MOE investigates complaint that teacher sought sugar daddy on controversial website Sugarbook
The website Sugarbook which pairs women with men willing to pay for their time is in the news after a user complained that a teacher had advertised herself as a potential “sugar baby”.
The user told The Straits Times (ST) that he had alerted the Ministry of Education in October after cross-referencing the female teacher's profile with her social media account.
He said the teacher, who had purportedly used her real name, should be held to a higher standard.
The ministry said it is aware of the complaint and is looking into the matter.
"MOE takes a serious view of staff misconduct and will not hesitate to take disciplinary action against those who fail to adhere to our standards of conduct and discipline, including dismissal from service," it said.
"The officer concerned has denied the allegations thus far."
ST understands she has since tendered her resignation. She did not respond to attempts to contact her.
The website facilitates relationships between sugar babies, who are typically women, and wealthy men known as sugar daddies.
Describing itself as an online dating service, the site carries the tagline, "where romance meets finance".
Users negotiate an arrangement in which the sugar daddy pays the sugar baby for her companionship.
Although the platform, which was set up in 2016, denies it on its website, ST discovered that the topic of sex is broached in many interactions.
The controversial site was flagged by MPs Seah Kian Peng and Tin Pei Ling in Parliament in 2018.
Then Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said in February that year that the police will keep a close eye on Sugarbook and individuals who use its services.
"If there is any procurement of sexual services for payment, the police will take enforcement action under the Women's Charter, including possibly against the website and its owners," he added.
But to date, the website remains accessible in Singapore.
The site's founder Chan Eu Boon, 34, was arrested in Malaysia in February this year for allegedly promoting prostitution via the site and charged with intention to cause public fear. He is currently out on bail.
Sugarbook was subsequently blocked there following a public outcry, after it emerged that a number of students from local universities had used the site to make money to pay tuition costs.
ST contacted Singapore's Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the police for more information.
They directed comments to MSF, which said there are no updates to the statements made in 2018.
Sugarbook is not the first site to court controversy.
In 2013, the IMDA banned extramarital dating website Ashley Madison, saying it disregards Singapore's family values and public morality.
National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser doubts Singaporeans are ready to accept being a sugar baby as a profession.
But he added that such arrangements could be deemed tolerable by many as long as their own family members are not involved.
"It is tolerable and probably more socially acceptable than those 'professions' that unmistakably involve providing sexual services," he added.
"(The emergence of such sites) reflects a value shift towards being more liberal on practices that were strongly frowned upon in the past."
Associate Professor Tan said the authorities may take action against the site only if it crosses the line to facilitate unlawful activities.
"But even if legislation or regulations are unlikely to be effective, there are good reasons to call out the exploitation of women and address the underlying problems that motivate the supply in response to the demand for such services," he said.
Dr Annabelle Chow, who is principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology and who specialises in treating patients with relationship difficulties, said not all women seek sugar daddies because of money.
She said: "Over the past couple of months, I have seen about five patients who are sugar babies, but they actually come from well-off families and do not need the money.
"But they do this because, at the core, they may have trust issues. They may not have had a healthy relationship with their parents, especially their fathers, when they were young.
"And now, to them, love and relationships are transactional."
Dating sites are known to host fake profiles, with users at some risk of falling for scams.
In 2016, ST reported that 20 victims lost about $26,000 after they were promised "rich female clients". They had paid registration fees and made other miscellaneous payments.
The lure of easy money as a sugar baby saw 11 women respond to an advertisement on classifieds website Locanto, where De Beers Wong Tian Jun claimed he was an agent for “sugar daddies” who could pay between $8,000 and $20,000 a month to sugar babies.
The 40-year-old duped his victims, who were aged between 18 and 24, into having sex with him, after claiming he needed to assess whether he should recommend them to his wealthy clients.
He had also tricked the women into sending him nude photos “for vetting” before having sex with them and later used the photos to threaten the women so they would continue to have sex with him.
On Dec 1 this year, he had his sentence enhanced by the High Court to eight years and five months' jail for cheating the women. He was also fined $20,000.