'Creepy'? Yes, but legal

Posted: February 10, 2012

SO, AREN'T "sugar babies" just prostitutes? And isn't the website an electronic pimp?

Nope.

SeekingArrangement.com, which connects older, well-off "sugar daddies" with willing younger "sugar babies," is legal, said Shea Rhodes, a Philly assistant district attorney and an expert on prostitution law.

"The website is protected from charges of promoting prostitution because all it's doing is arranging for two individuals to meet," she said. "What they do inside that relationship is completely up to them."

Rhodes compared SeekingArrangement to the ads that escort services run in the back of alternative weeklies and websites like Craigslist. If the ads offer only "dates" or "companionship," and don't explicitly promise sex in exchange for cash, those buying the ads can't be accused of pimping women.

And if a police investigation proves that the women in the ads are swapping sex for cash, only the individual women involved, and not the website itself, can be charged, Rhodes said.

"Even if it is legal, the site is still pretty creepy," she said. "The language it uses has the same disturbing child-daddy connotation used by actual pimps and prostitutes: Their 'daddy' takes care of them, buys them clothes and gives them the drugs they need."

Relationships, legal or otherwise, in which the man has this kind of power over the woman can be dangerous, especially when initiated online, cautioned Chris Mallios, the former head of the D.A.'s Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit. Mallios said that predators are attracted to situations in which they can easily control their victims.

"Once the predator gets close and earns the victim's trust, he violates it," he said. "In some cases, the victim's financial dependence on the abuser is a key factor."

Mallios cited the story of Jeffrey Marsalis, the predator who sexually assaulted two women in the Philadelphia area through relationships started on Match.com. Marsalis lured the women with fake tales of his exploits as a wealthy doctor and CIA agent.

"That's the danger - people can be whoever they want online, and you really don't know what you're getting," he said. "That's not to say that everyone you meet online is a predator, but you need to be careful."

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