Sexual predator, offender: What's the difference?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The difference in how the legal system brands people convicted of sex crimes, but most people don't know the difference between a sexual predator and sexual offender.

The designation centers on how violent the crime is and the age of the victim.

"Yes I am a sexual predator and I admit it," said James Mott, who sexually abused an 8-year-old girl. 

We also spoke with Donald Bell, a convicted sex offender, who molested a 16-year-old girl whom he eventually married.

Each of these men are labeled for life, must let police know where they are living and have to follow strict rules.

Many law enforcement officials like Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith are glad the rules are so strict.

"Those are the lowest form of life I can think of for me," Smith said. "Those are the people who preyed upon our innocent; people that preyed upon our children, and basically I have no use for them."

As of Nov. 12, there were nearly 2,091 registered sex offenders and predators living in the Duval County alone, and hundreds more in surrounding counties.

According to Florida law, a sexual offender is someone convicted of a sex crime involving a minor and has been released from jail after October 1997. The crimes include child pornography, sexual performance and child prostitution.

A sexual predator is someone convicted of a first-degree felony sex crime or two second-degree felony sex crimes occurring within 10 years after October 1993. It's actually up to a judge to determine the label a person will carry.

Clay County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Scott Moreland helps keep track of predators and offenders in his jurisdiction.

"It comes down basically to the crime that they committed," Moreland said.

And to be included in the state's database of sexual offenders and predators, they must be caught and convicted.

Theresa Simak of the State Attorney's Office deals with these crimes on a daily basis and finds the stories are troubling.

"They are difficult to prove. And they are difficult to try," Simak said.

Simak said these are crimes committed behind closed doors and the victims usually don't want to talk about them.

"These are crimes committed against children who typically rely on these people in some way, you know, like a step-parent or somebody that has a authority over them." Simak said.


About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.