Cash for ‘companionship’: MN students sign up to be ‘sugar babies’

Nobody can spin like a good public relations professional. We will hereby suggest that Kimberly De La Cruz, a spokesperson for “SeekingArrangements” is a good public relations professional on the strength of her quote in the Minnesota Daily’s story on University of Minnesota students — more than 500 of them, apparently — who have signed on to the service that pays the young people to escort wealthy men.

“We wanted to be able to offer [students] one less burden associated with the cost of college, and encourage them to find relationships that would help them elevate their lifestyle,” she says in her contribution to the Daily’s story, which focuses on “Ava,” one of the students who signed up, “Laura,” a Minneapolis native at Luther College in Iowa, and “Bella,” a U of M student.

“I found it exciting. It felt good getting paid money,” Ava said. “It was kind of fun in a weird way. I would feel hyped after using it.”

This is what it’s come to.

Sex is sometimes part of the deal, but not always. Ava said she didn’t participate in sexual encounters.

“It is a really unique and new phenomenon. These women don’t identify as sugar daddies’ girlfriends, but [they] distance themselves from traditional sex workers,” said Sarah Polowin, a graduate of Carleton University in Canada who wrote her doctoral thesis on SeekingArrangement in 2017. “[It] is kind of this gray, in-between space where it is clear that money and some type of companionship, whether that be sex or emotional intimacy, are exchanged.”

SeekingArrangement skirts laws against prostitution by its use of language, the Daily says. The students, who can use the service free if they use their school email to sign up, aren’t exchanging sex for money, but are exchanging companionship for “intimacy,” in the organization’s parlance.

Sometimes it’s dangerous, Minnesota Daily says:

In 2017, a University student, who is not being identified to protect her identity, reached out to The Aurora Center at the University for support while being harassed by a man she met on SeekingArrangement.

According to a Minnesota District Court transcript of her testimony, the student alleged the man sexually assaulted her around the time they met. The two then engaged in an arrangement that lasted four months, and after she tried to end it, she alleges he harassed her through social media.

The student, who recently underwent a legal name change, filed for a restraining order in court through the University’s Student Legal Service in 2018. The student was awarded a restraining order, which is effective until June 2019. The court did not find sufficient evidence to prove sexual assault.

The student was not able to be reached for comment, and her lawyer denied requests for comment.

“I was starting to feel very objectified,” said Laura, who, the Daily says, who earned over $2,000 with the service. “I had to be really careful about where my headspace was because it was not always the best thing for me to do, even if I just wanted money.”

“Sometimes I would forget about the money, because I actually started enjoying the sexualness of it,” Laura said. “But then, whenever the money would come around, ‘oh yeah, this is all I am here for.’”

“I did feel kind of guilty sometimes. My friends would be like, ‘why are you doing this?’ and kinda judged me for doing it,” Bella said. “I don’t believe I am a prostitute. I was comfortable enough with myself that I was fine doing that part of it.”

The Daily says the number of U of M students signing up is on the rise.

  • Gary F

    “The Daily says the number of U of M students signing up is on the rise”.

    That must mean there is a growing demand.

    Being a 54 year old man, this story troubles me for both the customer and provider.

    In my day kids worked in bar/restaurants, were janitors, and worked in grocery stores to pay for college.

  • Barton

    from the article: “I don’t believe I am a prostitute.” But you are. You can use nicer words than “$10 for a blow job” but it is still selling yourself (your companinionship) for money – that makes you a sex worker. And that is still illegal in our state.

    That said, I do support the idea of legalizing sex work – and therefore taxing it and regulating it. But these young women who pretend what they are doing isn’t sex work are delusional.

    • lindblomeagles

      Like you, Ms. Barton, I can’t really see how these students are not sex workers. In fact, these women sound like modern day escorts, who commanded higher prices for sexual favors, but had date books of various high profile johns nonetheless. Come to think of it, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s high profile scandal involved something very similar to this. But, the real depressing part of the story is that several American women FEEL the need to do this to attend college. In other parts of the globe (let’s say Thailand, Russia at one point in time with the Mail-Order Bride scandals) this sort of regular activity would reduce the nation to third world status. And on top of that, Trump and his supporters worry incessantly about Latin immigrants bringing, quote “crime” into the United States. Meanwhile, wealthy American men get away with another legal loophole, buying off women with the promise of mega bucks in exchange for sex – a problem that has gone on far too long in our country as it is.

  • AL287

    Have these college students been paying attention to the leading news stories for the last two years, namely the MeToo movement and toxic masculinity.

    You can use whatever language or euphemisms you want but Seeking Arrangements is no different than Ashley Madison and the men who use these sites have a sexual addiction problem and zero respect for women.

    Better to take out a loan and live another day than to be found in a park or a field naked and strangled to death.

    • Jerry

      #metoo is not about sex. It is about consent.

  • Gary F

    Nothing is going to go wrong here.

  • Kassie

    Good for those ladies! Go get the money! Why shouldn’t a young woman use what she has to make her way through college? While there are incidents of women being hurt, but they also get hurt at frat parties and just normal dating. With this they at least have a real credit card on file, so a legitimate name.

    • jon

      Credit card does not mean a real name.

      I don’t know what the vendor is actually doing for security, but I hope it’s more than taking down a credit card. Prepaid cards are a well documented way of hiding real identities when making purchases. Credit card validates that you’ll get the money, not the identity of who provided it to you.

      • lindblomeagles

        Jon’s right. The growth of “load as you go cards,” is so common place now, that they are just about normal fare these days. Plus, men with means will still go out of their way to keep their real wives and girlfriends from finding out who they swiped a card on for sex.

    • lindblomeagles

      I’ve given some thought to your point Kassie. Women spent the last few years of the 1960s, and all of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s trying to gain acceptance for their intelligence and personality instead of the more old-fashioned “good looks” and homemaker skills. I agree with your point regarding frat parties. These should probably have more a lot more policing and oversight than they have. Animal House was a funny move in the 1970s, but the world has changed a lot since that innocent movie was made. I think normal dating should look differently too. It sounds old fashioned, but double dating, which is even older than animal house, can minimize some of the “hurt” women receive from dating. But the real problem isn’t even about the women themselves. It’s ABOUT COLLEGE. We want students and families to invest some of their own energy into college, but that investment SHOULD NOT BE SO RIDICULOUSLY HIGH that it encourages BOTH MEN AND WOMEN to be exploited by criminal organizations (or, in this case, by organizations seeking to circumvent the law). In the end, this story ISN’T about whether women should have the right to sell their bodies for money. It’s about what’s wrong with our collegiate system that it no longer HELPS students get a degree.

    • MarkUp

      This is a good point. It led me to this question:
      Is this better or worse than being a stripper? If so, how?

      • Kassie

        I don’t know? Is it better or worse than being a model? How about a sex therapist? How about someone who works at a sex toy store? Or one of those stay at home mom’s who sells vibrators in a pyramid scheme? Work is work. We put all these value judgements on sex work and I don’t see why. Some sex work is seen as ok and some isn’t. We’ve gone as far as making this type of work illegal, yet we mostly only punish the women involved, not the men. Society wants sex workers, but then wants to shame them. I’ve found myself doing it in the past too. But now I see that I’m wrong.

        For many women, sex work is empowering, it gets them out of bad relationships, off welfare and in control of their own lives. Sex work is just selling physical labor, no different than a construction worker or a migrant farm laborer. Sometimes those people are abused because they don’t hold power, but there are many who are not.

  • Jeff C.

    One thing that surprises me is that being a sugar baby doesn’t pay all that well. According to the article, a sugar baby they interviewed would spend “hours” prepping for the date and she’d get “about $100” for the date. Assuming 2 hours prepping and a 3 hour date, that equals $20/hour. Not bad, but not great money either. It seems like it wouldn’t be too hard to find a part-time job that pays close to that. (Note – I haven’t looked for part time work for decades and I don’t know what the market it like right now.)

    • Barton

      well, this system still uses a service (aka, a pimp) so they are getting part of that $$ too, right? So it’s probably less than $20/hour. & still significantly above the minimum wage – AND they get to set their own hours.

      That said, when I was in college (that was the early 90s though), my on-campus job paid $3.50/hour.

      • Jeff C.

        FYI…Minneapolis and St. Paul are both in the process of raising their minimum wages up to $15/hour and the statewide minimum is currently $9.86/hour. I wonder how much an Uber/Lyft driver makes – they get to set their own hours.

    • Kate

      It is incredibly hard to find a part time job paying $20/hr, not to mention a full time job. In addition, these are college students who have yet to earn a degree, which most jobs paying more than $13/hr require or prefer. Most part time jobs with little to no work experience required (and even some that do require) pay under $12. Any entry level retail job (even nicer name brand stores) is going to be around $10. Also on SA its usually arrangements between individuals, the service doesnt take a cut. there’s no “pimp”. (At Barton) is 20 an hour a lot? Definitely not and they should be charging significantly more. But you can’t compare it to an accessible hourly job.

      • Kate

        I can find sources, if you want, but I’m pulling these numbers from being 24 with a UMN degree and spending hours job searching.

    • Kassie

      I’m sure that’s just the date. If they upgrade (have sex) then there is under the table money that happens. Also, if you can find someone who can go out with you twice a week and is a regular, the money is pretty good. I watched a documentary about this, I think on Netflix, a couple months ago and there is real money to be made, but some women do struggle and end up quitting.

    • swagchef

      It’s not like they don’t already prep to go out with friends. Where can a college kid make that much while controlling their own schedule? These men will pay more. She’s selling herself short.

  • Jack

    No one has mentioned the health risks of this practice. It might be a quick way to raise some money but it comes with some very real health risks that can stick around for a lifetime.

  • Camille Beach

    How do young men pay for college?

    • joetron2030

      I’d be curious to know that too.

      • Jerry

        It probably helps that they are paid more to do the same jobs as women after graduation, but that is probably topic drift.

  • KTFoley

    Bella doesn’t believe she is a prostitute. What happens if she finds out that others don’t see it that way?

    The organization’s language might be enough to avoid prosecution and let the women believe this is something other than sex work / escort service, but it sure sounds as though the language doesn’t remove or limit any of the risks of sex work.

    Primary among those risks is that money tends to make people feel entitled, no matter the actual terms of the arrangement.

    That dynamic is so common with money that contract-based businesses live & die by their change request process for handling shifting expectations. It’s so common with social scenes that letting someone buy you a drink carries its own set of precautions to ensure everyone gets home safe at the end of the night. And it’s so common with sex that sex work carries a high prevalence of violence everywhere it’s studied. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987574/)

    My concern is that the risks accompanying Bella’s belief could be higher — and closer — than she thinks.

  • KTFoley

    Students can use the service for free if they sign up with their school email account?

    I see that as throwing away privacy with both hands. The legal penalties for sex work — and I believe that’s what this is — might change but the personal & social stigma is slower to dissipate. In what imaginary universe will that not come back to bite somebody?

  • joetron2030

    Dan Savage had the spokeswoman for a similar service on his podcast this past Fall.

    https://www.savagelovecast.com/episodes/623

    They went around and around that question of whether this is sex work or not. Dan believes it is. The spokeswoman, unsurprisingly, does not.

    It’s up to these women who choose to sign up with these services to decide whether this is for them. But, hopefully, they’re going in understanding all of the potential risks in this type of work (both short- and long-term). Especially, as pointed out by others, that sex work is illegal in MN.

    I used to believe in an idealized notion of legalized sex work where the occupation and those who participate in it (both as providers and customers) could do so without all of the stigma that surrounds it.

    But, I no longer know if that’s even possible after watching a documentary about one of the largest legal brothel chains in Germany on Amazon Prime recently. Everyone seemed to come to the business of sex “damaged” in one way or another.

    • MarkUp

      Thank you for sharing the link to the Savage podcast.
      The closing statement from spokeswoman Brook Urick was an eyebrow raiser:
      “If someone doesn’t think they’re commiting a crime, and in their eyes they’re not, are they?”

      • joetron2030

        Well, since their business is basically skirting the laws in various jurisdictions, it’s not a surprise that she would take that viewpoint.

      • 212944

        I recall that episode of “Savage Lovecast.” Your post sums up her position well, from what I recall.

    • swagchef

      Its probably just as risky as going to a frat party. Lets not forget that rape is woefully common on college campuses.

  • Mike Worcester

    //The students, who can use the service free if they use their school email to sign up, aren’t exchanging sex for money, but are exchanging companionship for “intimacy,” in the organization’s parlance.

    And I suppose there is no recourse for the college on this?

    • swagchef

      No, the site sets that policy.

  • swagchef

    This is just a symptom of a bigger issue. It’s very expensive to attend college.