There is a pretty large number of things that can land you on the sex offender registry for life, depending on where you live. It’s not too uncommon for people to be put on the sex offender list for public urination or sexting. Back in 2007, two Oregon boys were at risk of being sex offenders for life for slapping girls on their rears.
As you likely know, in most states it’s illegal for someone 18 or over to have sex with someone 17 or under. There are variations from state to state (in some states those 18 and over can only have sex with minors if they’re three or fewer years younger, for example) but unfortunately the effects these laws have can ruin people’s lives forever.
There was a California man (name withheld) who was over 18 and had consensual sex with his teenage girlfriend. As a result, it landed him on the sex offender registry for life. For three years, he couldn’t legally be anywhere near her, but they waited for each other and eventually got married.
The main reasoning behind these laws is the fear of child predators. While the sex offender registry exists to protect and warn families, the unfortunate problem is that a large number of crimes aren’t the kinds of extreme sex crimes people imagine, and up to 95% of people on the registry never commit other sex offenses.
It’s an unfortunate side effect to a beneficial and protective system, but the bottom line is almost no one lands on the registry by accident.