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The term sexual predator is used pejoratively about a person who is seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual intercourse in a metaphorically predatory manner. Analogous to how a predator hunts down its prey, so the sexual predator is thought to "hunt" for his or her sex partners. People who commit sex crimes, such as rape or child sexual abuse, are commonly referred to as sexual predators, particularly in tabloid media or as a power phrase by politicians.
The term is applied according to a person's moral beliefs, and does not necessarily denote criminal behaviour. For example, an adult male who cruises a bar looking for consensual sex from an adult female could be considered a sexual predator by some.
There are problems with the definition. An eighteen-year-old boy who slaps the buttocks of a twelve-year-old girl is considered a sexual offender in some states. Likewise, a seventeen-year-old girl who has consensual sex with a thirteen-year-old boy can be charged with statutory rape and sentenced as a sexual predator. Whilst some people who are personally and/or morally opposed to sex alternatives, especially 'unnatural' ones, are happy with a definition that implies the seeking of sex as possibly unloving, harmful and dangerous, others believe that the definition of a sexual predator or offender should be more tightly defined to mean only those who 'really are dangerous sexual predators'. Some go as far as to say that the phrase is a product of moral panic, which unfairly draws lines between sex (productive) and violence (destructive), marking and fuelling 'unhealthy' misrepresentations of violent acts of physical assault as 'sexual in essence'.
Some U.S. states have a special status for criminals designated as sexually violent predators, which allows these offenders to be held in prison after their sentence is complete if they are considered to be a risk to the public. They can also be placed on a sexual offender or sexual predator list which is viewable by eveyone on the Internet.
According to Dateline, as of January 2006, law enforcement officials estimate that as many as 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment.  That number has been cited by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in speeches touting the dangers of child predators.  However the origins of that figure have been questioned by the Legal Times,  and Dateline says it will no longer use it. 
Distinction from sex offenders
The term "sexual predator" is often considered distinct from "sex offender". Many U.S. states also see these differences legally. A sexual offender is a person who has offended another sexually. A sexual predator is often used to refer to a person who has habitually offended one or mulitple victims. Most offenders against children are considered sexual predators no matter how many offenses they have.