The people behind TheSugarBook (TSB) have said that their platform is all about empowering women with choice. This is in response to resounding condemnation TSB received recently in Parliament, where the site has been accused of exploiting young people who use it.
TSB has emphasized that its users become more powerful, since they have the deciding vote as to whether or not they will continue communication with the partners they meet on the site.
The contentious platform is an avenue for young users to connect with older users who contribute to maintaining their lifestyle, in effect becoming their sugar daddies or sugar mommies. The site says that it’s a platform that works similarly to LinkedIn and Facebook, appealing to a niche demographic and providing space “where like-minded consenting adults can meet, connect and develop mutually beneficial relationships.”
According to a spokesman for the site, it gives young women the deciding vote for forming long-lasting relationships with available men. The spokesman, however, added that they are aware of the concerns that the site may raise in certain countries, due to its “controversial nature.” They will, however, work within these countries to resolve issues and answer questions, because “the community’s understanding of our platform is of utmost importance to us.”
Several Members of Parliament voiced their concerns in Parliament yesterday that TSB might open up vulnerable young people to possible sexual and/or emotional exploitation from their partners, who are usually quite a number of years older. MPs have asked what actions would be taken to mitigate potential harm to the site’s users, and some MPs have actually called the site “dangerous” and “harmful.”
Desmond Lee, the Minister for Social and Family Development, also voiced the ministry’s concerns with TSB, noting that it “undermine(s) families and societies.” He indicated that the Ministry will not ban the site altogether yet but added that police officers may take enforcement action against those who exchange sexual services for payment.
Malaysia-based TSB was started in December 2016, and to date has 90,000 members. Malaysia has the most users, with Singapore coming in at second, with apparently 30,000 users. Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Europe and the US also have users on the TSB platform.
30 year old, Darren Chan, the site’s Malaysian founder, remains unmoved by criticism. “Women empowerment is about providing women from all over the world and from every walk of life the ability to enjoy their rights and confidence to choose for themselves. Choice is the key word. And TheSugarBook, although marketed as a Sugar Daddy Dating app/platform is about providing that precise choice.”
TSB’s spokesman stressed that the platform is all about empowering women by giving them the choice to decide on their partners by themselves. He has said that the site in itself is not immoral: “The question of morality lies in the intention of individuals which we have no control over. Although we do take measurements and steps on ensuring that unscrupulous reported users on our platform are banned, we cannot enforce morality onto people.”
The website’s founder, Darren Chan, added that he hopes that users would remain truthful and forthright in their interactions, but that it would not be right to pass judgment on the site’s users without any justifiable cause. He also mentioned that the site has guidelines, safety tips, and a reporting mechanism for suspicious individuals.
A spokesperson for the platform also said that there are now 12 moderators on the site to approve and verify profiles and ask for would-be users’ email addresses, photos and marital status. She said, “The marital status is of utmost importance to note here as we encourage our users on our platform to be honest and transparent about who they are, and what they are looking for.” The site is also apparently designed to disallow underage users.
However, experts such as psychiatrists and psychologists underline the vulnerability of young women dating older men, which include financial transactions. TSB has said that the site’s female users are between 20 to 40 years old. The male users of the site, however, are usually much older, giving rise to the terms “sugar daddy” and “sugar baby.”
This is the point that psychiatrist Lim Boon Leng, who works at the Dr Bl Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness, has stressed. Since the “daddies” have much more authority and power than the “babies,” this situation could easily give rise to abusive relationships.
Dr. Lim also says that due to the age gap, such relationships may not be very meaningful, as the two parties are in different places in their lives. “Sugar babies” may have to battle low self-esteem, guilt and regret, due to the forbidden nature of the relationship, and this may even affect their future relationships later on. And, since chastity is still highly valued in Asian societies, there are definite moral and social issues to contend with. Dr. Lim disagrees that the site has the women’s best interests in mind, and thinks that it actually “victimises women.”
Another psychologist, Dr. Carol Balhetchet, has voiced worries about the transactional nature of relationships on the site, giving it the flavor of prostitution. She says that the parties “are strangers meeting up with an intimate exchange of favours from one party and a material monetary gain to the other.”
She is concerned about the young women—some who are just teenagers, who have the illusion of being in control, while their partners are much older and more experienced.
Dr. Balhetchet’s worries are echoed by psychiatrist Dr. Brian Yeo, who feels that the site forces these young women into situations they are not ready for: “The question is do we allow a situation where the older individual entices a younger person to be involved in a relationship where there is a promise of material reward?”