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Google Play will remove sugar dating apps fostering prostitution and sex trafficking

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Unsplash/Pathum Danthanarayana

Google Play will no longer carry sugar dating apps widely known for promoting compensated sexual acts that have led to many cases of sex trafficking and sexual assault among young women and underage girls.  

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) had been pressuring Google for over a year to change its Google Play app store policies by removing exploitative sugar dating apps like SeekingArrangement. The app was listed is on NCOSE’s 2021 Dirty Dozen List — an annual campaign list calling out 12 mainstream entities for facilitating or profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation. 

Starting on Sept. 1, the app will no longer be carried on Google Play. 

“As a platform we are always excited to support our developer partners, but we also work hard to provide a safe experience for users,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement shared with news outlets. “We have updated our inappropriate content policy to prohibit apps that facilitate sexual acts in exchange for compensation following feedback we received from NGOs, governments, and other user advocacy groups concerned with user safety. This aligns our policies with other Google policies and industry norms.”

Lina Nealon, the director of corporate and strategic initiatives for NCOSE, warns that sugar dating is a form of prostitution and that more businesses today are “capitalizing” on demand for wealthy “daddies” for younger, financially insecure women called “babies.”

“Using sex as a weapon for profit is the most egregious form of abuse to humankind,” Nealon told The Christian Post. “Social media tries to normalize the sexual exploitation industry by making it seem like women and girls will be empowered and in control of what they choose to do sexually. However, Google Play’s decision to end these apps shines a light on how wrong this is by sending a cultural message.”

NCOSE, a leading activist group that seeks to expose links between forms for sexual abuse and exploitation, reports that SeekingArrangement is the “largest hub of sugar dating” in which survivors of prostitution “make clear is part of the commercial sex industry.” They contend that sexual favors are expected in return for gifts and valuable benefits. 

Nealon said that SeekingArrangment markets the “babies” as “college students, aspiring actors or actresses, single parents, or someone just starting out."

The activist group claims SeekingArrangement most aggressively targets college students struggling with student debt through advertisements and free premium accounts. 

With over 20 million users, Nealon said that there are four “babies” for every one “daddy” on the app. She warned that creates a “power dynamic” because the “babies” have to compete to get "daddied.” 

According to Nealon, “sugaring” or prostitution happens too frequently on the apps, and it's too difficult to tell how many people are being affected globally. 

In many cases, she said, women and underaged girls are manipulated, coerced and forced into sexual acts. She said many women and girls initially thought the app was an opportunity to “innocently” make money and decrease debt. 

But some of the women, Nealon said, know they will be exposed to prostitution when they begin using the apps. 

Nealon said these young women who choose to use the apps for prostitution often think “it’s not a big deal” to use the apps and sell sex. 

Nealon said she has heard from multiple survivors that becoming involved in prostitution frequently results in rape, sex trafficking, control and forceful manipulation from the “daddies.” 

She added the women often fear for their lives if they don’t comply with what the “daddies" tell them to do. 

“Many young women don’t realize the reality of being sold into the sex industry, and the media sells sex as power by sending messages that selling sex will bring you power and financial stability and control,” Nealon told CP. “These young women, particularly, college students are risking the chance of economic dependence and sex trafficking. They hear that using the apps is going to be empowering and they will be in control of the sex. But they don’t understand the full ramifications of the emotional, psychological and physical trauma and harm caused by selling themselves.”       

In the aftermath of several cases with women who used sugar dating apps for prostituition, Nealon said, “most often, those who survive frequently struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder that is no different from the post-traumatic stress disorder that combat war veterans have experienced.” 

“These women are traditionally financially vulnerable individuals who see a promise of economic freedom and if you look at the power dynamic, it’s not a relationship on their own terms,” Nealon said. “My hope is that no mainstream entity would support sexual exploitation, porn and prostitution and that these egregious acts would cease to exist and everyone’s dignity would be recognized as valuable. I hope that corporations recognize the power they have and make moves to put an end to this.” 

By no longer providing sugar dating sites with a platform, Nealon believes Google is “curbing the harmful effects of sugaring directly” and also sending a “strong message to counter the cultural normalization of these exploitative practices.”

“Google Play has rightfully recognized the bitter truth about sugar dating,” Nealon said in a statement. “We are grateful to Google for hearing our concerns and commend them for making a principled move to no longer enable this form of exploitation.” 

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