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How to Identify a Sex Offender?

A sex offender is an individual who has committed a sexually based offense that would be grounds for arrest and conviction. They typically do not give away who they are by their appearance. Sex offenders tend to lead dual lives. They wear a social camouflage of normalcy to hide their true nature, and get close to their victims. They seldom fulfill the Hollywood stereotype of a google-eyed, drooling, creepy loser in a raincoat, lurking in the bushes of a park.

Types of Sex Offenders

There are various types of sex offenders. The list below reflects their behavior, rather than legal definitions, which will vary between jurisdictions. 

  • Voyeurs watch people undress or have sex, and may photo and video people
  • Exhibitionists display their genitals and masturbate 
  • Frottagers rub against people without consent
  • Picarists penetrate people with a sharp pointed object such as a needle.
  • Rapists have forcible sexual intercourse or oral sex with a non-consenting person.
  • Hebephiles are sexually attracted to early teenagers and older children, about ages 12 to 14
  • Pedophiles are sexually attracted to children, as young as infants. 

Sex offenders may escalate their behavior over time. They may begin with voyeurism and exhibitionism, which are non-physical contact offenses. Surreptitiously touching strangers with a brush of the hand in a crowded place, then brushing or pressing their body against a stranger, and grinding on someone can be a progression. Sex offenders may break and enter, stealing lingerie, underwear, or swimwear, possibly of someone they have been voyeuristically surveilling. They may masturbate into these items, or on a bed or couch. The next step in the escalation is sexual assault, or forcible touching, then rape. This will likely become pattern of a career rapist.

What are the Motives of Rapists?

Rapists tend to operate from several motives: 

  1. They have doubts about their masculinity, sexual orientation, and virility; they feel weak, they rape to reassure themselves of their power.
  2. They have similar doubts as the first type, but are less anxious and more angry and hateful. They are intent on raping to feel powerful and control and dominate their victim.
  3. Other rapists enjoy the act of rape, and seek to inflict the maximum pain and suffering on their victim. They may not be able to perform sexually if there victim is not terrified, and in agony.
  4. Some rapists are enraged at a particular woman in their past; an ex or their mother or a sister. They are projecting this anger on to women who remind them of this female from their past.
  5. Other rapists are opportunists. They are often under the influence of drugs or alcohol, impulsive, very immature and have a low IQ. They may rape during the commission of another crime. These are also the type commonly referred to as date rapists. 

There is a distressing amount of sexual assault that takes place on college campuses and in the military, though the former is believed to be vastly overstated according to some sources. Environments where young people are together in close proximity, eager to gain sexual experience, in a competition with their peers to gain sexual experience, and compounded with alcohol and testosterone and uncertainty and confusion can lead to very bad situations. A further discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this article. 

The Sex Offender Registry and its Limitations

One way to confirm a suspected sex offender is by going to your states Sex Offender Registry. This is a database where offenders are required to register with their location, a photo, a description, and what sexually based offense they were convicted of. The purpose of the registry and making it available for public viewing is for offender accountability and public safety. This is a step in the right direction, but it is limited. When viewing the registry one may be shocked at the number of registered offenders in their neighborhood. But the number does not reflect reality. There may be many more than what you see on the registry. It is like the old adage about mice, for everyone you see, there are 10 more. 

  • Sex offenders refuse to register and slip between the cracks, going undiscovered for months or even years.
  • Sex offenders provide a false address, or fail to update if they move.
  • There are people who committed sex crimes, but pled out to a non-sexual offense such as assault, so they do not have to register.
  • There are sex offenders operating who have not yet come to the attention of law enforcement.

Suspicious Behaviors

There are giveaway behaviors which sex offenders may display, but these are all inconclusive, and must be considered within the context of the behavior. There are some people who are socially inept, or devoid of social skills, but harmless. However they display many of the same suspicious behaviors as a sex offender. Differentiating between the two is difficult even for an expert. The more of these suspicious behaviors are present, the more concern you should have: 

  • Staring at women, children, or men
  • Loitering, especially near a school or playground, or a laundromat.
  • Gradually closing distance with someone. 
  • Following someone.
  • Unwanted, repeated advances or touching

Listening to Your Intuition

Here is a maxim in self-protection: if something feels wrong, then it’s wrong. There are some people which give us an uneasy feeling. They make the hair on the back of our necks stand up. Their presence makes us uncomfortable. There are situations which we will tell ourselves not to get into. We all have that little whisper or tap on the shoulder telling us to get away from this guy, don’t walk down that stairwell, turn around and go back. But we often choose to ignore it. 

What to do if you believe you have identified a sex offender

  • Cut off all contact with them. Remember that statistically, most offenders are known to the victim.
  • Do not engage in vigilante justice
  • Do not make unwarranted public accusations
  • Contact law enforcement
  • If a child, elderly person, or handicapped person is involved, contact the appropriate state protective agency. 
  • Listen to your intuition and go the other way

The world can be a dangerous place. Potential victims need to assume a degree of responsibility for their own safety. 

Related Reading:

How to File a Police Report?

How to Identify a Pedophile?

How to Protect Your Children from Predators?

How to Identify Sex Trafficking Victims?