They ac­cept gifts and cash for dates. Sugar daddy/sugar baby re­la­tion­ships are an old con­cept made glam­orous in movies like Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe’s How to Marry a Mil­lion­aire and Ju­lia Roberts’ Pretty Woman. But they are thought to be on the rise as stu­dent debt

Herald on Sunday - - OPINION - Lin­coln Tan re­ports.

Go­ing to class with a $2800 Louis Vuit­ton book bag on her back and a $4000 Her­mes watch on her wrist, Vi­vian is not your av­er­age stu­dent.

She lives alone in a posh twobed­room apart­ment on Lorne St in cen­tral Auck­land. She has no idea how much her rent is be­cause its paid for be­fore she gets the bill.

While many of her mates at uni­ver­sity work part time on min­i­mum wage, Vi­vian gets thou­sands of dol­lars trans­ferred into her bank ac­count ev­ery month which help her pay her school fees.

The 20-year-old is be­ing bankrolled by three sugar dad­dies.

Sugar dat­ing is where an older man or woman spends lots of money on a younger girl­friend or boyfriend in ex­change for a re­la­tion­ship.

Ar­range­ments vary, with some sugar ba­bies say­ing they have sex with the men, and oth­ers keep­ing their con­tact to dates and no phys­i­cal con­tact. Some see the sugar daddy only a small num­ber of times a year, when they fly in from their bases over­seas for busi­ness, away from their wives and chil­dren.

Orig­i­nally from north­ern China, Vi­vian — not her real name — meets her sugar dad­dies on var­i­ous web­sites in­clud­ing English-lan­guage sites The Sugar Book and Seek­ing Ar­range­ment, as well as Hong Kong-based sites.

“Over­all, I think I have en­tered into re­la­tion­ship ar­range­ments about eight times . . . it is like be­ing in an open re­la­tion­ship,” Vi­vian says.

The youngest of her three sugar dad­dies is a 40-year-old busi­ness­man from Hong Kong. The old­est is a re­tired 66-year-old grand­fa­ther from Malaysia. The third man is from Tai­wan.

She says they are aware of each other’s ex­is­tence and all have fam­i­lies back home but she’s not sure if they are all still mar­ried — they ask her more ques­tions than she asks them.

Her Hong Kong sugar daddy makes reg­u­lar trips to Auck­land, while she flies to see the oth­ers in hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions on busi­ness class tick­ets they have paid for.

Vi­vian says they have sex when they meet, but she doesn’t think sex is the mo­ti­va­tion for their fi­nan­cial sup­port.

“We are in a re­la­tion­ship agree­ment, and sex is just a nor­mal part of any boyfriend-girl­friend re­la­tion­ship, right?” she says.

“They help me be­cause they want to and it makes them feel good and happy, not be­cause of sex.”

Vi­vian was in­tro­duced to sugar dat­ing by a friend who is also a sugar baby.

“When I first came to New Zealand, I was en­vi­ous of all the branded goods that my other in­ter­na­tional stu­dent friends had,” she says.

“I tried look­ing for part-time work and even worked in a mas­sage par­lour, but I was earn­ing nowhere near the money I needed to buy all the things that my friends had.”

The sugar dad­dies she met have also lav­ished her with gifts, in­clud­ing a Xiaomi Mi 8 mo­bile phone and a MacBook Pro.

Vi­vian is one of many young women in New Zealand shunning tra­di­tional stu­dent jobs and the min­i­mum wage to pair up with men who can buy them what they need.

“Life­style choices and pay­ment of uni­ver­sity fees in an era of height­ened com­pe­ti­tion in tan­dem with di­min­ish­ing fi­nan­cial schol­ar­ships of­ten cat­a­pult stu­dents into the out­stretched arms of sug­ared re­la­tion­ship,” says Ed­wina Pio, Auck­land Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor of di­ver­sity.

Seek­ing Ar­range­ments, a US-based web­site, claims to have more than 50,000 mem­bers signed up in New Zealand.

The web­site ad­ver­tises it­self as a way to help sugar ba­bies “hack stu­dent debt”, which now sits at $15.9 bil­lion in New Zealand. Fig­ures col­lated by NZME in Septem­ber showed more uni­ver­sity stu­dents were strug­gling to pay the bills even with re­cent stu­dent al­lowance in­creases.

“The costs of post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion are now such that work­ing and study­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously is now a very com­mon pat­tern,” says Massey Uni­ver­sity pro vice-chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Paul Spoon­ley. “De­spite the at­tempts of the Gov­ern­ment, I am sure that some of this work will be in the grey econ­omy and not eas­ily mon­i­tored and cer­tainly not taxed.”

Fees to join sugar daddy web­sites range from about $60 to more than $250, but some plat­forms of­fer free ac­counts to stu­dents who reg­is­ter us­ing their uni­ver­sity email ad­dress.

They are open to those aged at least 18 who must sub­mit an email and photo for ad­min­is­tra­tors to ver­ify.

Women are asked to state their life­style pref­er­ences and the men must de­clare their in­come, spend­ing habits and net worth.

The con­cept of sugar baby/daddy re­la­tion­ships is some­times traced back to the early 1900s when Adolph Bernard Spreck­els took over his fa­ther’s Spreck­els Sugar Com­pany in Cal­i­for­nia. The mul­ti­mil­lion­aire mar­ried so­cialite Alma de Bret­teville, who was 24 years his ju­nior and had grown up poor. She called him her sugar daddy.

Sugar ba­bies have been played out on the sil­ver screen for years.

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe’s char­ac­ter and her two New York flat­mates in How

to Marry a Mil­lion­aire in 1953 try to at­tract rich men and marry them. Au­drey Hep­burn’s char­ac­ter in

Break­fast at Tif­fany’s was a coun­try girl who moved to New York where she lived a high-so­ci­ety life. The movie glosses over some of the de­tails for a more con­ser­va­tive 1961 au­di­ence but it’s clear she lives off her charm.

Then there was Ju­lia Roberts’ char­ac­ter in Pretty Woman in 1990. Although Vi­vian Ward is a pros­ti­tute, Richard Gere’s Ed­ward Lewis pays for more than just a night with her. He hires her for six days to pre­tend to be his girl­friend, as well as spon­sor­ing a new wardrobe.

In real life, re­al­ity star and model Court­ney Stod­den ad­mit­ted sign­ing up to what­sy­our­, a web­site for women who are paid by their suit­ors, fol­low­ing the break-up of her mar­riage to The Green Mile star Doug Hutchi­son whom she mar­ried when she was 16 and he was 50.

And the late Hugh Hefner’s mul­ti­tude of girl­friends were seen by many as sugar ba­bies. He’d house them in his Play­boy man­sion in Los An­ge­les in ex­change for their com­pany. He ad­mit­ted in an in­ter­view he

paid them $1000 a week, which he called a cloth­ing al­lowance.

While it might seem like a fairy tale to some, the re­la­tion­ships come with warn­ings — for health, safety and im­mi­gra­tion.

A Net­safe spokes­woman says its gen­eral ad­vice about meet­ing some­one on­line would ap­ply to sugar baby re­la­tion­ships.

Be­fore meet­ing, re­search should be done on the other per­son to see if their story matches what they have been say­ing.

Al­ways meet the per­son in a pub­lic place and don’t go any­where pri­vate with them un­til you know them bet­ter. Al­ways tell some­one where you are go­ing and sort our own mode of trans­port to and from the date. And stay sober.

Sugar re­la­tion­ships are lit­tle dif­fer­ent to pros­ti­tu­tion be­cause sugar dad­dies of­ten ex­pect more than just com­pan­ion­ship, says Dame Cather­ine Healy of the NZ Pros­ti­tutes Col­lec­tive.

“It’s ob­vi­ous that com­mer­cial sex is a key el­e­ment. Take the money and the sex away and the re­la­tion­ship would dis­solve . . . no more sugar.”

How­ever, Healy says sugar ba­bies of­ten won’t want to see them­selves as be­ing part of the sex in­dus­try.

“The peo­ple who seek th­ese ar­range­ments may not nec­es­sar­ily see the con­nec­tion and be naive or de­ter­mined to dis­tance them­selves from sex work due to whore stigma,” she says.

Peo­ple who are con­tem­plat­ing sugar dat­ing should make con­tact with the col­lec­tive to seek in­for­ma­tion about strate­gies to stay safe, Healy says.

For peo­ple in New Zealand on stu­dent visas, pros­ti­tu­tion is il­le­gal. Sugar re­la­tion­ships may also breach tem­po­rary visa con­di­tions and stu­dents risk be­ing de­ported, Im­mi­gra­tion New Zealand op­er­a­tions sup­port man­ager Jock Gil­ray says.

“Pay­ment of school fees, ac­com­mo­da­tion and presents in ex­change for sex may, in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, be con­sid­ered pro­vid­ing com­mer­cial sex­ual ser­vices in terms of the Pros­ti­tu­tion Re­form Act.

“We would be con­cerned that any­one in that sit­u­a­tion could be at risk of ex­ploita­tion.”

The agency has re­cently launched re­search to bet­ter un­der­stand is­sues within the sex in­dus­try as part of its wider work on ex­ploita­tion. But sugar daddy ar­range­ments are not in­cluded in the work scope.

Un­der im­mi­gra­tion in­struc­tion, all stu­dent visa ap­pli­cants need suf­fi­cient funds to sup­port their stay — $15,000 a year or, for shorter-stay stu­dents, $1250 per month.

Spoon­ley says uni­ver­sity stu­dents are “bright and creative peo­ple” and will find ways to fund their study — even if some meth­ods are not le­gal.

He strongly ad­vises in­ter­na­tional stu­dents against em­bark­ing on sugar dat­ing.

“It puts your study and res­i­dency in New Zealand at risk and it might put you at risk, es­pe­cially as the re­la­tion­ship is not le­gal and is not gov­erned in any way by pub­lic agen­cies,” he says.

Pio warns that once th­ese types of re­la­tion­ships are en­tered into it, it is quite hard for the sugar baby to have a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship. The hand-outs stop and a more equal part­ner­ship is ex­pected, which many are not ac­cus­tomed to.

But Hana, a 22-year-old Ja­panese stu­dent who is purs­ing a fi­nance de­gree in Auck­land, be­lieves sugar daddy re­la­tion­ships are far safer than other jobs on the fringes of sex work.

Hana — not her real name — used to work as a part-time karaoke lounge host­ess, where she was paid to have drinks with men, be­fore she started sugar dat­ing. She re­calls a client spik­ing her drink with crys­tal metham­phetamine.

“My mind just went blank and my body started shiv­er­ing . . . I couldn’t con­trol my move­ments, at the time I didn’t know what was hap­pen­ing,” she says.

“I be­lieve I would have been kid­napped or raped if my col­leagues hadn’t come to help me.”

She says she needed the money af­ter a boyfriend’s busi­ness ven­ture — us­ing money he bor­rowed from her — landed her in se­ri­ous debt. She now has two sugar dad­dies whom she met on sug­ar­ and pc­

They are both Ja­panese — one lives in Ja­pan and the other in Hong Kong. She has sex with both of them.

“There is more re­spect and it feels more like a real re­la­tion­ship in sugar re­la­tion­ships than work­ing in night­clubs or lounges.”

Au­drey Hep­burn in Break­fast at Tif­fany’s.

Alma de Bret­teville and Adolph Bernard Spreck­els, the orig­i­nal sugar cou­ple.

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