Police will keep a 'close eye' on TheSugarBook: Desmond Lee
SINGAPORE – The police will “keep a close eye” on money-for-love dating platform The SugarBook as well as the individuals using its services, and will take enforcement action should there be any procurement of sexual services for payment on the Malaysia-based platform.
Responding to questions by Members of Parliament (MPs) Seah Kian Peng and Tin Pei Ling on his ministry’s stance towards the site that encourages young females in their late teens and early 20s to become “sugar babies” to finance their studies, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee stated in Parliament on Monday (Feb 5) that the Government “collectively objects” to such sites that “commoditise and devalue” relationships.
Not only are the police keeping a “close eye” on the platform, which has attracted more than 20,000 signups here within one year of its launch, but he also added that should there be any procurement of sexual services for payment on the platform, the police will take enforcement action under the Women’s Charter, “including possibly against the website and its owners”.
TODAY first reported on the platform developed by private equity firm Endeavour Standard in December 2016 on Jan 10.
TheSugarBook founder and chief executive officer Darren Chan, 31, shared then that the platform aims to grow its membership from 75,000 to over 200,000 by June.
“If men can choose to date women for their beauty and youth, women can choose to date men for their money and status,” he had said, stirring the concern and outrage of the two MPs as well as women's groups. They called for the authorities to look into the platform, where Singapore users make up the second biggest group behind Malaysia.
Disapproving of such a site on Monday, Mr Lee pointed out the “fundamentally imbalanced” nature of such a “transactional” form of dating in favour of “older and wealthier people”, or sugar daddies.
“Not only do such sites encourage (young women) to demean their own sense of self-worth, they also expose them to the risk of being exploited and abused … Young women, for instance, may feel pressured to comply with their wishes or demands, and risk physical or sexual harm if they reject them,” he said.
Under the cover of a “mutually beneficial arrangement”, “relationships become transactional: An exchange of money and gifts in return for companionship and ‘other’ services”, he added.
But Ms Tin, MP for MacPherson Single Member Constituency, pointed out that TheSugarBook had been featured in teenage magazines published here earlier this year. She asked if featuring such sites in “mainstream” magazines sends out the wrong signals.
Mr Seah, Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency MP, also asked how the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) intends to strike a balance between giving people the freedom to make their own moral choices and acting as regulator to protect the population at large.
Mr Lee said the MSF banned extra-marital dating website Ashley Madison 2.0 in 2013 as it explicitly advocated infidelity. He said the online realm is “very broad” and the Government “(needs) to strike a right balance”.
Instead of blocking and banning sites such as TheSugarBook, the more enduring way to protect young Singaporeans from such risks is to inculcate in them good values from young, “so that they can exercise discretion and good judgement” when navigating the online world, he said.
“At the end of the day, while we recognise that these websites undermine families and society, our best defence is for society, communities and our families to reinforce values that anchor us so that we do not succumb to such influences,” he said.