Sugar Daddy sites ‘targeting students’
SUGAR dating sites such as SeekingArrangement.com are aggressively targeting college students - with free premium memberships for signing up under an .edu email plus plenty of assurances that being a "sugar baby" is safe, empowering and profitable.
The sites that pair women with older wealthy males have increased in popularity over the years.
Gabi Grecko admitted to The Daily Mail in 2015 that she met husband Geoffrey Edelsten on sugardaddie.com.
Sugar babies typically do not, in fact, have control over these relationships, which often turn dangerous and exploitative, experts said at a "World Without Exploitation Youth Summit" held in New York for high school and college students.
"Sugaring," as it's called, is seen as a legit potential sideline at New York University, one of the summit's attendees, Julianny Monegro, 19, told the New York Post.
"All you'll hear [on campus] is 'Oh, yeah, like whatever, I'll just drop out and become a sugar baby,'" Monegro, an NYU sociology student, said.
"Or, like, 'That's how I'll pay for school,'" she said.
"And I think a lot of women don't realise the position that they're placing themselves in, and the subjugation that they're sort of willing to go through to have a man pay for their things."
At Harvard University, students tend to have a lighthearted, candy-coated view of "sugaring," history and literature student Mariana De Leon, 19, said after the summit.
"A lot of people would joke about it, like, 'let me go find a sugar daddy,'" De Leon said. "I need to contact all my friends I need to tell them stop those jokes, no more sugar baby jokes."
"Sugaring" almost always involves a coercive exchange of money for sex, the experts at the summit warned - even if the coercion is subtle and regardless of the dating website's promises of "pampering," "mentoring" and "networking."
"You're handed an envelope of money and brought to a hotel room and you're expected to have sex, or they feel they have to," said Coalition against Trafficking in Women program co-ordinator Laura Ramirez.
"And men will start to give you more gifts after you have sex."
Pretty soon a young woman can be on the slippery slope to more extreme behaviour, Ms Ramirez told attendees, describing what she learned in speaking with sugar babies and while going undercover to a "sugar bowl" - a recruitment and networking event.
"The sugar daddy would convince the woman to do certain things, and hold a gift above their heads," Ms Ramirez said.
"Those things included doing drugs and engaging in threesomes, and if the woman is hesitant at first, the man would say, 'Remember that bag I got you?' or 'Remember last week I paid for your hair and nails?' And that is very coercive … It isn't what the website brands as relationships on your terms.
"There is a power imbalance between the man and the woman," Ms Ramirez said.
"There's an expectation that the buyer or the sugar daddy can do whatever he wants, so very often we hear there's extraordinary violence when the door gets shut," adds Lauren Hersh, national director of World Without Exploitation, an anti-trafficking group.
"Very often it's sexual violence and physical violence … When there's a price tag, very often the buyer feels that they can do whatever, whenever and however."
One Brooklyn-based "sugar baby," 23, told Ms Ramirez that she was coerced into an unwanted threesome during one pricey vacation with her "Daddy."
Then there was Alex Page, a former "baby" who blogged about being raped on a date.
"When he made a move on her and she said no, he proceeded to pull her by the hair and rape her saying 'I'm going to get what I paid for,'" Ms Ramirez told attendees.
In a statement, Seeking Arrangement called itself "a law-abiding business" that works with law enforcement to prosecute anyone who breaks the law.
"We are improving our user reporting tools and employing more artificial intelligence software to keep escorts, prostitutes, attempted underage users and those who violate our terms of service and code of conduct off our social network," the statement said.
"To even further discourage these unwanted elements, we will be working on an initiative to proactively report violators to law enforcement."
The dating site is also "working with sex trafficking advocates and experts to fund and launch a non-profit organisation that will work on best practices for identifying, reporting and preventing sex trafficking in a number of industries, including dating, transportation, hospitality, etc."
This article was originally published in the New York Post and has been reproduced here with permission.