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'Line is definitely blurry,' state police say of dating websites and prostitution

Natasha Lindstrom
| Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, 11:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania State Police are going undercover to root out potential prostitution arranged through dating websites, officials said.

“We're actively pursuing these types of cases,” confirmed state police Lt. Eric Hermick of the Butler barracks.

Troopers work with vice, computer crimes and neighboring municipal police units to coordinate stings and monitor a range of dating websites, Hermick said.

The increasingly popular “sugar daddy” websites are on their radar, Hermick said. Sites such as these encourage younger users to arrange dates with older, wealthy users in exchange for money or gifts.

Such sites dismiss claims likening their services to prostitution.

“Prostitution is illegal, obviously, and we take a lot of measures to get those people off of our site and prevent them from joining,” said Brook Urick, spokeswoman for SeekingArrangement.com. She said the site has a third-party background check feature.

A.J. Perkins, chief marketing officer of ArrangementFinders.com, said prostitution implies a one-time exchange of sex for money, whereas his users seek ongoing relationships and benefits beyond sex.

“The line is definitely blurry,” said John Burkoff, criminal law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It's perfectly fine for people to advertise for friends, for romantic relationships, and even for those relationships to blossom into sexual activity,” he said. “What's not is when someone is simply advertising and soliciting commercial sexual activity.”

Hermick could not point to any specific arrests or convictions related to sugar daddy-type sites.

“In a world of limited resources,” said Burkoff, “we're certainly more interested in forcible or non-consensual sexual arrangements than not forced and consensual ones.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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