An international dating website that matches wealthy older men to younger women could be breaching sex work laws, according to police. The SeekingArrangement website claims to be a dating website that encourages people to meet for dating, but members say that many of the men on the site are looking for sexual services in exchange for payment.
The site has been controversial since its inception in 2006, as it works on the premise of matching wealthy men to attractive young women. The men pay to spend time with the women under the guise of ‘companionship’.
It has been alleged that this type of arrangement amounts to prostitution and therefore falls under the legislation that exists to deal with sex workers. The laws regarding prostitution vary from state to state, with some states requiring rigorous licensing and health and safety compliance, while others outlaw accepting payment for sexual services altogether.
What does the law say about prostitution in NSW?
Unlike other states and countries, prostitution is not illegal in NSW. It is legal to run a sex industry business or engage in sex work in the state as long as it is done according to certain rules and regulations. Local councils are primarily responsible for monitoring and ensuring that all businesses and individuals who provide these types of services are doing so in compliance with regulations. They will often refer matters to police if they suspect that premises are being used illegally for prostitution.
There are a number of acts linked to prostitution tht are considered to be criminal offences in NSW. Many of these are contained in Part 3 of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) and include :
- Living on earnings of prostitution
- Causing or inducing prostitution
- Prostitution or soliciting in massage parlours
- Allowing premises to be used for prostitution
- Advertising premises used for prostitution
- Advertising for prostitutes
- Soliciting clients by prostitutes, and vice versa, and
- Public acts of prostitution
However, it seems unlikely that any of those offences would apply to the owners of the website SeekingArrangement. For example, ‘causing or inducing prostitution’ requires ‘coercive conduct or undue influence’ and the definition of ‘advertising for prostitutes’ encompasses just that; it is not wide enough to capture having a website that may incidentally lead to members meeting each other to engage in such conduct.
A person who provides sexual services in exchange for money at a client’s location is usually known as an escort and there are certain legal requirements for anyone who is working as an escort or who provides escort services. In Victoria, escorts need to be registered, while the laws are less stringent for escorts in NSW.
Some local councils require approval for providing escort services, even if they aren’t being provided on-premises like they would be for a brothel. A service that provides off-site escort services may in some cases need to be approved as a commercial business.
Why is prostitution so heavily regulated?
There are a number of reasons why these laws are in place and much of it is with the intention of protecting sex workers and their clients. The regulation of prostitution, especially brothels, is also aimed at attempting to disrupt organised crime which is often involved in the sex industry, and reducing sex trafficking among young and vulnerable people.
Although prostitution may be legal in NSW, the rules can be very onerous and this can make it difficult for legitimate businesses offering sexual services to get the appropriate approvals to become licensed brothels in Sydney or regional areas. The laws can even unfairly stigmatise massage businesses that are offering non-sexual services.
Issues with these types of sites
The SeekingArrangement site has been at the centre of a number of violent crimes in the US, including a 27-year-old woman who was charged with killing a Google executive in 2013 and teenage twins who robbed and tied up an elderly man after a date. In both cases, the alleged perpetrators met their alleged victims on the site.
Many prostitution laws that are in place in Australia were created before the internet and this means that they may not take into consideration some of the complexities of online dating sites like SeekingArrangement. The owners of the site claim that it is safe, that there are warnings about prostitution and what constitutes prostitution all over the site, and that there are options for members to undergo background checks and have their identities verified.
The issue of sites like SeekingArrangement and whether they fall under prostitution laws is something that Victorian police in particular are reportedly looking into. The site has a rapidly growing Australian membership and there are other sites with a similar focus that are starting to also gain in popularity.
Some of the most vocal complaints against the site have been from adult entertainment industry spokespeople who believe that the site creates unfair competition for escorts and creates an unlevel playing field for Australian escort agencies.But others claim that the site cannot be held responsible for the actions of its members, and certainly cannot regulate or monitor private meetings.
It is yet to be seen whether any form of legal action will be taken against those responsible for the site in Australia but, as stated, it is unlikely that the actions of those responsible for the site would amount to ‘prostitution’ under current NSW Law.