CAVEAT: This article is specific to sugaring and teens.
In 2014, a site called as “Seeking Arrangement” (1) was the first to monetize “sugaring”, and since that time, this online industry has grown exponentially with many other sites popping up such as “Sugar Daddy Canada” (2) and “Vancouver Island Sugar Daddy” (3), to name a few.
According to Wikipedia, sugaring is, “a dating practice where a person receives money, gifts, support or other financial and material benefits in exchange for a dating-like service. The person who receives the gift is called a sugar baby, while their paying partner is called a sugar daddy or sugar momma.”
In their beginnings, these so-called “dating” and “companion” sites were primarily targeting young female adults, sometimes males, especially those in college or university as a safe and secure way to help pay for student debt. In fact, in a January 2020 Daily Hive article titled, “UBC Ranks In Top 10 Universities With The Most Sugar Babies In Canada” (4), they found that there were over 300,000 sugar babies in universities across Canada, who had an income that averaged just shy of $3,000.00 per month. However, these sites are also becoming, out of economic necessity, a way to make “survival money” for single parents who have no other source of income to help pay for rent or to buy food and clothes for their child. In other words, sugaring often targets primarily women, sometimes men, who are economically and emotionally vulnerable. It is because of this fact, that like it or not, a sugar daddy starts from a clear position of power over many of intended sugar babies that they can exploit, especially when it comes to teens.
A disturbing trend when it comes to sugaring, the increase in youth, those under the age of 18yrs, who are both knowingly and willingly involved in sugaring, or were randomly approached and solicited online by a sugar daddy.
In order to sign up for a sugaring site, like Seeking Arrangement, you need to be 19. However, it’s easy to lie about your age, as there is no valid age verification mechanism that is used. So yes, those under the age of 19 can still access these sites. However, and with increasing frequency, unsolicited sugaring has moved to popular youth social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook to name a few. On these sites, a person will send an unsolicited message to their target. Here are three examples that were sent to me by teens:
As a company, The White Hatter has helped several families over the past few months who connected with us looking for information and help, given their horror of learning that their teen was involved in this thing called sugaring, not knowing what it was or what they could do to stop it.
In a recent case, we helped a family who connected with us because they learned that their teen who had just graduated from high school, and was now heading off to university, was sugaring. After we got involved, it was learned that the teen was sugaring to raise money to help pay for the $25,000 bill that they would be facing every year for the next four years specific to tuition, room, and board. This teen did not qualify for a loan and did not want to financially burden their parents given their age and life circumstances. This teen had been working a part-time job for the past few years, but because of COVID, they were let go. Given they could not find another job, they turned to sugaring as a way to help pay for their upcoming university costs.
In another case, we helped a family with a 16-year-old teen who was sugaring not because they needed survival money for room and board or college tuition, but rather because they wanted to enhance their culture of spending for material items for self-indulgent purposes such as clothing, fashion accessories (purses, jewelry, shoes, cellphones), vaping paraphernalia, or even tattoos. To them, it was an easy way to make money to enjoy their recreational lifestyle.
Here’s an Instagram text message thread that was sent to me by a family whose 17-year-old teen was involved in sugaring for survival money (Sugar Daddy = SD and Teen = T):
SD: Hello babe, I really admire your photo and I’ll like to see more sexy photos of you babe. Can you please be my sugar baby? I’ll spoil you weekly if you are interested. Please get back to me when you see this.
T: Yes, E transfer or PayPal
SD: Sorry where you from?
T: XXXX BC how about you
SD: I live in Riverside California
T: Oh Nice
SD: I am very serious about having you as my sugar baby honestly. I’ve been through a lot these past few weeks I just need to put my mind together and focus on new things.
T: Okay, so e transfer or PayPal?
SD: I don’t use those platforms like cashapp or Venmo coz I have a business account and I can’t link my card to any payment apps, my assistant use those apps but I want to keep this private.
T: Okay, how do you want to do this and what do u expect
SD: Do you have money deposit enabled? I can send you a virtual check in your name no personal details needed and you can make the deposit through your bank mobile all it’s easy and very reliable. I just want your attention babe. I just got divorced and the past few weeks has been hellish for me. A friend advised me about this but I can’t go out to clubs or open places to get myself a babe that’s why I am here on Instagram. I just need another focus entirely to get off this emotional trauma. We can start with $200 weekly allowance and upkeep and if you impress me I might increase your allowance.
As the reader can see, this was not the first time that this sugar daddy had reached out to a teen; they clearly had a whole grooming script ready to go based upon past experiences!
Is Sugaring legal?
Often, we have parents ask if sugaring is legal. Unfortunately, and depending upon where you live in the world, sugaring often skates a fine line when it comes to the criminal law (check with your local police agency). Most sugaring sites, and those who engage in sugaring, make it publicly known that they are only looking for a “consenting companionship”, leaving how that consenting relationship evolves open to negotiation over time. Very few sugar daddies start asking for intimate images in the beginning of such a contractual relationship purposely to escape legal consequences.A good example, I helped a family whose 17-year-old teen was sending pictures of their bare feet to a sugar daddy for $25.00 per deck. This specific teen had made over $350 in one week sending pics of their bare feet.
Many sugar sites, and popular youth social media apps, where sugaring takes place prohibit any discussion surrounding money for sexualized content, and will remove any such discussions as a breach of their Terms of Service. This is their feeble way to publicly say that they are not promoting or encouraging such behaviour to take place on their platforms. However, these sites are a gateway where people who agree to a sugar relationship, will now move to a private messaging service or app to negotiate terms that would otherwise be banned.
In Canada, under the “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act” (5), selling sex is legal in Canada. However, advertising sexual services, paying for those services, and living off the material gains from selling sex, are illegal. However, in sugaring the initial contact does not involve advertising or even the sending of sexual services. It’s about looking for online “companionship” – wink, wink. However, we know that with teens this companionship will often lead to hypersexualized pictures and text which the sugar daddy will pay a higher “allowance” for, with the ultimate goal of receiving highly sexualized pictures, video, and text messages which is always rewarded with the highest allowance.
Depending upon how the groom takes place in sugaring, a charge of “luring” or the “production of child pornography” under the Criminal Code could be considered, but likely very difficult to prove given the nature of sugaring. If consensual intimate images or video are sent within the consensual sugar relationship, and then shared or distributed by the sugar daddy to others without consent, they could face further charges under the Criminal Code for Non-Consensual Distribution of Intimate Images. If a teen requests that the intimate pictures/video sent be deleted, it is my belief that even though they were purchased by the sugar daddy in a consensual manner, even if for their own private use, they would still be in possession of child pornography, if the person depicted in the pictures or video is under the age of 18yrs in Canada. The challenge, identifying the sugar daddy to proceed with any of the above-noted charges, given that many will use the power of anonymity that the internet provides and the techniques used for ghosting their payment to prevent being identified such as the use of Bitcoin or PayPal.
Often, teens believe that online sugaring is safe and consequence-free because you do not meet the person face-to-face. However, what If the pictures, video, or text sent are now used to extort more pictures and videos from the teen, something we helped another family with recently. Yes, the sugar daddy could face a number of charges including extortion, but the pictures, video, and text are already out there and sometimes very hard to get deleted, the result of which can be very emotionally, psychologically, physically and socially devastating to a teen.
What Is A Parent To Do?
Knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power, thus why I wrote this article. So, what can parents do?
- Absorb the information in this article and share it with other parents. Check with your local police department to see if teen sugaring is illegal in your jurisdiction.
- Never ever believe that this will never happen to my teen. If we had a nickel for every time we heard this from a parent we would be independently wealthy.
- Trust your instincts, it’s a million years of evolution that we have been given to keep ourselves and our kids safe. If after reading this article your spider-sense starts to tingle, act on it and don’t ignore it. You would be amazed how many parents have stated to us that they knew something was up, but they didn’t act until it was too late.
- Ensure that privacy settings on their social networks and apps are set to only allow people they know to send them unsolicited messages. Most Apps like Instagram have this feature.
- Teach them to block, report and then delete anyone who sends them an unsolicited sugaring message.
- If the teen is being extorted, we recommend notifying the police. Connect with us, we can help guide you through this process if needed.
- Does your child have more than one cell phone? One could be for sugaring, and the other is for everything else.
- Is there a change in your teen’s clothing and personal items without the financial means to afford such clothing and items?
- References to e-transfers, bitcoin, and premium apps or online payment apps such as PayPal, Venmo or WePay located on the teen’s phone. These are the common ways that teens will receive payments from their sugar daddy.
- The use of the word(s), sugaring, sugar daddy, sugar baby in their discussions either online or offline that you may become aware of
- An increase in the frequency of deposits made into a joint bank account.
The best defence, have an open and honest relationship with your teen about their onlife world. The research has shown that those parents who engage with their teen online via parental communication and participation, those teens are far less likely to engage in less than desirable onlife behaviour. However, sometimes the lure of what youth believe to be risk-free easy money can sometimes still capture a teen who comes from a loving, positive, supportive and communitive home environment, no matter what their socioeconomic background. Something we have seen time and time again.
Is there some sugaring where there is just companionship without hypersexualized or sexualized behaviour or interactions? Yes, but this usually happens in an adult-to-adult arrangement. When it comes to an adult to teen sugaring arrangement, it has been our experience that it almost always leads to predatory sexual grooming and exploitation and the production of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).
Digital Food For Thought!