A Seeking Arrangement relationship gone wrong has spiraled into a legal battle between a sugar daddy and a sugar baby, who claims the older man harassed her on social media when she declined to behave like a traditional girlfriend.
The case, which a Minnesota appeals court ruled on this week, illustrates the potential pitfalls of “sugar dating,” or the pairing of rich, older men with younger, more attractive women in exchange for financial gain. Seeking Arrangement—the leading site for this type of “no strings attached” matchmaking—has long dodged claims that it is simply glorified prostitution. Now, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it’s facing renewed questions over how safe it really is for women.
Shawdy Kiani, the plaintiff in the Minnesota case, met 30-something John Huha on the website in early 2017, when she was a 20-year-old college student at the University of Minnesota. The two engaged in a four-month, long-distance relationship consisting largely of vacations—paid for by Huha—during which they would have sex, according to court documents. At one point, Huha estimated that he spent at least $30,000 on their relationship. Photos on social media show them sipping daiquiris in Miami Beach and posing in front of Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis.
But Kiani said she was always wary of the amount of time Huha wanted to spend with her. After they met for the first time in Pittsburgh, she told The Daily Beast, he started texting her about going to dental school in the city so they could spend more time together. When she didn’t respond to his attempts to make plans for the next weekend, she said, he “just kind of showed up” on her campus in Minnesota.
It became clear during a spring break getaway to Miami that Huha wanted something more from the relationship, while Kiani did not. She made her first attempt at ending the relationship, but eventually agreed to continue seeing him, under the condition that it be a “real sugar baby/sugar daddy relationship.”
“I said we can meet two weekends a month and then you would like help me out financially,” she said in a message included in court filings.
Kiani said Huha reacted poorly to the suggestion that they formalize their agreement. At the same time, she was learning more about the definition of rape as a college orientation leader, and realized that the drunken sex she claims they had their first night in Pittsburgh could constitute an assault. She decided to end the relationship for good.
“You took advantage of me… making me have sex with you and getting mad when I didn’t,” she texted him at one point, according to screenshots obtained by The Daily Beast.
Huha’s attorney told The Daily Beast he denies the allegations. A district court found Kiani’s claims of sexual assault not credible, citing her demeanor on the witness stand and the fact that she had not reported the alleged assault to authorities.
After the relationship ended, Huha began posting romantic photos of the pair to Instagram, on a page dedicated entirely to pictures of their relationship. He tagged Kiani in each of the photos, including snaps of them kissing and holding hands. When she texted him to complain about the photos, he posted the screenshots of their conversations to Instagram too.
“You notice that my Instagram is now public, right? Also it identifies you in the caption...” he texted her, according to screenshots obtained by The Daily Beast. “You can call a truce anytime you like, because I’m only just beginning.”
The posts effectively outed Kiani as a sugar baby to her relatives, and she says Huha started following several of them on Instagram to get their attention. Her family members—many of whom are from Iran and are socially conservative—were shocked by the posts. To this day, Kiani said, her father rarely speaks to her.
“It was really hard, especially because of my background,” she said. “I used to go to Iran every once in a while to visit my family, but now I can’t even look at them.”
The student went to her campus law center that June to apply for a restraining order, demanding that Huha remove the social media posts and cease all contact with her. She also publicly alleged for the first time that Huha had sexually assaulted her on the trip to Pittsburgh.
A Minnesota district court approved a two-month restraining order that year, finding that the text exchange about the Instagram posts was “hostile in tone and somewhat threatening” and constituted a “minor degree of harassment.” Regarding the sexual assault allegation, however, the court sided with Huha, saying the allegation was not credible and that no sexual assault had occurred.
The appeals court reaffirmed the decision in a ruling this week, noting the district court’s finding that Kiani was not a credible witness, and adding that she failed to explain “how the photographs damaged her relationship with anyone or otherwise interfered with her privacy.”
Following the decision, Kiani has few legal options left to extend her restraining order. She said she’s eager to put the entire ordeal behind her.
“I’ve definitely spent too much of my college years and youth stressing about it. My whole persona to my family has changed—how they view me. It’s just been a really negative effect.”
Asked if she had advice for other women thinking of joining Seeking Arrangement, Kiani cautioned them to “just be careful.”
A number of other women, including Alex Page, a worker at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada, have claimed they were sexually assaulted while using sugar dating websites. Just this year, businessman Mark Giannini was charged with the statutory rape of a 17-year-old he met through Seeking Arrangement. The charges were dropped after it was revealed the teen had listed her age as 20.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.