A couple of weeks ago several disapproving articles appeared about a website called puncs.hu, which is a meeting place for sugar daddies and sugar babies. Although the site opened its doors for business more than a year ago, it became “the talk of the town” only at the end of August of this year when the company behind the website launched an aggressive advertising campaign. The timing of the placement of large billboards depicting a sensuous, semi-naked young woman was not random. It coincided with the beginning of the academic year. All over the world these sugar daddy/sugar baby websites target university women who are struggling to make ends meet without accumulating enormous debts by taking out student loans. This seems to be true whether these sites operate in Europe or in the United States. The sugar-daddy business is lucrative.
One of the most popular and best known sites, called “SeekingArrangement,” has generated over 10 million sugar daddies, sugar mommas, gay daddies and gay boys from 196 countries. “This site is especially popular in colleges because college students have free access to premium features if they sign up with their .edu email address.” The same is true of a French site called RichMeetBeautiful, whose billboard specifically addresses university students. RichMeetBeautiful is a Norwegian company that gained initial success in Scandinavian countries and has been expanding throughout Western Europe. The Guardian reported about two weeks ago that the company’s large billboards appeared near Belgian campuses, “offering a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ experience.” The Belgian government promised to launch criminal proceedings against the firm for “inciting debauchery and prostitution.”
So, it was inevitable that some enterprising Hungarian businessmen without many scruples would launch a Hungarian version of the sugar-daddy site. Soon after the puncs.hu billboard blitz, Péter Weiler, one of the owners of Dating Central Europe Zrt., was interviewed by HVG. He explained how he and his business partners had gone through several “dating sites” until they hit on the idea of a sugar-daddy site. First, they had a site called “Randivonal.hu” and later the “Szexrandi.hu” (randi is a popular abbreviation of rendezvous/randevú). Apparently, Hungary is behind the times because several large national sites existed before the birth of puncs.hu in Central and Eastern Europe. Since the Hungarian company is alone in the field, for the time being, business is booming. According to Weiler, “ever since its opening users are pouring in.” The site by now has 70,000 customers. The journalists conducted the interview in a matter-of-fact way, remarking only once that “according to most feminist discourse a sugar baby is a prostitute,” which naturally Weiler denied on the grounds that the meeting of the baby with her daddy is not “a casual encounter.” Such abuse of the site would be “incompatible with the moral principles of the company.”
It looks as if the moral principles of others don’t exactly mesh with those of Weiler. Not only were 20,000 signatures gathered online against the site, several writers and artists started a petition of their own. They demand the removal of all advertising for the site from public places. They consider puncs.hu a “proactive supporter of prostitution” which, on top of everything else, “has received public money.”
Public money? What’s going on? In November 2016 Fruzsina Előd wrote an article for Index titled “Sexy university student is looking for a rich lover.” The article states that there are six owners behind punch.hu, one of which is Dating Central Europe Zrt., a startup that received money in 2014 from “Gran Private Equity” (Gran Kockázati Tőkealap) for an online dating site. Gran Private Equity a year earlier received 4.3 billion forints of EU money, part of which was used to launch Dating Central Europe Zrt. Thus, indirectly, European Union funds are behind the first sugar daddy/sugar baby Hungarian site.
Since in order to get full access to the site one must be a client for about 10,000 forints for a month, I could look around only on the public portion of the site. But an investigative journalist from Átlátszó did sign up for a month in the name of a fictive 20-year-old university student called “Bogi,” who got plenty of offers, including an invitation to a luxury orgy for two million forints. One night costs between 20,000 and 150,000 forints. Men pay a monthly fee of between 150,000 and 400,000 forints. Bogi’s experiences during the month she was pretending to be a sugar baby were truly incredible. She received 800 messages from 142 mostly married men. When she indicated to them that she was not interested in having a sexual relationship with a married man, they informed her that, in that case, she doesn’t recognize “the true purpose of the website.” On the basis of the letters she received, she came to the conclusion that “the site caters to married men in search of lovers for money.”
Several women politicians from the opposition parties objected to this site and looked into the possibility of at least getting rid of the billboards. But Nóra Hajdu of Együtt was unable to find a government organization that is responsible for matters like this. Beáta Hegyesi of Párbeszéd actually pressed charges against Dating Central Zrt., the owner of the site, for promoting prostitution.
Andrea Pető, a professor in Central European University’s Department of Gender Studies and a doctor of science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, wrote an article in Kettősmérce on September 13, a few days after Péter Weiler’s interview appeared in HVG. At that time Átlátszó had not yet unearthed details about the depravity of the site, but it should have been clear to anyone that there was something very wrong with it. Yet HVG’s two journalists, Adél Hercsel and Róbert Németh, gave “free advertising” to the site by inviting Péter Weiler, the owner of puncs.hu. Pető rightly points out that “it is questionable from an ethical point of view when the interviewer doesn’t ask probing questions about the consequences of the assertions of the interviewee.” She argues in the article that the interview, which was supposedly “objective” and “unbiased,” was actually “spurious” and “harmful.”
Andrea Pető’s criticism of the HVG interview is valid. It is impossible to know who asked which question, Hercsel or Horváth, but their total lack of concern over the use of women as sex objects is disconcerting. The two journalists expressed no disapproval of such a practice. There was only one sentence, a quotation from the Criminal Code, that might be applicable to puncs.hu, but otherwise there was not one word about the human rights issues in this case. Moreover, one of the interviewers proposed that mostly feminists would consider a sugar baby a prostitute. This is not a compliment in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, where feminism is frowned upon and labelled outright injurious to the kind of society the powers-that-be find appropriate and desirable.