The term "sexual predator" can refer to people who display several different types of behavior, all of which revolve around the search for or participation in sexual acts. In some cases, the term may refer to someone who aggressively seeks out sex or sexual acts, or someone who seeks out a sexual partner in a predatory way, such as stalking. In other cases, a sexual predator may be someone who seeks out sex, even if it is consensual sex, but does so either in an aggressive or an obvious manner. A sexual predator should not be confused with a sex offender, though in some cases the terms are interchangeable.
A sex offender is someone who has committed a sexual crime. Sex offenders must register with the state or locale in which they live so they can be identified as a sex offender publicly. A sexual predator, however, does not need to take these steps because he or she may or may not have committed any crime. Some states in the United States do use the term "sexual predator" interchangeably with "sex offender," and they are treated the same way. This can cause some confusion in the public, so most states or regions have chosen to delineate the two.
The behaviors that define a sexual predator will vary on a case by case basis. Someone may be deemed a sexual predator just by seeking out sex at a bar or club. Others may be seen as sexual predators for seeking out exploitative sexual contact — taking advantage of someone who is weaker, intoxicated, or otherwise not in control of his or her mental capacities, for example. People who videotape and distribute pornographic material without the consent or knowledge of the participants may also be considered predatory, and while such acts may be illegal in some locations, the predator is not necessarily a sex offender until he or she is charged with a crime.
The term has become loosely associated with the practice of child molestation or abuse as well. Adults who take advantage of minors sexually, or adults who seek to do so are generally considered sexual predators. If they are caught, they can be charged with crimes and thus become a sex offender. The term is often applied to people who seek out such relationships knowingly and with intention, though since the term is an unofficial one, it can be loosely applied to any situation.