According to eNews Channel Africa (eNCA), a sugar daddy or “blesser” describes a transactional relationship between young people and older, wealthy people who provide them with material items in exchange for sex or a relationship.

While the relationship between two consenting adults is normal and acceptable, young people in transactional relationships should remember to proceed with caution. Marcel van der Watt, the case manager for the National Freedom Network, stated in an interview with eNCA that the main difference between a blessee and a victim of trafficking is consent and personal freedoms. However, he explains how the former can become the latter when the financial insecurity of young people is readily abused, and when drugs and abuse may be involved.

In a time of economic deprivation, young, vulnerable people may be at risk of being manipulated by sex traffickers who may move them to new cities, exploit them, or offer them drugs which they are forced to pay for with labour, prostitution or other exploitative methods. The eNCA also reports an incident where vulnerable people are lured into houses with the promise of being set up with beneficial transactional relationships, or with work opportunities.

A21, a modern abolitionist organisation against slavery and human trafficking, explain that “human trafficking is [a] hidden, fast-growing, and complex [industry] generating billions each year through the exploitation of millions of people”.

Vulnerable groups are particular targets for human trafficking, such as people who live in poverty, face inequality, are migrants, illegal migrants, children, women or refugees. People of all ages, genders and ethnicities are trafficked but some groups are affected differently, such as those vulnerable to substance abuse, mental health difficulties and a lack of resources. If you suspect someone is being trafficked or fear you are at risk of being trafficked, contact the South African National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by A21, at 0800 222 777.

If students become involved in initially consensual transactional relationships and later find themselves being coerced into certain activities, or find themselves in uncomfortable situations, it is important to be aware of the following human trafficking myths that the National Human Trafficking Hotline has debunked, and know how to recognise the signs of human trafficking:

Myth: Human trafficking is always a violent crime.

Reality: Many human traffickers use psychological methods to extort commercial sex or exploitative labour, such as tricking, defrauding, exploiting or threatening victims.

Myth: Human trafficking involves moving, traveling, or transporting a person across state or national borders.

Reality: Trafficking in human beings does not require any movement whatsoever. Survivors in their own cities and homes can be coerced and trafficked.

Myth: If the trafficked person consented to be in their initial situation, then it cannot be human trafficking or against their will.

Reality: Initial consent to commercial sex or occupational operation due to acts of force, theft, or intimidation (or whether the victim is a minor in a situation of sex trafficking) is not important to the crime, nor is payment relevant. These relationships can still become human trafficking.

Myth: Traffickers target victims they do not know.

Reality: Romantic partners, including spouses, relatives and parents have been trafficked by loved ones.

Myth: If a party is benefiting from a relationship, like a blessee, it cannot be human trafficking.

Reality: Initial consent to commercial sex or work before acts of force, theft, or intimidation is not relevant to the offense nor is payment relevant, and a person could still be a victim of human trafficking.

A21 South Africa state warning signs of human trafficking to be aware of:

  • people being controlled by others and not speaking on their own behalf
  • lack of personal identification
  • controlled movement, being transported everywhere by others, and never being alone
  • being unable to keep one’s own earnings or whole earnings claimed for debt
  • overly fearful, depressed or submissive behaviour, avoiding eye contact
  • bad health, hygiene and malnutrition
  • signs of physical abuse and torture
  • substance abuse
  • lack of trust and suspicion
  • few or no personal belongings
  • false job offers or falsely advertised jobs. Be aware of offers of enticing positions away from home. These offers may be in newspapers, word of mouth or by personal offers
  • No credentials are required for a job, and the position is provided with free accommodation and travel, plus free registration of your visa and/or work permit.
  • feelings of being trapped

Fears of human trafficking rings around campuses: In September 2019, students from Stellenbosch University posted on about an alleged human trafficking ring operating as a church group after they were approach by a trio of women recruiting “prospective worshippers”. This caused alarm across several institutions, including UP. The article posted by the students, warning other students, was updated a few days later with an apology and acknowledgement that the church group was never asked for a response or comment. Spokesperson for Stellenbosch University, Martin Viljoen, confirmed that no formal complaints were lodged regarding incidences of human trafficking. Shortly after, UP students reported similar instances with a group recruiting for a church group. In September 2019, PDBY spoke to two students who had been approached by such a group. The students, on condition of anonymity, expressed they did not feel threatened by the group. Following the publishing of the incident at Stellenbosch, students in Hatfield attributed their encounters to the Stellenbosch incident. Brooklyn SAPS Media Communication Officer Captain Colette Weilbach confirmed that “all past allegations were found to be ungrounded and we never received complaints about churches”.

The South African National Human Trafficking Hotline can be contacted at 0800 222 777.


Image: Cassandra Eardley

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Kayla is the Editor of PDBY for 2020 and 2021. She joined the copy team in 2017, and became head layout editor in 2018 before starting her term as Editor. Kayla is obsessed with PDBY and is considering moving into the office to live with Pssst... forever. You can reach her by email.

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Social Science student with the dream of one day becoming the head of an international humanitarian organisation. Writes mostly about politics, student governance and health. Kept afloat by Philippians 4:13