Newspapers promise action on sex slavery

Newspapers are working with the government to help tackle the problem of human trafficking for the sex industry - with a focus being put on the small ads which appear in the local and regional press.

The move follows a meeting between ministers and newspaper and advertising industry representatives.

It followed comments by Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, in the House of Commons on October 25 that some local newspapers were promoting slavery by running sex adverts for foreign women.

The meeting between the government and news and advertising industries, chairman by Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker, included Ms Harman, Margaret Hodge, Hodge, a junior minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Solicitor General Vera Baird, Newspaper Society Director David Newell, Christopher Graham from the Advertising Standards Authority, Baroness Buscombe of the Advertising Association and Roger Wisbey of the Committee of Advertising Practice.

Mr Coaker said after the meeting, on November 1: "We agreed a number of important steps today, and will continue to work together.

"The Government will continue to work with the Police and Local Authorities, and the Newspaper Society has committed to strengthen its guidance to local papers on what adverts to accept, and to raise awareness of this link to trafficking.

"This is just one strand of a range of initiatives, which together will work to eradicate this intolerable trade once and for all."

Mr Newell said: "The Newspaper Society welcomed the opportunity to meet ministers to discuss how all parties can work together to help combat the serious problem of human trafficking. We will be examining the guidance we issue to publishers to ensure it fully reflects current concerns about trafficking, and will be raising those concerns with regional and local newspaper publishers."

Ms Harman said: "Britain is a major focus for the global trade of sexual exploitation of women by traffickers, who trick or abduct young women and force them into prostitution - 10 years ago 85% of women in brothels were UK citizens; now 85% are from outside the UK.

"Sex trafficking is modern day slavery. The police are catching traffickers and punishing them, but to really stop this evil trade, we need to tackle the demand for these vulnerable victims.

"Small ads at the back of local papers are often used to sell trafficked girls - things like 'new girls every day', 'international ladies 24/7' - which police believe can fuel the demand for these trafficked girls and perpetuate this trade.

"We had a very constructive meeting with the Newspaper Society and other industry figures and they absolutely share our concerns and condemnation of this relatively new phenomenon. The industry is equally committed to tackling this horrific trade and has promised to look at the issue and I look forward to working with them in the future."

Guidance issued by the Newspaper Society points out that while prostitution itself is not a criminal offence, brothels and other venues where sexual services are offered are illegal.

It says that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 created offences of causing or inciting prostitution for gain(S52) and controlling prostitution for gain (S53), and adds: "Advertisements offering such services or requesting such service providers, should not be accepted if the publisher knows or has reason to believe that such activities are taking place."

On the issue of advertisements for massage services, the guidance says: "When deciding policies on the acceptance of massage advertisements publishers are advised to bear in mind the following points:

"(1) Massage advertisements can disguise services of a sexual nature. Publishers could be acting unlawfully if they publish an advertisement in the clear knowledge that it offers sexual services. To avoid any question of such knowledge, publishers should be wary of advertisements which could be construed in a compromising way. For example, obvious phrases such as 'Let me take you to heaven' should be avoided.

"(2) Publishers may wish to adopt a policy of only accepting massage advertisements from advertisers with the appropriate qualifications.

"(3) Bona fides checks can be made to ascertain the legitimacy of such services."

The Newspaper Society also runs an online service, Advertisement Points to Watch, an A-Z guide, which is available free to members and for £175 plus VAT to non-members.

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