Paris seeks ban on ‘Sugar Daddy’ dating site targeting students

The Paris mayor’s office has called for a ban on a controversial website that invites hard-up students to finance their studies by dating a rich “daddy” or “mama”, accusing the platform of promoting prostitution outside university campuses.

Charly Triballeau, AFP | So-called "sugar daddy" websites have been accused of preying on hard-up students and inciting prostitution.

The website has sparked outrage in cities across Europe by driving vans around university campuses with posters displaying messages such as “Hey students! Improve your lifestyle. Go out with a ‘sugar daddy’.”

One such poster, stuck on a trailer pulled by a car, appeared near the Sorbonne University in the French capital on Wednesday. It urged students to “Go out with a Sugar Daddy or a Sugar Mama” for “romance, passion and no student loans”.

The advertising stunt soon came under fire on social media, prompting a Paris official to file a complaint with the prosecutors’ office and internet watchdog Pharos calling for the website to be shut down.

Hénène Bidard, the deputy mayor in charge of fighting discrimination, said the website and advertising campaign constitute a form of “violence against women” and a “threat to public order”. She demanded an investigation “possibly leading to charges of pimping”.

Green Party councilors asked the government to step in and ban the website. In a letter to the ministers for higher education and gender equality, they said its establishment “reflected a failing of our society, namely the financial insecurity of a growing number of students.”

Student association FAGE said it had also lodged a criminal complaint about pimping, adding that the advertising campaign "is aimed at attracting vulnerable students... and encouraging them to perform sex acts with older people."

‘Money-making scheme’

In an interview with FRANCE 24’s Observers website last month, a former student who had used a similar dating website spoke candidly about why such platforms might appeal to cash-strapped students, describing them as “money-making schemes”.

While “sugar daddy” apps already claim to have numerous student users, the aggressive advertising tactics used by the website have cast a spotlight on the little-known phenomenon, angering politicians and student representatives.

The man behind the website, Norwegian Sigurd Vedal, has denied that it promotes prostitution. He told Belgian broadcaster VTM that young women were looking for “something more than just appearance” from older men, citing the values of mentoring and “meaningful mental stimulation”.

His website is present in several European countries, and has come under fire almost everywhere it set foot.

Last month, Brussels officials banned the advertising billboards from university campuses in the Belgian capital after they triggered a furious backlash on social media. Both the Flemish and French-speaking regions of Belgium have threatened to sue the website.

Meanwhile, in Vedal’s home country Norway, the consumer ombudsman said the campaign broke rules on sexual discrimination, ordering it to be scrapped or changed.

*Editorial note: References to the name of the dating website have been omitted from this article.


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