While the term "sexual predator" is sometimes used to describe anybody who obtains sexual contact via less-than-honest means, the term has a clear legal connotation, as well. Used to refer to both potential sex criminals and those who have a history of committing sexual crimes, the term is sometimes confusing to those outside law enforcement.
In the broad sense of the word, sexual predators are people who commit sexual crimes. The term "predator," however, usually indicates a repeat offender who enjoys the feeling of "hunting down" his prey. Many sexual predators attack only a particular type of victim, such as children of a certain age, sex or race. Sexual predators are usually friendly, self-assured individuals who target their victims carefully, rather than choosing at random.
Sexual predators often get attached to their victims. Attachment often results in cyberstalking or harassment, when the predator constantly contacts the victim to ask for sexual favors (which can be anything from posing naked on camera to meeting for sex), and threatening death or injury to the victim or her family if she doesn't comply. If the response is not acceptable, the criminal usually starts contacting friends, posting photos of the victim online and giving away her phone number, making phone calls and making direct threats.
The term "sexual predator" doesn't always indicate that a person has committed a crime, since the legal definition of the term varies according to each state. Usually, law enforcement uses the term "sexual predator" when talking about someone who searches for a victim regardless of whether the person actually attacks somebody or commits a crime.
In certain states such as Illinois, the term "sexual predator" is used to refer to people who have sex with minors, regardless of whether the sex is consentual (statutory rape) or violent. Endangering the welfare of a child through sexual acts or sexualized conduct, or kidnapping a child with the intention of raping or prostituting him are considered part of the behavioral pattern of a sexual predator.
People who habitually engage in Internet discussions of a sexual nature with minors are considered sexual predators. Aside from trying to lure children into offline meetings, predators are also on the lookout for photos or conversations of a sexual nature. They also use children to secure information they can use later for other attacks, such as the best way to get into a school's dormitory or whether a group of kids often plays outside without adult supervision.