After Craigslist, Seeking Arrangements?
posted by Frank Pasquale
Attorney generals have been pressuring Craigslist to eliminate “ads that are poorly disguised come-ons for illegal prostitution.” One key question about the campaign: is the prostitution or the “poor disguising” of it the target? The free pass given to Seeking Arrangements suggests the latter–and how difficult it is to limit commodification nowadays.
According to Ruth Padawer’s excellent profile of Seeking Arrangements, the deals brokered by “sugar daddies” and “sugar babies” on the site are complicated:
[S]ince the 1970s, courts have ruled that as long as the woman is paid for some service besides sex — housecleaning, companionship — the arrangement is not the equivalent of prostitution. “When these sugar-daddy relationships go the way I think they should go, the lines are pretty blurry between that and a typical boyfriend-girlfriend relationship,” [one woman on the site] said. “And when they go the way I don’t think they should go, the lines are blurry between that and sex work.”
One image on the site features a dazed, graying man doted on by two barely clad attendants . . . . But this marketing spin doesn’t capture the nuances of the relationships that often develop between the “daddies” and the “babies” who meet on the site — relationships that can turn out to be more complicated than even the members themselves expect.
Padawer notes that “these men — especially those shopping for women half their age — are digging deep into their pockets to pay for an illusion: that . .. they’re still enchanting enough to charm pretty young women.” It’s a description/judgment that might well undercut the appeal of such sites if it becomes prevalent enough (though the decadent spirit has always preferred simulation over the real thing).
The law appears to have chosen to fight only the straight-up trade of sex for money. The battle against sites like Seeking Arrangements will probably have to be a cultural one.