Britain asks Schwarzenegger to close prostitute website

LONDON (Reuters) - A British government minister asked California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday to shut down a U.S. website that allows men to rate prostitutes, including many working in London.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks during a news conference in San Francisco, California July 3, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Harriet Harman, minister for women and equality, told the ruling Labor Party’s annual conference that “Punternet” fuels the demand for prostitution -- a vice she said degrades women and puts them at risk.

She said the website was a “very sinister development” in the trade and exploitation of women and allows guests to compare and rate services in the same way as they would a restaurant, a hotel or a holiday.

Pimps put women on sale for sex on the site then clients offered their comments on line, she said.

“Punternet has pages and pages of women for sale in London,” said Harman, who is deputy leader of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labor Party.

She said she had raised the issue with the U.S. ambassador to Britain and asked California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to close it down as it is based in that state.

“Surely it can’t be too difficult for ‘The Terminator’ to terminate Punternet and that’s what I am demanding that he does.”

The Punternet site describes itself as “The Online Community for Patrons and Providers of Adult Personal Services in the UK” and says it was “created to facilitate the exchange of information on prostitution in the UK.”

A U.S. Embassy spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Prostitution is not illegal in Britain. But associated activities, including soliciting, advertising using cards in telephone boxes and kerb crawling, are criminal offences.

The minister also used the speech to say the government would make it a criminal offence to have sex with a prostitute who is being controlled by a pimp.

The government was also stepping up action to tackle human trafficking in the run up to the 2012 Olympic Games, most of which will be hosted in London.

“We’re determined to ensure that, especially in the run-up to the Olympics, international criminal gangs don’t trick and abduct women from abroad and sell them for sex in London.”

Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Angus MacSwan