Are sugar daddies the new student loans?

As costs of tuition increase, more college students are turning to alternative methods to pay for their education, including “sugar daddy” websites, where young women have relationships with men for payment.

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Prostitution has been around as long as man has roamed the earth.  Men paying women for sex, and vice versa, has often been referred to as being a “victimless crime,” but regardless it is still illegal.  In recent years, especially with the increase in technology, there has been a new evolution of prostitution.  Escort sites are increasingly popular, with women promising men dates or company in exchange for payment.  The actual crime of prostitution is money in exchange for sex; the problem lies in the gray areas.

Some refer to it as prostitution; some refer to it as “extreme gifting.”

New spins on online escort websites are sites where the purpose is to connect young women (or men) with “sugar daddies.”  The concept of a sugar daddy is that a man with money pays a young woman (sugar baby) an allowance in exchange for her company.  Some refer to is as prostitution; some refer to it as “extreme gifting.”  The most publicized of these websites is “Seeking Arrangement.”

Brandon Wade, a graduate of MIT, who has also started several other websites including Seeking Millionaire  and Miss Travel, founded Seeking Arrangement. When asked about seeking arrangement, Wade says that he thinks the site works because monogamy and love do not, and even went so far as to say that “love is a concept invented by poor people.”   The website publicizes creating “relationships on your terms,” with over five million active members.  When it comes to the safety of their members, Seeking Arrangement does not currently run background checks on members, although they do provide the option to have third party background checks done.

Safety continues to be a concern for users of the sites.  In 2013, a New York broker was charged with raping a woman he connected with on Seeking Arrangement.  Although the charges were dropped, it brought to light the dangers that accompany online dating of any kind.  Seeking Arrangement does have a blog, where they give safety tips to those who use their website.

Recently, a law student from Villanova came into the news spotlight, after revealing she paid for her law school tuition through seeking arrangement.

College students face increasing tuition costs each year, and face the possibility of paying off student loans for years after they finish their education.  When a student chooses to attend graduate school, the amount of loans is even higher.  Recently, a law student from Villanova Law School came into the news spotlight, after revealing she paid for her law school tuition through seeking arrangement.

She graduated from Villanova in 2016, completely debt free, thanks to sugar-daddy dating websites.  She believes that these websites are a great financial resource for young women.  She dated several men that she met through Seeking Arrangement to pay her tuition, and proudly stands by her decision.

Another student who only wished to be known as “Vanessa,” has also used Seeking Arrangement to pay for her college tuition.  She credits the site for allowing her to focus on school, and less on picking up a ton of shifts to pay the bills.  Vanessa does not view the site at facilitating prostitution, insisting that it is more about making a connection with someone.  Although she does not tell everyone about her lifestyle, she is not ashamed, and is grateful to the men who are helping her graduate debt free.

Young college females are now being offered free memberships.

The young college female is certainly profitable for these websites.  Young college females are now being offered free memberships on the sites, including seeking arrangement.  Only the men they connect with pay a membership fee.  One article estimates that 44 percent of Seeking Arrangement users are college students, and that there was a 50 percent increase in users in the year 2013.

This is not the first time a young woman has entered the spotlight for choice of education funding.   In 2014, a Duke University student was chastised for participating in pornography for pay for her undergraduate education.  Even after financial aid, her bill from the school was 47 thousand dollars, and she turned to pornography work to pay the bill.

Some say this conduct is per se unethical and encourages and assists in dishonest conduct.

If something is not per say illegal, is it still ethical or moral?  All attorneys who practice law in the United States must take and pass a multistate professional responsibility exam, based on the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  These rules are ethical guidelines that lawyers must follow, and each state has its own codified version.  Although technically the law student committed no crime in paying for her legal education, her conduct is in an ethical grey area.  Some say that this conduct is per se unethical and encourages and assists in dishonest conduct.

Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct focuses on the issue of lawyer misconduct, and states that an attorney should not engage in conduct that is dishonest.  Would being involved in sugar-daddy online dating count?  There is no requirement to have sex with anyone for money, but is that not what is really going on?  Currently, there are no hard numbers on how many site users actually have sex with people they meet on the site, but as the amount of people using the site grows, so could research into usage habits.

Women who are involved with these dating websites say that there is a stigma about sugar babies that is incorrect, and that often these men become their friends.  However, students who participate in these “sugar daddy” websites often do not reveal the way that they are paying for their education.  Many feel as if this is the only way they can pay for school without graduating with a ton of student loans.  Young women keep that part of their lives closed off, and many of them feel like if it came out they would be slut shamed.   The basic idea of “slut shaming” is making a person feel guilty for their sexual behaviors that go against the norm.  Some of the women are not afraid of being slut shamed, feeling liberated by their choices, and proud that they found a solution to their financial woes.

What must now be addressed is whether or not law students who participate in this conduct should be allowed to sit for the bar exam.

What must now be addressed is whether law students who participate in this conduct should be allowed to sit for the bar exam and be allowed to practice law.  Some argue that if they are fine with this dishonest conduct, then where will they draw the line?  However, Rule 8.1, which lays out the standards for Bar Admission, does not provide much guidance on the matter.  Ultimately, if they have admitted their conduct, it is up to each states’ board of law examiners to decide whether they can sit for the exam.

When looking over an applicant’s character and fitness application, bar examiners are concerned with four main areas: criminal record, financial responsibility, substance abuse, and lack of candor.  If a student leaves anything off of their bar application, and the examiners find out, that gives them reason to open an investigation, or even deny entry to the state bar.  With that being said, it appears the best option would be complete honesty about where the money to pay for law school came from.  The conduct is not illegal, and the consequences would be worse if the student lied about it.

In the midst of all the grey areas, one thing is clear: these websites are not going anywhere, and more young women will use these sites as a way to fund their education.  Until more women identify themselves as users of these sites, the potential repercussions are unknown.

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About Katelyn Heath, Ethics Editor Emeritus (20 Articles)
Katelyn Heath is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as the Ethics Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. She is from Salisbury, North Carolina and graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Criminal Justice in 2014. Following her first year of law school she attended Baylor Law Schools Academy of the Advocate in Scotland. She is also currently working for Marshall and Taylor PLLC, a local family law firm.
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