A large, mobile advertising billboard on a trailer pulled by a car, drove by several Parisian universities this week offering to connect students with “sugar daddies” as a way to finance their studies.
It didn’t go unnoticed – hard to miss at 5-by-3 meters – and it wasn’t the first time. Vans with similar advertising, inviting financially-pressed students to pay for their studies by dating rich “daddies” or “mamas,” have roamed around other European universities, all of them courtesy of a dating website behind the campaign.
Featuring a cuddling couple, the rolling Paris billboard offers “romantic passion and no student loans.”
“Go out with a Sugar Daddy or a Sugar Mama,” it suggests.
“Hey students! Improve your lifestyle. Go out with a ‘sugar daddy’,” read another one spotted in Brussels in September.
The president of the University Paris-Descartes, targeted by the campaign, also denounced it as “a call to prostitution.”
“Student prostitution: the truck Sugar Daddy taunts Parisian University Students” the magazine Le Point headlined its story. “This advertisement is orchestrated by the website that presents itself as “an online dating network for adult men and women over the age of 18, looking for a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Legal experts consulted by French media believe the website should be charged with “pimping,” because it openly proposes the students be remunerated in exchange for sexual favors.
A criminal complaint was lodged by the student association FAGE, accusing the site of “aiming to attract vulnerable students…and encouraging them to perform sex acts with older people,” according to The Local.
The website defines “sugar baby” as “an adult (over 18 years) man or woman who is attractive, ambitious, intelligent and seeking a lifestyle that matches their dreams and goals in life.”
And the “sugar daddies and moms” as “successful men and women who know what they want. They are determined and like to have alluring company at their side. Money is not a problem, they know how to be generous when it comes to supporting a sugar baby.”
The outrage around the campaign has thrown a spotlight on the numerous “sugar daddy” apps and agencies used by many students around the world.
Le Figaro reports that exorbitant fees at British universities are pushing students – more than 225,000, according to a survey by one of the dating websites – to work as escorts.
“A phenomenon well known in England and the United States has been embedded in France for some years now,” the magazines writes. “In 2014, the site announced that 7,500 French students were registered.”
The sugar daddy scandal broke in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein explosion, which, like in the U.S, has triggered widespread debate in France and throughout Europe.
For the French Green party, which demanded the government ban the website, its very existence and aggressive advertising tactics “reflect a failing of our society, namely the financial insecurity of a growing number of students.”
“Besides the public danger of such advertisements that can be seen by minors, this site is inciting violence against women,” a Paris government lawyer told AFP. “Behind these golden images, young people can fall into prostitution. We want an investigation that could lead to prosecutions for procuring. ”