Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

WI asked to help tackle sex trade

Prostitute accepts money
The WI has said it would be keen to help tackle trafficking

The minister for women has asked Women's Institute (WI) members across England to help root out sleazy adverts in their local newspapers.

Harriet Harman is concerned about adverts selling sex with foreign women, many of whom may have been trafficked and forced into prostitution.

In a speech to the WI, she urged members to complain to editors if they see such adverts in their local papers.

A WI spokeswoman said she believed this could make a difference.

'Dreadful conditions'

The WI, which with 205,000 members is the UK's largest voluntary women's organisation, has already indicated it is interested in helping the campaign against trafficking in this way.

There are an estimated 4,000 females currently living in the UK who have been trafficked to work as prostitutes.

The WI says many of women, some in their early teens, have been tricked and abducted from their own country and forced to live and work in "dreadful conditions".

Some of the girls thought they were coming to improve the quality of their lives
Jenny Massey, WI member

It argues that newspaper adverts are the most common method used by men to access sexual services.

The WI is encouraging its members to pass on details to the organisation, although it has yet to decide what it will do with the information.

Spokeswoman Ira Arundell said the WI had the option to "name and shame" newspapers which published such adverts although its "absolute focus" was on helping the women concerned.

"We want to raise awareness and spread the message about what is happening with these girls," she said.

'Reactionary attitudes'

Ms Harman has already won the support of The Newspaper Society, which represents local papers, to discourage such adverts while several publishers have agreed to stop publishing them.

Members of the Women's Institute talk about their concerns

In her speech to the WI, she said the sex trade was "the modern-day version of the slave trade" and urged members to look through local papers to see if they carried the advertisements.

"I hope that members of the National Federation of the Women's Institute will help protect women from being brought here, from abroad, and being forced into the sex trade," she said.

The initiative comes as a survey of 143 WI members found nearly half of them had suffered violent or sexual attacks or knew someone who had.

The research was part of a Bristol University project on violence against women in rural areas.

Ms Harman said cases of domestic violence incidents had halved in ten years. She said since 1997, there had been a 58% fall and that 73% of domestic violence cases bought to court now resulted in a conviction.

But she said that while "real progress" had been made against domestic violence, efforts should be re-doubled.

"But, here again, we still have to continually challenge reactionary attitudes, that domestic violence is a private matter, it's a private matter between husband and wife, that it's not for the public authorities to intervene or that - and this is the really pernicious one, she must have bought it on herself.

"So, there's still a mountain to climb to end violence in the home."

The WI members who were surveyed criticised support services for victims of domestic violence, with 90% feeling the police did not give the support they needed.

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