Dirty Dozen List 2021 - Seeking Arrangements

The Problem

Amid worldwide economic uncertainty due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Seeking Arrangement is doing better than ever, leeching off of the vulnerable. 

Seeking Arrangement is a sugar dating website that 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. 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. In this system, men are encouraged to engage in no strings attached relationships with beautiful young women. Meanwhile, “sugar babies” are told that this experience will empower them and benefit them both financially and experientially. 

In most cases, “sugar dating” is just another term for prostitution.  

Research has found that “the majority of sugar dating and other similar sex for money ‘mutually beneficial arrangements’ are illegal, as they are forms of prostitution, and state prostitution statutes should reflect this reality, regardless of the wealth of the parties involved.” 

The men, the “sugar daddies” who feed the demand for “sugar dating” are there to gratify their own sexual entitlement.  

One young woman who signed up for Seeking Arrangement described being pressured into sexual activity: 

“It’s not just 55-year-old guys with a bit of cash they want to spend on spoiling a 20-year-old. That’s the pipe dream they sell you. It’s a lot of men with really strange and dark fantasies… “You get the idea that it’s not really sexual, as that’s the image portrayed in the media. When I went on it, I thought I wouldn’t really have to do a lot. I didn’t realize the level that was expected. I thought, at the worst, I would have to send some photographs and do some webcam-ing, I didn’t know how explicit it was going to be and just how awful it is. It’s a load of men with really obscure fantasies and fetishes. A lot of it is about inflicting sadistic stuff on girls and students who are vulnerable. It’s all pretty extreme…Through me being on there, I was recruited into the sex industry…Just because we are adults, it doesn’t mean we are not vulnerable. Men still prey on you. The predators and the pimps prey on 18 to 25-year-olds that they know are financially desperate.” 

“Both prostitutes and sugar babies are bought by men willing to pay them to be sexually available, and they’re both damaging acts,” says Kathleen Barry, PhD, author of The Prostitution of Sexuality. “Unlike [prostituted persons], sugar babies have a delusion about their autonomy. They believe that paying their tuition without loans or carrying a Prada bag makes up for whatever they’re giving away. These young women may act with bravado, but they often feel shame. The power inequality mostly benefits the daddy,” she says, “leaving the ‘baby’ as powerless and dependent as her namesake.” 

Seeking Arrangement’s facilitation of sugar dating is taking advantage of socioeconomically vulnerable populations. 

In April 2020, it was reported that “World-wide [Seeking Arrangement] has seen a member increase of 74% compared to this same time last year. In Massachusetts that number is even higher at 86%.” This increase has a telling concurrent correlation with 6 million Americans (over 181,000 in Massachusetts) filing for unemployment claims around the same time. Seeking Arrangement promotes itself to those who are vulnerable in this way, notably those who are also increasingly pressured by economic context to accept sexual contact in the sugar dating relationship so that they can pay rent or buy groceries to live.  

Further, Seeking Arrangement targets college students who are struggling with student debt with advertisements and free premium accounts, in order to provide sexual gratification to more socio-economically advantaged men. 

One young woman who uses sugar dating to pay for college, commented on the overwhelming student debt facing her and her peers, she stated, “Maybe if the American college system wasn’t as corrupt, then there would be a lot less people doing it, and I wouldn’t have come across it.” 

Another former sugar baby and college student stated: “Without a doubt, you are putting yourself in an extremely vulnerable position. There is a reason the men have chosen SeekingArrangement over eHarmony.com and that is to have sex with younger girls.” In the same article, one sugar daddy said, “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having a very young sugar makes an already exciting experience even hotter.” 

Make no mistake, sugar dating is prostitution with a thin veneer of relationship and it is vital to push back against the normalization of such an exploitative trend. 

WARNING: Any pornographic images have been blurred, but are still suggestive. There may also be graphic text descriptions shown in these sections.
POSSIBLE TRIGGER.

Proof

Examples of First Messages from Men

Examples of First Messages from Men

Below is a sample of first messages sent by men through SeekingArrangement:

 

 

 

The Connection to Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, & Violence

The Connection to Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, & Violence

Research has found that "the majority of sugar dating and other similar sex for money 'mutually beneficial arrangements' are illegal, as they are forms of prostitution, and state prostitution statutes should reflect this reality, regardless of the wealth of the parties involved."

Many individuals involved in sugar dating do not consider it prostitution because the exchanges involve socializing and conversation. Seeking Arrangement has even claimed to employ AI technology to remove direct prostitution solicitation on its website (it’s safe to say we doubt how robust those efforts really are.)  And we cannot forget that the entire premise of SeekingArrangement is based on a power imbalance that caters to the man's choice about the tone of the relationship, and so many young women are vulnerable to exchanges contingent on sexual access, which by definition amounts to prostitution.

Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Sexual Violence

As reported in November 2020 by the Washington Post:

A Northern Virginia attorney was arrested in Miami and accused of coercing underage girls into sexual activity...Prosecutors say Erausquin met one victim on Seeking Arrangement, a website geared toward wealthier older men looking for younger partners who need financial help. Others were the student’s friends or met him on Tinder, where he pretended to be 18, according to the affidavit. While some victims falsely told him they were 18, according to the affidavit, when one told him the truth, she said he “indicated . . . that he kind of knew their ages the entire time and liked it.” One 16-year-old told police it was “obvious” she and a friend who met Erausquin were not adults. He would pick up or drop off victims at school, prosecutors said.

As reported in January 2020:

Megan King says she joined the website [Seeking Arrangement] when she was a 23-year-old single mother who was working part-time, to raise money for a master's degree, but she was soon coerced into selling her body for sex..."It's not just 55-year-old guys with a bit of cash they want to spend on spoiling a 20-year-old," said Megan. "That's the pipe dream they sell you. It's a lot of men with really strange and dark fantasies...A lot of it is about inflicting sadistic stuff on girls and students who are vulnerable. It's all pretty extreme…Through me being on there, I was recruited into the sex industry…Just because we are adults, it doesn't mean we are not vulnerable. Men still prey on you. The predators and the pimps prey on 18 to 25-year-olds that they know are financially desperate."

According to the Minnesota Daily: "In 2017, a University student, who is not being identified to protect her identity, reached out to The Aurora Center at the University for support while being harassed by a man she met on SeekingArrangement. According to a Minnesota District Court transcript of her testimony, the student alleged the man sexually assaulted her around the time they met. The two then engaged in an arrangement that lasted four months, and after she tried to end it, she alleges he harassed her through social media."

 

Rape case tied to a sugar dating site: "Central Finland police have confirmed that they are investigating the suspected rape of a 17-year-old girl in a case linked to 'sugar dating'."

 

According to this article: "Emma, a 21-year-old University of Louisville student [who is a sugar baby] has encountered her own scare. "I'd been talking to a guy in Beverly Hills for months, and I told him I wasn't comfortable sleeping with him the first time we met. He said, 'That's okay, I just want some company,' and flew me out there," she says. "But when I got there, he tried to push me to get physical, and he wouldn't take no for an answer. I left early and never talked to him again. I was alone, vulnerable, and across the country from home. It made me wonder what would have happened if I didn't get it under control," she says."

Expert Testimony:

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 coordinator Laura Ramirez. “The sugar daddy would convince the woman to do certain things, and hold a gift above their heads,” 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."

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,” says 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.”

According to Global News: "Dating expert Frank Kermit has met with a number clients who used to be sugar babies and sugar daddies. He told Global News 'the majority of people who get involved in this want sex and that’s what it comes down to'."

A former "sugar baby" wrote: "Sex was never a requirement on Seeking Arrangement, though I found it was often the main aspiration for these men. I didn't hate intercourse; it felt like exercise — sweaty and cardiovascular. I capitalized on my indifference. With nothing at stake for me emotionally, money replaced the pursuit of pleasure. It was an incentive — a tangible, guaranteed reward in exchange for my consent." [ She later spoke about entering into therapy and reconciling childhood sexual abuse where she received gifts in exchange for her silence played into her mindset regarding sugar dating.]

"Both prostitutes and sugar babies are bought by men willing to pay them to be sexually available, and they're both damaging acts," says Kathleen Barry, PhD, author of The Prostitution of Sexuality.

She goes on to say: "Being a sugar baby, even for a short time, can have lasting negative psychological effects," says Barry. "Sugar babies make themselves commodities in order to earn commodities. The Prada bag he buys you is so you keep being sexually available to him, not because he values your worth as a person," she says. "Doing this com­promises your independence at a fundamental emotional level, and you start losing your sense of self. Even if these students feel they're making their own choices, there's nothing more regressive and damaging to a woman's psyche than having to build your experience around pleasing a man."

"A lot of them get into this thinking they won’t have to have sex. Thinking this is a mutual relationship, he wants someone to look good and I look good. And that’s the end of it," said Deanna Wallace, a Victim Assistance Specialist with Homeland Security Investigations, who added that often, that isn’t the end of it. “It has the potential to go into a situation that can cause harm, like a trafficking situation. It’s the isolation of the victims that are similar; it’s the unequal power of the relationship that people are going into.”

Three College Students Analyzing Sugar Dating (full article here):

Sarah: One student told us her Sugar Daddy was her “first boyfriend;” he flew her to Colorado and later found her a job. Another said she wanted a Sugar Daddy to pay her just to hang out with him, but it didn’t turn out that way. She said she felt degraded, like a piece of meat, and that as long as you don’t feel weirded out dating your parents’ creepy old friend, you’ll be fine. What struck me is that not one Sugar Baby mentioned the word “prostitution.” Each woman portrayed herself as super feminist and said she joined the site looking for mature men “with benefits.” They don’t talk about objectification, the power imbalance, or the harm these encounters can cause them.

Raphaela: Another student told us she went on three “dates,” then stopped. It made her uncomfortable. They convince themselves that it’s not prostitution, just dating in exchange for travel, money, and shopping, but every Sugar Baby we spoke to was offered money for sex. The three of us are privileged, so college tuition is thankfully not a crippling concern, but no girl should have to sell her body for an education in the United States.

 

Averi: The existence of Sugar Babies harms young women everywhere. The implications are much broader than the experiences of just one person. If a future supervisor happens to be one of those Sugar Daddies, for example, he might see any of us as a potential Sugar Baby. That narrative of women as commodities is pervasive and dangerous.

Targeting College Students & Economically Vulnerable

Targeting College Students & Economically Vulnerable

Student Experiences

A former sugar baby and college student stated the experiences had “affected my mental health a lot” and that they now “regret that I had to turn to doing that just to survive.”

Another former sugar baby and college student stated: “Without a doubt, you are putting yourself in an extremely vulnerable position. There is a reason the men have chosen SeekingArrangement over eHarmony.com and that is to have sex with younger girls.” In the same article, one sugar daddy said, “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having a very young sugar makes an already exciting experience even hotter.”

One student who signed up on SeekingArrangement noted the vulnerability of being a student on the site, saying “They [sugar daddies] know that you’re hard done by and I think a lot of the time they push their luck because as students we are in a bracket of society that is less likely to say no.”


SeekingArrangement currently claims to have more than 3 million college students on its platform.

“Why hope for financial aid when you can guarantee it with a sugar daddy?” says Brandon Wade, the site’s founder and CEO. “Student loans lead to endless debt, which amounts to more than a new graduate can handle."

 

SeekingArrangement targets students struggling with student debt.

2020 Seeking Arrangement promotional video highlighting student debt.

SeekingArrangement gives "Free Premium Memberships" to students who sign up with their school email addresses.

Take Action

Tell DOJ to Investigate SeekingArrangement

Ask the DOJ to investigate SeekingArrangement for facilitating sex trafficking and prostitution.

Don't Legalize Prostitution

It would make a grave problem worse

Email the Google Play App Store

Email Google Play app store executives to tell them to stop hosting this exploitive app.

The Violence of Prostitution

Download This Free Resource

18 Myths On Prostitution

Download This Free Resource

#MeToo Must Include Prostitution

Download This Free Resource

Share Your Story

Have you, or someone you know, been negatively impacted by SeekingArrangement or sugar dating?

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