The popular image of the sex offender registry is that it is an attempt to protect vulnerable members of the public against highly dangerous and violent sexual predators and rapists. Being on a sex offender registry is often for life and can bar a person from various jobs, professional licenses, being able to live in certain locations, and a host of other sanctions.
Yet who gets placed on the sex registry in recent years has been expanded so broadly as to include children as well as adults who in many instances never really "victimized" anyone at all. Some of the examples are so overbroad as to seem ridiculous. For example, minors who take naked pictures of themselves can get put on a sex offender registry for either creation, possession, or circulation of child pornography. If such pictures are sent over the Internet or a smartphone, they can be charged with a federal child pornography charge if the photos or videos are seen in another state.
Public urination can be grounds for being placed on a sex offender registry in some states, as can "flashing" your breasts if you are a woman, or other "indecent exposure" regardless of gender.
Another common thing that gets people placed on a sex offender registry involves rather commonplace teen romances, as in one case where a 17-year-old female high school student was placed on the registry for having consensual sex with her classmate boyfriend who was then 15. The unfairness of this is evident in that these young people are being branded for life as equivalent to those who rape someone at the point of a gun or knife for engaging in a commonplace sexual relationship that many millions have engaged in. Some jokingly say it would probably decimate high school populations if every high school student who had consensual sex with a paramour a year or two younger were incarcerated.
A number of kids were required to register as "sex offenders" after they were adjudicated as a delinquent for "sex crimes" that in some cases were as mild as a 13-year-old boy who allegedly tried to hug a girl in his elementary school "too much."
Visiting a prostitute or engaging in incestuous conduct, even on a voluntary nature with an adult family member, are other offenses that often get people placed on a sex offender registry.
The potentially devastating lifelong consequences of being labeled a sex offender are serious enough to mandate that anyone accused of even the most minor sexual offenses retain experienced criminal defense counsel to fight the charges.
Source: Business Insider, "7 Surprising Things That Could Make You A Sex Offender" Erin Fuchs, Oct. 09, 2013