About sexual offenders

Updated March 23, 2017

Sexual crimes are considered particularly deplorable, which is why sex offenders are the only type of criminals that must be registered with law enforcement even after serving a full sentence. Sexual offenders also are considered especially likely to recidivism and less likely to complete their treatment.

Legal Definition

A sex offender is a person who has been convicted of a sex crime. The legal term is broad and it covers convictions for rape, sexual assault, child molestation, statutory rape and downloading child pornography. It also can include prostitution, date rape, incest and sexual harassment.


The United States Department of Justice has published several studies highlighting recidivism rates, as well as general figures regarding sex offenders. For example, only 24 per cent of convicted sexual offenders are serving time for rape, while the rest have been incarcerated for other sex-related crimes. Sex offenders are four times for likely to commit the same crime again when released than any other criminal. Most child molesters are significantly older than other sex offenders, usually over 40. Most minors who are victims of sexual abuse are under 13 years old.


Law enforcement classifies sex offenders into three main groups or levels. Level 1 are offenders who are considered low risk to the community, unlikely to rescind and are not predatory. Level 1 sex offenders often knew their victims and are first-time offenders. Level 2 are offenders who present a moderate risk, are more likely to commit a crime again and may not complete or follow their recommended treatment. Level 2 offenders are often connected with drug or alcohol abuse and are more likely to abuse the same victim for a longer period of time, rather than moving from one victim to the next. Level 3 sex offenders are considered a high risk because they have characteristics that make them predatory. They are highly likely to assault again and to do it more than once. Many have been convicted more than once for similar crimes.


Once released from prison, sexual offenders must register with the Division of Criminal Justice Services' National Sex Offender Registry. This information is entered into a database, which can be accessed by the general public. However, the information provided to the community depends on the level of the offence. Level 3 sex offenders are clearly identified in the database, which includes their exact address, photograph and crimes committed. Level 2 offenders are identified by name and photo, but only their approximate address is provided. Information on Level 1 sex offenders is only available to authorities, not to the general public, although local residents can check with their authorities to see if any people under that classification are living within the area. Level 1 sex offenders are usually registered for 20 years, while everybody else remains on the database for life.

Punishment and Treatment

The time spent in prison after being convicted of a sexual crime has a lot to do with the type of crime, how violent the act was, the age of the victim and whether the attacker is a first-time offender. Laws also vary from state to state, with some requiring mandatory minimum sentences, no split sentences and no chance for parole or probation. Treatment for sex offenders usually involves therapy, behaviour modification and covert sensitisation (also known as aversion therapy). Chemical castration is indicated in some cases and involve the use of medication that physically deems the offender incapable of experiencing sexual desire or at least reduce libido considerably. Chemical castration is used extensively in six states: Florida, California, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and Montana.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.