owning toys or other items of interest to minors.
Megan's Law is designed to punish sex offenders and reduce their ability to re-offend. The law is enacted and enforced on a state-by-state basis. Most U.S. states also place restrictions on where convicted sex offenders can live after their release, prohibiting residency within a designated distance of schools and daycare centers (usually 1,000 - 2,000 feet).
Living as a convicted sex offender includes living by residence stipulations in accordance with known areas of child congregation. Guided by the Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act of 2007, sex offenders must steer clear of such “off-limit areas” as schools, bus stops, gyms, recreation centers, playgrounds, parks, swimming pools, libraries, nursing homes, and places of worship by five hundred to twenty five hundred feet. Yet, the residence stipulations vary individually from state to state on the intensity and specifics at hand. Some states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Washington, and Idaho, do not require sex offenders to move from their residence if a forbidden facility is built or law is enacted after the offender’s permanent placement at that particular residence. Such states as Minnesota and Oklahoma do not provide exclusions allowing alterations to residence restriction laws, but Oregon, on the other hand, does not take distance into contemplation, but instead, the primary occupancy of children on a permanent basis within the home in consideration of the offender’s allowance per their parole or probation officer’s decision on the matter (Laney).
Committing to a residence requires a convicted sex offender to be notified of local registration aspects by local law enforcement when convicted of the offense after January 1, 2005. The notification must be acted upon by the offender within five business days of receipt. If and when an offender is released from imprisonment they must confirm their registration status within five business days. Registration includes the offender’s sex, height, weight, date of birth, any identifying characteristics, specific statutes of their conviction, and even the accompaniment of a current photograph and set of fingerprints. Furthermore, an offender’s email addresses, chat room IDs, or instant messaging aliases must be surrendered to authorities. In Colorado, an offender is subject to reregistering on the basis of moving to a new location; changing their legal name, employment, volunteer, identifying information used online or enrollment status at a place of postsecondary education. Keeping up with modern times through the access of public information through the use of technology, a web-based registration list can be found on county websites, in any state, that name adult convicted sex offenders that are sexually violent predators convicted of unlawful sexual acts as a felony, crimes of violence, or by failure to register as required. Legally, “any person who is a sexually violent predator and any person who is convicted as an adult...has a duty to register for the remainder of his or her natural life” (Committee of Legal Services of the Colorado General Assembly). Exceptions to this include deferred sentencing for the offense or petition of the court for termination of registration to then possibly result in the offender reregistering themselves each and every ninety days up to and after their birthday for ‘commission of the offense’ (Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, Colorado Sex Offender Management Board).
Behavior modification programs have been shown to reduce recidivism in sex offenders. Often such programs use principles of applied behavior analysis. Two such approaches from this line of research have promise. The first uses operant conditioning approaches which use reward and punishment to train new behavior such as problem solving and the second uses respondent conditioning procedures such as aversion therapy. Many of the behaviorism programs use covert sensitization and/or odor aversion, which are both forms of aversion therapy and have had ethical challenges to them. Such programs are effective in lowering recidivism by 15-18 percent. The use of aversion therapy procedures remains a controversy and is often discussed as an ethical issue related to the professional practice of behavior analysis.
In 2007, the Texas State Auditor released a report showing that sex offenders who completed the Texas Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) were 61% LESS LIKELY to commit a new crime. (See “An Audit Report on Selected Rehabilitation Programs at the Department of Criminal Justice.” Texas State Auditor. March 2007. Report No. 07-026. Retrieved Oct 20, 2009. http://www.sao.state.tx.us/reports/main/07-026.html.)
Chemical castration is used in some countries and states to treat sex offenders, it is reversible once medication is stopped unlike physical castration.
For sex offenders with severe or extreme paraphilias physical castration appears to be effective as, historically, it results in a 20-year re-offense rate of less than 2.3% vs. 80% in the untreated control group, according to a large 1963 study involving a total of 1036 sex offenders by the German researcher A. Langelüddeke, among others, much lower than what was otherwise expected compared to overall sex offender recidivism rates. Although considered to be a cruel and unusual punishment by many, physical castration does not otherwise affect the lifespan of men compared to uncastrated men.
Therapists use various ways to test the dangerousness of sex offenders. Below are some tests used to determine a sex offender's risk to reoffend:
- Child sexual abuse
- Day care sex abuse hysteria
- Sex and the law
- Sex offender registration
- Sexual predator
- United States National Sex Offenders Public Registry
- Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act
- Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act
- Jessica Lunsford Act
- Jessica's Law
- Megan's Law
Monitoring, assessment, other
- Jeffrey Dahmer — American serial killer with 17 known victims. Many of his killings included sexual assaults.
- Richard Allen Davis — Convicted of kidnapping, committing a lewd act on, and murdering Polly Klaas (see "Victims" section).
- Josef Fritzl — An Austrian man who began sexually abusing his daughter Elisabeth in 1977 and kept her imprisoned in his home from 1984 until 2008. He repeatedly sexually abused and raped Elisabeth, resulting in the births of seven children and one miscarriage. One of the children died in infancy, and three were imprisoned along with Elisabeth until 2008.
- Jesse Timmendequas — A registered sex offender who lured Megan Kanka (see "Victims" section) to his house and then raped and murdered her.
- Peter Tobin — British criminal with a long record, including convictions for two rapes, who was convicted of the rape and murder of a female Polish student in 2007. After this conviction, he was found guilty of the murders of two teenage girls who disappeared in 1991, and has reportedly claimed to have killed more than 40 other people.
- Ottis Toole — Serial killer who confessed to multiple murders and rapes; believed to be the killer of Adam Walsh (see "Victims" section).
- Don Vito — American reality television personality convicted of groping two 12-year-old girls in 2007.
- Megan Kanka — Megan’s Law is a law based on the avoidable rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka. This California state law to make known the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders as public knowledge was passed in 1996. Unaware of the child molester moving in across the street from their home, the Kanka family was destroyed. Through the heartache of the tragedy, Megan’s family fought to make their story known in the hopes of providing awareness and precautionary opportunity to each and every family living among convicted sex offenders and working towards preventing their family’s circumstances from being repeated. Though offenders may view this public awareness through varying opinions, the Law is not a discriminatory practice, but instead, a public service and right to personal safety measures. Because of their efforts, each state can thank the Kankas for some form of Megan’s Law (State of California Department of Justice).
- Polly Klaas — Kidnapped at age 12 from her California home in 1993. Richard Allen Davis, who had a criminal record dating to the late 1960s that included some sex crimes, was convicted of her murder.
- Jessica Lunsford — Kidnapped at age 9 from her Florida home in 2005 and murdered by John Couey, a previously convicted sex offender. The Jessica's Laws passed in many U.S. states were inspired by her case.
- Dru Sjodin — University of North Dakota student kidnapped in 2003 and found dead five months later. A registered sex offender was convicted of her murder.
- Adam Walsh — On July 27, 1981, Adam Walsh’s abduction not only turned the lives of his parents upside down, but also every other home with small children across the country. At this point in time, it was deemed safe and acceptable to leave children in the car or toy section of a store unattended. Adam Walsh, only six-years-old, stayed playing video games with three other boys in the toy section of Sears while his mother shopped for lamps only a few feet away. When the four boys acted up, they were told to leave because the other boys informed security that their parents were not in the store. Returning to the video games, Adam’s mother searched frantically for her son who was nowhere to be found. Hours passed by before the police were called and Adam’s mother taken seriously by Authorities. Between the news casts, flyers, and alerts that were disbursed in Hollywood, Florida, and ultimately nationwide, Adam’s family and the parents of America grew weary of his chances of being alive. Two weeks later, a fisherman reported a severed head in an irrigation canal nearly one hundred miles away from the Sears department store that Authorities deciphered to be Adam Walsh by dental record and the verification of a family friend. Two years later, detained convicted felon and offender Otis Toole confessed to the kidnapping and murder of a young boy he picked up in a Hollywood, Florida Sears parking lot. Initially, Toole’s story was flawed with blame on a partner, followed by a confession of his solo action in the crime, and a description of events identical to Mrs. Walsh’s testimony. Yet, even after walking the police through each step and scenario that had taken place that summer day of 1981, Toole retracted his confession of ever committing the heinous crime. With this, Adam’s parents made it their mission to be activists for missing children, and never surrendered their son’s right to justice and their own peace of mind to finally receive closure to the case. Passing away in prison where he had resided for hundreds of other accounted for murders he had committed, Toole was finally to blame and announced as such by Authorities twenty-seven years later (Fox.com). This tragedy depicts the importance of public awareness of those specifically intending on harming children, however that may be. This repeat offender provided numerous instances and examples of which he should have been permanently incarcerated for, but he was not even under supervision or probation of any kind to manage his activities in the outside world, interaction with children, or chances of murdering again.
- Jacob Wetterling — Kidnapped at age 11 from his Minnesota hometown in 1989 and has not been seen since.
- John Walsh — Father of Adam Walsh and host of America's Most Wanted.
- Patty Wetterling — Mother of Jacob Wetterling. Notable for opposing very broad registration laws that classify minor offenders on the same scale as high-risk predators.
Shows & organizations
- America's Most Wanted
- Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- Polly Klaas Foundation
- To Catch a Predator
- BOJ Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994, November 2003 http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsorp94.pdf
- U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Offenders Statistics: Recidivism, statistical information from the late 1990s and very early 2000s, retrieved May 4, 2007
- Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994, June 2002 http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/rpr94.pdf
- North Carolina Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry, searches performed as of May 6, 2007
- Sex Offender Registry Review 2007
- Marshall, W.L., Jones, R., Ward, T., Johnston, P. & Bambaree, H.E.(1991). Treatment of sex offenders. Clinical Psychology Review, 11, 465-485
- Maguth Nezu, C., Fiore, A.A. & Nezu, A.M (2006). Problem Solving Treatment for Intellectually Disabled Sex Offenders. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 2(2), 266-275 BAO
- Rea, J. (2003). Covert Sensitization. The Behavior Analyst Today, 4 (2), 192-201 BAO
- Marshall, W.L., Jones, R., Ward, T., Johnston, P. & Bambaree, H.E.(1991). Treatment of sex offenders. Clinical Psychology Review, 11, 465-485
- http://www.brainphysics.com/research/ocpara_bradford99.html "THE PARAPHILIAS, OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE SPECTRUM DISORDER, AND THE TREATMENT OF SEXUALLY DEVIANT BEHAVIORS" by J. M. W. Bradford
- Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994
- CSOM Publications - Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders
- Facts about Sex Offenders (ATSA)
- Human Rights Watch Report - No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US
- Internet Safety Technical Task Force Report - Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies
- FBI - Registries for each state
- National Sex Offender Registry
- Recidivism: How often do Child Molesters go on to Reoffend?
- Female Sex Offenders