Sugar dating usually involves an older man and a younger woman who is paid to date her sponsor. However a joint project by Yle’s A-studio discussion programme and its investigative journalism unit MOT revealed that the practice often resembles the sex trade.
The so-called sugar dating phenomenon that is taking off in Finland is often described as a kind of relationship in which an older person -- a sugar daddy or mum -- bestows gifts or cash on a younger sugar baby, sometimes in exchange for consensual sexual favours.
Yle looked into the practice by having a reporter pose as a 23-year-old sugar baby. The team uploaded fake profiles on two websites specialising in sugar dating, Sugardaters and Richmeetbeautiful. On both sites, sugar daddies pay for membership, but the services are free for sugar babies. Journalists also posted on Jodel, a social app popular among young people in Finland.
The profiles soon attracted sugar daddies looking to sponsor sugar babies. The men included a seasoned criminal as well as an influential businessman who’d received a presidential honorary title. Sugar babies interviewed for the in-depth report said that sex was an important part of encounters with their patrons. Some revealed that they earned up to 1,200 euros each month from these meetings.
Minors’ profiles on dating sites
Although sugar dating sites ostensibly ban minors from using their services, Yle reporters still found underage user profiles. In addition, two of the women interviewed for the report said that they had become involved in sugar dating from the age of 17.
Purchasing sex from a minor is a criminal offence in Finland and persons convicted of the crime face fines or a maximum of two years in prison.
While researching the phenomenon, Yle received confirmation that the Central Finland Police Department is investigating the suspected rape of a 17-year-old girl in a case linked to sugar dating. However Detective Chief Inspector Jari Kinnunen declined to reveal details of the case, citing the victim's right to privacy.
Growing popularity of sugar dating
Yle found that sugar dating is increasingly popular in Finland. According to the Danish administrator of the Sugardaters website, the number of users in Finland rose sharply to nearly 18,000 this year, compared to just 2,500 in the spring of 2017.
Meanwhile the Richmeetbeautiful site said that it expected to hit the 10,000-user threshold in Finland this year. Both administrators said that they still expect strong growth in the Finnish market.
Both websites said that sugar dating is not about the sex trade, adding that all forms of selling sex are prohibited on their services. In Finland the selling and buying of sex is legal, unless the trade involves pimping or victims of human trafficking.
A full account of the findings is available (in Finnish) on the MOT website.
Yle’s A-studio will discuss sugar dating (in Finnish) on Wednesday evening from 9:05 pm on Yle TV1.