by Johanna Olivas
The phenomenon of “sugar babies,” – where debt-burdened young people seek romantic relationships with older individuals for financial compensation — have been recently in the news. A recent Huffington Post article told the story of a young college student seeking a way out of her college debts and we couldn’t help but draw the connections between these highly exploitative relationships and the potential vulnerabilities linked to situations of human trafficking.
Part 1: How Student Debt Can Lead to Survival Sex
Survival sex is a term commonly understood within the context of the runaway, homeless, youth (RHY) community whereby youth turn to prostitution as a means of survival – exchanging sexual services for basic necessities such as food and shelter. Today, educational debt is putting some young adults in the same dire situation.
Financial aid and student loans are what make college education a possibility for the majority of students in the United States. Although payments are usually deferred until after graduation, many are finding it extremely difficult to find a job in the current economy leaving them with enormous debt to repay and no income. The harsh reality of graduating with a large debt has instituted the equally unfortunate phenomenon of “Sugar Daddies, Sugar Mammas and Sugar Babies.”
Sugar Daddies/Mammas offer students the opportunity to pursue a debt-free college education for a price – their bodies. Through websites like SeekingArrangement.com, current college students and recent graduates (aka Sugar Babies) can be matched with potential suitors who may help pay their college bills in exchange for sex and/or companionship.
Just as human traffickers lure victims into exploitative situations by preying on their hopes to improve their lives and the lives of their families, Sugar Daddies/Mammas prey on the financial vulnerability of recent graduates. Both Sugar Daddies/Mammas and traffickers also often promise a chance for a better life or new and exciting opportunities.
Higher education, financial success and a stable future are attainable goals without the heightened-risk arrangements offered by SeekingArrangement.com. This article starkly shows the exploitative nature of such practices as well as the challenges students face when they want to leave the financial security of these relationships behind. Many face the challenge of transitioning back to a normal job with fewer financial resources.
If you know of anyone who is in an arrangement or considering entering into one, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-3737-888. We are available 24 hours a day, 365 days, to assist with safety planning information and any other support assistance.
Part 2: Why Debt is Not the Only Vulnerability for Sugar Babies
by K. Reyzis
Vulnerability to any crime is subject to a variety of socioeconomic, cultural, and independent factors that place some individuals at higher risk of entering dangerous situations than others. Although financial insecurity is a huge vulnerability for many college students and recent grads, it is not necessarily the only factor in a persons decision to be come a sugar baby.
People from marginalized neighborhoods or populations are more likely to fall victim to enticement toward financial independence and a better life. Led by promises of extravagant dating options and relationships that can provide stability, victims are likely to believe that these relationships offer relief and the possibility of a brighter future.
Oftentimes, friends can also spread the sugar baby trend. Once one person gets into the life, others can be enticed down the same path even more easily. Hearing about sugar babies from a friend makes the process a lot less intimidating, and the more people who join, the faster the trend grows. Websites work hard to facilitate this growth by offering free membership and ‘anonymity’ to those who are just starting out. To reach college students they even offer greater discounts for those with emails ending in .edu.
Becoming a sugar baby is simple, but living with the choice is far more difficult. Seldom do these sugar babies meet their sugar daddies/mammas beforehand. Often, they are taken to a strange home, greeted by a middle-aged man or woman and then required to perform sexual acts with them. They risk their safety and their lives every time they enter a new person’s home.
People frequently ask why a person would choose to enter an exploitative situation despite evident red flags. But what is more important to ask is: Can a person leave that situation when they want to? And what help do they need to escape? The inability to find alternative financial assistance and, in some cases, physical or emotional abuse can trap a sugar baby. These issues are the real root of the problem.
If you or someone you know is engaged in commercial sex against their will or is under the age of 18, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.
Source: Polaris Project