By Tamar Arenson
In a generation of swiping right, sexting and redefined relationships, Sugar Dating has emerged as the new frontier for relationships. Described as mutually beneficial and an exercise of agency for women, Sugar Dating is marketed as relationships in which young, attractive women can meet “experienced men” who will provide everything from mentorship to all expenses paid lavish vacations. Men are prompted to engage in no strings attached relationships with beautiful young women. Sugar Babies are told that this experience will empower them and benefit them both financially and experientially. However, the truth behind sugaring tells a much darker story; one of deception, violence and sexual exploitation.
The largest hub of this new form of sexual exploitation is a website called SeekingArrangement. SeekingArrangement describes itself as creating “relationships on your terms”; terms which the website conveniently does not explicitly define, placing themselves in the gray area of facilitating online commercial sexual exploitation. Rather, the website and many supporters of it claim that Sugar Dating is a consequence-free, easy way to make money that requires no unwanted action on the part of the “baby.”
We know this to be false.
What is at first perceived as agency is often just that, a perception. The moment money is exchanged, that agency is taken away. Lauren Hersh, National Director of World Without Exploitation explained in the New York Post, “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.” Women are told that there is no expectation of sex, but behind closed doors, this is not the case. Cash, gifts and even student loan payments are held over women’s heads as they are forced to engage in activities they did not sign up for. Laura Ramirez, Program Coordinator for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women detailed just how far this manipulation and coercion can go.
“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.”
Sugar Dating has become the new frontier of sexual violence.
Alex Page, a former Sugar Baby bravely came forward to share her survival story after being raped during a date with her “Daddy.” Page explained that what she had been told about sugar dating, and what she had been promised in her arrangement was anything but the truth. When she refused to sleep with her date, he told her he would “get what he paid for” and raped her. When asked about sugar dating, another former sugar baby explained in the Huffington Post, “If this isn’t what prostitution is called, I don’t know what is.” Page explained that the biggest danger in sugar dating is the promise -and illusion- of safety. Page writes, “The single most dangerous propaganda that sugar sites use to convince women that this isn’t prostitution is telling them that sugar daddies understand that sex isn’t a guarantee. I learned the hard way that this isn’t so.” This false sense of safety and agency is exactly what makes sugar dating so frightening.
We must make no mistake, sugar dating is prostitution.
What is even more dangerous is that young, vulnerable and generally financially dependent young women are being coerced into believing that sugar dating is a no-strings-attached ‘relationship’. While SeekingArrangement claims to take precautions to ‘protect’ its users by including reporting functions on their websites and working with law enforcement to prevent those who violate the code of conduct from continuing to participate on the site, it is not enough and never will be. By running an inherently exploitative system masked as a dating site, SeekingArrangement fuels online sexual exploitation and puts thousands of women at risk.