In looking at the the hideous case of a man raping a woman he met through the site sugardaddyforme.com, it's easy to jump to conclusions about the site and its community members...but people are rarely that simple.
It was inevitable that when some people heard about the circumstances of how the victim and rapist met, the "she asked for it" set should crawl — crawl being the operative word— out of the woodwork. In their world, sex workers don't count as victims and this was essentially sex work. Legality, humanity and common sense aside, to these people involvement in a site like this apparently nullifies one's humanity.
Is sugardaddyforme.com unbelievably skeevy? Yes. Did it make my skin crawl to make an account? You bet. And for those who want to make the empowerment argument, we're still waiting to hear a convincing one. I'm not even going to reiterate that this has nothing to do with rape, this or any other, because rape is rape and that should never, ever need saying. It doesn't matter who it is or where they meet.
But this case, the visceral reaction elicited by the site's name alone did get me interested in knowing more. And what I did find was that, even on this nakedly sleazy site, there were plenty of gray areas and ambiguities and it was yet another lesson in never jumping to conclusions.
First of all, it's one of those sites for which you need to sign up to "browse," but don't worry: we bit the bullet and did that for you (That would be "RicePuddingFan" with the profile picture of a Marie Osmond doll, in case you're wondering — as of this writing, zero "kisses," which is the site's version of a poke.) Once signed up, you can choose amongst "Christian Sugar daddies, Jewish Sugar daddies, Muslim sugar daddy, Latin sugar daddy's, Black sugar daddies all looking for love." Sole Muslim daddy and Latin daddy's mysterious possession aside, you can look for "gay daddies" and "sugar mommies" too.
What's surprising, though, is the range of "babies" on the site: many of the women are mature, and of these a lot list their income as between "$100,000-200,000." Younger women state frankly that they're putting themselves through school or that they have kids. Not all, of course — one "wants a really good boob job," plenty just want "security" or "adventure" and just "want to be taken care of."
Even the "daddies'" profiles didn't all leave me with the sense of knee-jerk disgust I was expecting. While there's no shortage of variations on "seeking love no strings no hassles," innuendo and straight financial specs, there are surprises. Says one 24-year-old guy,
I stumbled onto a high paying job a few years ago but before that I was your average nerd who was looking to do anything to get a girl. I feel like that still nowadays. I am looking to do whatever it takes to wow a girl and to make her feel like a princess. Nowadays I actually have the financing to do so!
A 66-year-old describes himself as "retired, very lonely." Meanwhile, a 61-year-old could as easily be advertising in the New York Review of Books: "In shape, clever and unconventional man who enjoys traveling around the world, visiting many different friends, running with dogs, great food and places."
At the end of the day, all these people, be it through financial duress, emotional limitations or naked pragmatism, have chosen to go onto this site instead of one for real emotional commitments. The point is — except, that is, when they come out and say so — we can't know why. (And frankly I'd hate to think how many expectations Pretty Woman has skewed in the last 20 years.) It's objectively depressing almost any way you shake it, but because it involves human beings, it's also complicated. Can we judge? Sure: but it's always a good idea to know what we're judging.