A US sex worker has issued a warning to young women tempted to join "sugar baby" dating websites, revealing how she was grabbed by the hair and raped while on a date with a "sugar daddy".
Alex Page, a licensed prostitute who works at Dennis Hof's Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada, described the incident in a blog post, slamming the "dangerous propaganda" put out by sites like Seeking Arrangement.
"I know that there are many women who have had positive experiences as independent escorts, call girls, or as sugar babies - and that there are a lot of online resources to help connect potential clients and illegal prostitutes, like sugar dating websites," she wrote.
"But ... the bottom line is that 'sugar dating' is a euphemism for 'prostitution', and prostitution is an unregulated and illegal industry throughout most of the United States."
Seeking Arrangement, founded by US entrepreneur Brandon Wade, claims to have 130,000 sugar babies signed up in Australia - about 100,000 of whom are students- and around 57,000 prospective sugar daddies.
"Sugar babies and sugar daddies have ongoing relationships, not transactions," the company wrote in a 2014 blog post. "Prostitutes are paid to perform a service, while sugar babies sometimes receive funds as an added benefit of dating a generous man.
"More often than not, a sugar relationship will resemble that of a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship. There are real connections and real possibilities at romance, something that is not in the realm of possibility with an escort or prostitute."
Ms Page, who had previously worked as a prostitute for four years before trying sugar dating, said she quickly realised there was little difference.
"While my experience in both worlds left me feeling like there was little distinction between the two, there is one fundamental area where they differ, and that is safety," Ms Page wrote.
"The single most dangerous propaganda that sugar sites use to convince women that this isn't prostitution is telling them that sugar daddies understand that sex isn't a guarantee. I learned the hard way that this isn't so."
She explained how she eventually met the man, who lived in a town about half an hour away, after a few phone calls. "I left the dinner thinking he seemed like an eccentric but decent guy who I wasn't sure I'd want to enter into a long-term arrangement with," she wrote.
"I did agree to meet him once more the following week. When it came time for our second date I tried to call and cancel because my car was in the shop. Against my better judgment, I agreed to let him pick me up with the caveat that I would not be staying with him."
When the man picked her up for a second date, he handed her a reloadable American Express card and insisted she keep it just for having dinner with him, even though she told him it "wasn't necessary as we were still getting to know each other".
After dinner, the man said he wanted to stop by his house to check on his dogs. "It made me nervous, but when he asked if I wanted to come in and see them I said that I did," she wrote.
"I guess I let my guard down when I was greeted by two little teacup yorkies. After I sat on his couch and started playing with them, he came and sat next to me. I didn't think anything of it until he started rubbing my shoulders.
"I tensed up and told him that I should be getting home. When he didn't stop I moved to get up, and that's when he grabbed me roughly by the hair and pulled me towards him. I yelled for him to stop.
"He reminded me of the AmEx card and told me he was going to get what he paid for. In the end, he did. After he dragged me to his bedroom, he took what he wanted, and when it was all over he went to sleep.
"I spent the rest of the night on his couch cursing myself for being so stupid. In the end, I knew what happened wasn't my fault, but it's also fair to say that I had made some crucial mistakes.
"After an excruciating ride home with him the following morning, I immediately deleted my profile on the website, and blocked his number. The AmEx card didn't make me feel any better about what had happened, but I did feel even worse when I found out that the balance on it was zero."
Ms Page said she was not sharing the story to "put down or to terrify" other women who wanted to make a better life for themselves, but wanted to highlight the lack of safeguards involved.
"Unlike in a licensed Nevada brothel, there is no legislation ensuring for the safety and health of the young women and men who connect via sugar dating websites," she wrote. "I learned the hard way that no one had my back as a sugar baby, and that I was totally alone and vulnerable with out any industry standards or practices to support me."
Seeking Arrangement has been contacted for comment.
Last year, Mr Wade told news.com.au he preferred the euphemism "generous dating" to describe his business, which includes Seeking Arrangement, WhatsYourPrice and travel dating website Miss Travel. "I do get annoyed when words like 'prostitution' get thrown around so freely," he said.
"The line between a relationship and a financial arrangement is really a very closely associated grey zone. Even in the case of marriage, there are financial transactions that happen every day.
"My mother would get a monthly cheque from my father, and that was her allowance. To say when money is involved that it makes it like prostitution is wrong."
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