In recent years, the concept of “sugar dating” has gained increasing popularity. In Austria, too, numerous specialized dating sites have existed for some time, focusing on bringing “sugar daddies” or occasionally “sugar mommies” together with “sugar babies”. But what is actually behind this relationship model?
WHAT EXACTLY IS SUGAR DATING?
Sugar dating, sometimes referred to as “sugaring,” is a modern form of dating in which young and attractive women (known on the scene as “sugar babies” or “sugar babes”) often date significantly older, well-heeled men known as “sugar daddies.” Typically, “sugar daddies” are men in their 50s or older, while sugar babes are typically in their 20s and in the midst of an education or degree, making them less financially well-off. There is also the term “sugar mommy,” which describes an older woman who seeks out younger lovers and rewards them handsomely in return, but this type of relationship is much less common.
The term “sugar” in sugar dating indicates that financial benefits such as money, expensive gifts, luxurious trips or other material advantages play a significant role. Often, younger partners are also promised assistance with their careers. The younger person in the arrangement receives these material benefits in return for their companionship, time, and often intimacy.
PROSTITUTION OR A GOOD DEAL?
A controversial issue regarding sugar dating is whether it is a modern form of prostitution. Proponents argue that sugar dating is a type of consensual relationship in which both parties voluntarily enter into consensual agreements. They see it as a way for people to fulfill their needs without any of the usual restrictions of traditional relationships. For example, one of the leading sugar dating websites states that a sugar daddy-sugar baby relationship guarantees “fun, love, lifestyle and much more” for both parties. The “sugar daddy” feels desirable again with a young, attractive woman by his side, while the “sugar babe” can expect a life of luxury. In addition, it is advertised that sugar dating – especially for young women – should enable a life beyond any worries and hardships.
In an interview with the German news magazine “Stern,” Anita – a self-proclaimed “sugar babe” – describes her experience with a “sugar daddy” who paid 3,000 euros for a two-week trip and sex with the 22-year-old. Anita herself is convinced that her arrangement is not prostitution, as she receives the money for specific purposes such as travel expenses. In contrast, prostitution is purely about the exchange of money for sexual services. Additionally, being able to set her own rules makes her feel more independent compared to a prostitute. For example, she does not allow her sugar daddies to spend the night with her, and she has the freedom to actively choose her “sponsors.”
The expert however cannot agree with this. The latter emphasizes that even in prostitution many men seek conversations and invite the prostitutes to social undertakings. He sees sugaring as a form of civil prostitution, since on the surface it resembles a conventional relationship, but ultimately it still revolves around the exchange of money for sexual relations. Once the financial aspect is no longer there or the sexual interest wanes, the parties part ways. From his point of view, everything else is just a deception or illusion. Ron Weitzer, sociology professor at George Washington University and criminologist, therefore speaks of a “prostitution light”.
THE PITFALLS OF THIS RELATIONSHIP MODEL
Although the supposedly “sweet” relationships are promised to be mutually beneficial and a glamorous lifestyle, a bitter reality often reveals itself. Although the numerous dating platforms always explicitly state that it is a connection “at eye level”, it must not be forgotten that in many cases there is a financial dependency and power imbalance between the two parties. The younger person could potentially be pressured to perform sexual acts in order to enjoy the financial benefits. Especially if you are pursuing an education or have financial problems, being a “sugar babe” makes you a victim of power abuse so quickly, even though you may be convinced that you are doing everything out of your own free will.
In addition, research by the investigative format Vollbild of SWR shows that many older men use the sugar dating platforms to specifically establish sexual contacts with minors. Even though you have to give your date of birth in order to register on the dating sites, this is not verified. Thus, circumventing the minimum age of 18 is quite easy. With just a few clicks, you can make contact with the supposed “sugar daddies” after a few minutes, without sufficient age verification.
In the chats with the research team, some “sugar daddies” readily confirmed that they had already met minors and paid for sexual acts – a punishable offense under Section 207b (3) of the Criminal Code: “Anyone who directly induces a person who has not yet reached the age of 18 by means of payment to perform a sexual act on him or a third party or to have him or a third party perform such an act on him shall be punished with imprisonment for up to three years.”
Even when the reporter pretended to be underage, some of the men showed no problem with it and still pushed for a meeting. Beforehand, he asked the alleged minor if she was taking birth control pills and what her sexual preferences were. He also boasted that he had already met with more than ten underage “sugar babes”. The youngest was just 14 years old. With a hidden camera, the reporter finally met the “sugar daddy” and confronted him with the question of why he was looking for minors on such platforms. But the man, a former German politician and entrepreneur, showed little remorse. He was seeking a connection “at eye level” and was merely offering mentorship. He did not see an abuse of power or even a form of child prostitution in this.
Julia von Weiler, director of Innocence in Danger, an organization that works to combat child sexual abuse, warns of the dangers of sugar dating for minors and young women – especially if the young people come from difficult family backgrounds and are seeking financial support and approval. “When a young person meets a much older person, by definition we are dealing with a disparity – of life experience, of power, often power of definition, and financial superiority. This creates dependencies,” she says. Even though some women’s individual experiences may seem positive at first, the “sugar babes” may push their personal boundaries further and further out of fear of violence, loneliness or poverty.
THE CASE OF DANIEL B.
A recent case heard by the Regional Court in Munich illustrates how dangerous sugar dating can be. The defendant Daniel B. was accused of specifically contacting and sexually abusing underage girls between the ages of 13 and 16 via online platforms such as “MySugardaddy”. During the trial, the defendant tried to shift the responsibility onto the victims, arguing that they had voluntarily registered on the platform. However, the court firmly rejected this argumentation and sentenced Daniel B. to three years and six months imprisonment for sexual abuse of children and adolescents in numerous cases. The verdict is not yet final.
The main investigator in the Daniel B. case, Commissioner Elisa Panuccio from Munich, emphasizes that there is no security against sexual abuse on any of the known platforms. There is no reliable age check or verification of users. Stricter age verification would be desirable, but the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs argues that this is not compatible with EU law.
In light of this worrying development, various agencies, including state criminal investigation departments, the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, and the investigating Commissioner Elisa Panuccio, are demanding that platform operators take proactive measures to identify and block underage users. So far, however, the platforms do not seem to be following up on these demands.
Translated by Emily Schiffer
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