And while some of these campaigns definitely help women to consider other options and to empower themselves in their romantic relationships, it's worth noting that all of these examples speak directly to the women in these relationships, not to the men who -- because of their wealth, material possessions, age, and gender -- wield more power. To its credit, PSI did launch a campaign aimed at men in Uganda, asking "Would you let this man be with your 18-year-old daughter? So why are you with his?" But, while the message focuses on the age difference (and it's worth noting that young women and girls much younger than 18 have been known to enter into these relationships), it doesn't focus on why this power dynamic is harmful, or why a man shouldn't use wealth as a means of asserting power and control over another person.
And then there's the issue of whether (very, very) young girls have the autonomy, resources, and support to reject or leave such relationships. Cheryl Faye, head of UNICEF in Gambia, notes in a2004 report on the rise of Sugar Daddies in Gambia that there is a growing concern over the social acceptance of men who use wealth and status to take advantage of young girls. "There is a certain tolerance in wider society that this is going on," Faye said, adding that "parents who struggle to put one meal a day on the table for their family don't ask questions about where the money comes from."
And then there are the unique risks and factors at play among displaced or refugee communities within sub-Saharan Africa, and how these contribute to an alarmingly gendered rise in HIV/AIDS.
So, while campaigns can be useful in starting or continuing a conversation about Sugar Daddies, they often avoid addressing the underlying factors at play in these often predatory relationships. They can also run the risk of coming awfully close to shaming or blaming victims, or dismissing all young women's motivations as being simply materialistic. A part of the problem is definitely the fact that so many different pairings fall under the banner of "Sugar Daddies" and "Sugar Babies," regardless of a young woman's age or ability to consent.
Yes, a young woman sleeping with an older man for benefits like mobile phones and spending cash can and must be aware of the health risks she faces. But let's be real. Her circumstances -- and those of any number of adults actively seeking to recreate a Julia Roberts vehicle -- are completely different from that of a child enmeshed in a predatory relationship with a wealthy pedophile.