Canberra students turn to 'sugar daddies' to pay tuition fees, rent
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Canberra students turn to 'sugar daddies' to pay tuition fees, rent

Cash-strapped Canberra students are turning to "sugar daddies" for help paying tuition fees and rent, entering into transactional relationships in exchange for money, gifts or travel.

And the website matching young women with older men is making an aggressive push for more students to sign up, offering free premium memberships to anyone who signs up using an email address that includes .edu.

SeekingArrangement, the world's largest sugar dating website, says it has 38 registered "sugar babies" from the Australian National University and 22 from the University of Canberra. The website claims to have another 46 members signed up using Canberra Institute of Technology email addresses.

The Sugar Baby University Australia page on SeekingArrangement, which is offering free premium memberships to anyone who signs up with a .edu email address.

The Sugar Baby University Australia page on SeekingArrangement, which is offering free premium memberships to anyone who signs up with a .edu email address.Credit:SeekingArrangement

It is unclear how many students who attend the University of NSW and Australian Catholic University's Canberra campuses have signed up because their email addresses don't make clear whether they are based in the ACT.

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While SeekingArrangement spokeswoman Kimberly de la Cruz says the website "absolutely does not allow" the promotion of prostitution or pay-per-meet offers, some "sugar baby" profiles seen by the Sunday Canberra Times detail offers of sexual services in exchange for money.

A 20-year-old Canberra woman, who lists her occupation as waitress and describes herself a "pretty straight forward gal", has a profile that contains a price list detailing six services, ranging from providing revealing photos to sexual intercourse.

Another Canberra member's biography reads: "18, private photos and cam $".

A 23-year-old, who identifies herself as an Australian National University student in her profile, says she has "previously enjoyed sugar arrangements where a monthly allowance was provided in exchange for four to six meetings per month".

The website has reported a surge in memberships across Australia, with 425,761 "sugar babies" signed up; more than five times the 82,760 it reported having in February 2016.

Ms de la Cruz said the growth was largely being driven by students, which comes as little surprise given the offer of free premium memberships for students.

She said the website had been offering that deal since 2015.

"It makes a lot of sense because [the cost of] tuition is rising all around the world," Ms de la Cruz told the Sunday Canberra Times.

The Sugar Baby University Australia page on SeekingArrangement, which is offering free premium memberships to anyone who signs up with a .edu email address.

The Sugar Baby University Australia page on SeekingArrangement, which is offering free premium memberships to anyone who signs up with a .edu email address.Credit:SeekingArrangement

"We know in Australia, the cost of living is very high, so we wanted to respond and offer [students] a chance to try our site out and get the premium benefits without that extra expense and hopefully meet someone they could connect with who could elevate their lifestyle."

Ms de la Cruz dismissed suggestions the relationship between a "sugar daddy" and "sugar baby" could create a power imbalance where the younger participant might find it hard to say no to any requests they felt uncomfortable with because they were being paid or given gifts as part of the arrangement.

"We feel like it’s balanced," she said.

"We do feel like the site itself and these relationships are empowering to women, because they’re getting a say in their relationship.

"They’re getting to say, ‘I want to date somebody who has a good job, who is going to pay for dinner, who I know is going to be able to support me financially, who is going to be able to give me a better lifestyle’.

"In a lot of ways, it’s empowering to them."

A page on SeekingArrangement, titled Sugar Baby University Australia, says Australian "sugar babies" earn an average monthly allowance of around $2700; "nearly twice as much as the earnings from a part-time job".

It says students are increasingly seeking alternative methods to offset the financial pressures of university, with the average cost of a degree in Australia rising to almost $30,000 this year.

"Finding the right Sugar Daddy can help a Sugar Baby stay ahead of the game and get the education they need without the burden of a mountain of student loan debt," the website says.

"... Tuition and enrollment numbers continue to increase, and millions of Australian students are looking for a way to get out from underneath the crushing weight of loan debt."

The website also has a page on its Canberra membership, which says there are five sugar babies for every sugar daddy in the capital, with members receiving an average of 13 messages a day.

An Australian National University spokeswoman said the university was not aware of any of its students being SeekingArrangement members.

"Whilst we have no evidence or detail of these claims, ANU condemns any organisation taking advantage of students," she said.

The spokeswoman said ANU students had access to financial counselling and support options, including scholarships and bursaries, while study plans could be adjusted to accommodate students' personal circumstances.

"There are also a range of personal counselling options available to students, such as on-campus counselling support that’s free to all students," the spokeswoman said.

"We’d encourage any student who is suffering financial hardship to discuss their situation with the Dean of Students, who can provide advice on the options available to them."

The University of Canberra and Universities Australia declined to comment.

Canberra Institute of Technology executive director of industry engagement and strategic relations Paul Ryan questioned SeekingArrangement's claim that it had 46 members registered using CIT email addresses.

He said the organisation had spam filters set up to block emails from SeekingArrangement, as well as filters that tried to block anyone accessing the website from the CIT network.

"Any reference to a CIT email on their site is either a lie, or likely to be related to their spamming activities to CIT staff email accounts," Mr Ryan said.

"CIT would naturally be concerned by a site such as this targeting any students."

Mr Ryan said TAFE fees were generally much lower than university fees and that he was confident any student enticed by such a site would access support from CIT's student association and student services team.

SeekingArrangement made headlines in Australia last week after a Wollongong rendezvous arranged through the website allegedly ended with a "sugar daddy" being hit in the ear with a tomahawk following a dispute over payment.

A "sugar baby" and a man have been denied bail over the alleged attack.

Blake Foden is a reporter at the Sunday Canberra Times. He has worked as a journalist in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

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