RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Paying tuition is a top reason students are turning to "sugar dating," meeting up with "sugar daddies" who pay for school, trips, and other expenses. But at what cost?
VCU recently made the list of fastest-growing sugar baby schools, according to SeekingArrangement.com, which sets "sugar babies" up with "sugar daddies." With 133 new sign ups in 2016, VCU ranks no. 7 in the country.
With minimal advertising and billboards in the area, experts believe the popularity comes from word of mouth, with more students encouraging each other to sign up.
The situation surrounding "sugar dating" is complex; why are students signing up, what are they getting from it, is it considered prostitution? To tackle the topic, VCU brought in Deanna Wallace, a Victim Assistance Specialist.
"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 Wallace, explaining that often, that isn't the end of it.
Wallace works with Homeland Security Investigations, where she helps victims of human trafficking. Over the last year and a half, she has spoken to "sugar babies" to get their input on the decision to join "sugar dating" and the challenges that come along with it.
"They constantly have to justify what they're doing. That if you sleep with someone your attracted to, that can't be prostitution. Or a sugar daddy saying 'if she smiles, it's not prostitution because it's a relationship' then the lines are blurred," she explained.
Her message to students is one of non-judgment - it's an effort to bring awareness to the increasing enrollment on sites like SeekingArrangement.com. She hopes awareness will help girls currently seeking "sugar daddies" to get the resources they need.
"It is not that we come from this from judgment, or saying that what you're doing is wrong. It's that if you enter into this relationship, we want you to be safe. To know that you do have someone you can talk to, that we do have these conversations so if something does happen, we don't have victim blaming," said Wallace.
Since the industry can be so secretive, there is concern over "sugar babies" ending up in compromising situations that could be dangerous.
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