Sex Crimes & Sex Offender Registration Laws

Topics: Sex Education

Sex crimes are some of the most controversial and captivating crimes in the public eye. While most people consider sex crimes to only include rape and the molestation of children, there are many different types of criminal sexual conduct. Other crimes that fall into the category of common sex crimes are incest, sodomy, the possession, production, or distribution of child pornography, molestation, the exploitation of children and adults, rape, deviate sexual intercourse, statutory rape, sexual contact, and sexual assault, indecent exposure, prostitution, and solicitation.

Sex offender registration laws were implemented in the 1990s to curb convicted sex offenders from committing additional crimes. The belief is that public awareness, coupled with offender tracking would lead to sex crime prevention.

Sex offender registration laws are a tertiary crime prevention tactic and have undergone several changes since their original implementation. Rape is most often thought of when discussing sex crimes, it is important to note that the definition of rape has changed throughout history.

Rape originally was a crime of property since women have historically been considered the property of her father, and later, the property of her husband . A conviction of rape meant that sex had to have occurred between the man’s daughter/wife by another man. Interestingly, people were punished more harshly if the woman was a virgin. There was a push for “Rape Reform” in the 1970s that began to change the definition of rape, but also made prosecution difficult-a sad fact that stands to this very day.

Up until then spousal rape or rape of males was not prosecutable, much less acknowledged.

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In the 1990s several changes took place that revised existing rape laws and evidentiary standards in all 50 states. Rape as a singular crime is now a series of crimes that are graded by seriousness includes male and spousal rape, and sexual assaults in orifices other than vaginal intercourse, to include objects other than the penis without consent-considered deviate sexual intercourse. Please note consent cannot be given by a person under the age of consent or is mentally or otherwise incapacitated to give consent. Rape used to involve the use of force, however, it has since evolved because courts found that “force can exist without violence.” . Sexual intercourse that is not consented to an act of rape, regardless of the sex of the persons involved.

Statutory rape has also evolved throughout the years. While children below the age of consent are legally unable to provide consent to intercourse, there are “Romeo and Juliet” laws that came about in 2006 that will protect teens involved in relationships where they engage in consensual sexual activity if the child is at least 13 years of age, and within 2 years of age from one another without having more than a four-year difference in their ages. Same-sex rape under common law was not considered a crime as females were historically considered to be the only victims, and penetration was compulsory. Unfortunately, men rarely report being raped by women. Many jurisdictions will prosecute same-sex or males raped by women if they meet the criterion of the crime.

“Sexual assault (sometimes known as criminal sexual conduct or sexual abuse) combines all sex offenses and encompasses many other crimes beyond the common law scope of rape.” Sexual contact is the touching, fondling or a person’s body parts with the purpose of sexual pleasure. Sexual assault includes different sex crimes. For example, deviate sexual intercourse is the act of a person placing any part of their genitals in contact with or in another person’s mouth or anus or even sexual intercourse with an animal. Sex offender registration laws have metamorphosed since the implementation of the Jacob Wetterling Act. Jacob Wetterling was 11 years old at the time of his abduction and murder by Danny James Heinrich. The Wetterling Act of 1994 was the first law that enforced specific guidelines that required the tracking of convicted sex offenders by states for 10 years.

Home addresses were confirmed annually. Should an offender commit a subsequent violent sexual crime, their address confirmation would be validated 4 times per year. The tracking information was seldom released to the public at that time . The second law that affected sex offender registration was Megan’s Law. Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by her neighbor Jesse Timmendequas, a twice-convicted child molester when she was 7 years old in 1994. Even though the Wetterling Act made tracking sexual offenders much easier for law enforcement, it was brought to the public’s attention that tracked sex offenders could still be capable of luring new victims. Megan’s Law made more community awareness possible. This new legislation made community notification of offender names and other identifying information a reality. Megan’s Law was an amendment to the existing Wetterling Act that gave the community hope that their neighborhoods would be safer.

The Pam Lychner Sex Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 was yet another piece of legislation created that had an impact on sex offender registration and tracking. After surviving an unsuccessful rape attack in 1990 Pam Lychner became an activist with the group she founded, called “Justice For All.” She wrote the “Pam Lychner Sex Offender Tracking and Identification Act” that would strengthen sex offender registration laws, and provide penalties for those that weren’t compliant with the new requirements. The piece of legislation established the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR). Several things changed when this was enacted in 1996. For starters, this new law gave the FBI authority to require sex offenders to register on the NSOR if they lived in a state that does not have a sufficient registry program and required FBI notification of offenders making a change in their residential address.

Registration for sex offenders was required for at least 10 years after their release, or life if they met certain criteria: 2 or more convictions, aggravated sexual abuse conviction or declared a sexually violent predator. The Adam Walsh Act or SORNA is the most recent legislation that was passed that has made serious changes to sex offender registry laws. Adam Walsh was a 6-year-old boy that was kidnapped from a Florida Sears department store and murdered in July 1981. Ottis Toole is believed to be his murderer. John Walsh, the victim’s father is an internationally known advocate for abducted children. The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was enacted in July 2006 and superseded the Wetterling Act and its amendments.

SORNA did several things, including making the failure to register as a sex offender a felony offense and created three tiers for sex offenders. Tier III offenders are considered the worst and more dangerous offenders. They have committed acts using force, an unconscious or drugged person, a sex act with a child under 12 or have abducted a child that is not their own. Registration is life long and must be renewed quarterly. Tier II offenders must provide their registry information for 25 years and have committed acts involving minors in prostitution, production or distribution of child pornography, etc. Tier I offenders are required to register for 15 years and must renew their information annually. Offenders may graduate up to more serious tiers for subsequent offenses. All offenders regardless of their tier designation must provide the following information: name, social security number, all relevant addresses (home, school, and work), license number, vehicle description, date of birth, email addresses, passport numbers, all contact phone numbers, fictitious instant messaging names.

Juvenile offenders that are no younger than 14 and have committed a serious sexual offense are required to register as well. A victim’s identity is never made public on the registry. SORNA can also require those previously required to register under the Wetterling Act to be subject to registration as the law can be enforced retroactively. The purpose of sex offender registration is to make communities aware of convicted offenders in their areas, in the hopes that subsequent sex crimes are prevented. The public is given this information in the hopes they will be better able to defend themselves and those in their care from becoming future victims of sex crimes. Some communities have expressed an increased fear when they are notified of a sex offender in their areas.

While being a registered sex offender may benefit them by making them less likely to recidivate, many offenders report issues. They must abide by zoning restrictions that do not allow them to live in areas with nearby schools or parks, registration only compounds the issue. While some sex offenders appreciate the zoning restrictions, the majority find them stressful. Many property owners do not allow registered sex offenders to live on their properties and will go so far as to threaten their families . Once neighborhoods are made aware of the sex offender living in the area, or the offenders are recognized by their photo on the sex offender registry, some citizens take it upon themselves to reject or harass the offenders and their families. Sex offenders report retaliation from the communities. Often their property is damaged or defaced, their families are taunted and harassed, and others are physically assaulted. There have also been incidences of registered sex offenders being murdered by citizen vigilantes.

Sex offenders, like many other ex-convicts, also have difficulty obtaining employment or maintaining and/or being promoted at work. Employment issues are additional stressors this subset of offenders are faced with, which make housing even more difficult to obtain and maintain. Sex offenders must abide by zoning restrictions, find a residence that will accept their registered sex offender status and be able to maintain employment that is necessary to pay for their living costs. Sex offenders may also be required to make annual payments in some states to maintain their registration compliant status.

We should note that sex offenders will be less likely to recidivate if they can break the cycle of violence and become productive members of society. While SORN laws were enacted to protect society, they have also produced significant consequences for those required to register-a double-edged sword. The definitions of sex crimes will continue to change with new leaders, the introduction of different pieces of legislation, and even technological advances. One can hope that the changes to come will allow for easier victim reporting and more successful prosecutions of sex offenders.


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Sex Crimes & Sex Offender Registration Laws. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved from

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