The Norwegian-based website ‘RichMeetBeautiful’ has faced accusations in Belgium of promoting prostitution, following a publicity campaign that involved lorries with huge billboards parading past universities in Brussels.
The billboards carried a picture of a woman’s chest barely hidden by a red bra, with the slogan “Hey students! Improve your lifestyle, go out with a ‘sugar daddy’.”
The lorries were parked on Monday outside the Brussels Free University (ULB), one of the country’s top universities, for the start of the new term.
According to RichMeetBeautiful’s Norwegian chief Sigurd Vedal, 10 other such lorries would be rolled out across Belgium in coming weeks “mainly near universities”.
The regional government of Wallonia-Brussels, which includes the Belgian capital, said that it would make a legal complaint for the “incitement of debauchery and prostitution” against the website.
A sugar daddy is a wealthy, middle-aged man who spends freely on a young woman in return for her companionship or intimacy, according to Dictionary南京夜生活,.
The mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, said he would ask police to ban the lorries.
ULB had lodged a complaint with an advertising ethics watchdog, which had also received several other complaints, said Sandrine Sepul, the head of the watchdog.
A student group, the Union of Students of the French community, said it was a “completely immoral campaign”.
Brussels City Mayor Philippe Close said he would ask police to ban the lorries.Getty Images
“More and more students are in social or economic difficulties. We know the phenomenon of student prostitution is gaining ground, and here you have a business which exploits the distress of these young women for profit,” the group’s president Opaline Meunier told AFP.
“If this is not incitement to prostitution, it is at the very least comparable to using the services of an escort girl. Students who are struggling to pay for their courses need a scholarship, not a ‘sugar daddy’.”
Site boss Vedal said criticisms likening the site to prostitution were unfair.
“It’s a classic misunderstanding,” Vedal told AFP, adding that a television, radio and internet campaign were also in the works.
“We are like a normal dating site, but financial is part of the checklist. We have very clear terms of agreement, ‘sugar babies’ must be 18 of age and prostitution is not allowed”.
Out of 150,000 young women who have signed up in Scandinavian countries and Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, around 21,000 are Belgian, according to the site, which says Belgium is one of is commercial priorities.