by Francoise Kadri Francoise Kadri – Mon Apr 4, 2:05 am ET

ROME (AFP) – From the judge's bench to the witness stand, women are at the centre of a sex trial for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi starting Wednesday that has breathed new life into Italy's feminist movement.

The trial revolves around allegations that Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage prostitute -- just 17 at the time -- and then committed abuse of office by getting her released from police custody in a separate incident.

The Moroccan girl, Karima El Mahroug -- stage name "Ruby the Heart Stealer" -- was questioned four times in mid-2010 by prosecutors in Milan and made compromising statements about parties held at Berlusconi's residence.

One of the organisers of the soirees was Nicole Minetti, a 25-year-old brunette and Berlusconi confidante who is accused in a separate case of incitement to prostitution of a minor and more than 30 other young women.

Considered by Milan prosecutors as a sort of madam working for 74-year-old Berlusconi, Minetti has had a meteoric career starting from when she was a dental hygienist and a starlet on one of Berlusconi's television channels.

Last year she became a local councillor from Berlusconi's People of Freedom party in Lombardy -- Italy's wealthiest region. She has even confided to La Repubblica newspaper that she would like to be foreign minister one day.

Not an unlikely career move in Italy: Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna was also once a show girl on one of the Berlusconi-owned channels.

The scandals have given Italy's feminist movement a boost -- with help from well-known personalities like film directors Cristina and Francesca Comencini.

Around one million people took part in rallies called by women's groups across Italy in February to protest what they said is a political system that treats women as objects. Many participants voiced outrage against Berlusconi.

Feminist group Arcidonna now wants to present itself as an injured party at the trial against Berlusconi for having "damaged the dignity of women".

Women are set to be heavily represented in the courtroom as it is.

Ilda Boccassini, one of the main prosecutors and a leading anti-mafia investigator, has had run-ins with Berlusconi before. The three judges selected by a computer at random for the trial are also all women.

It's the peak of a nightmare for a billionaire Latin lover who admits to liking the company of beautiful women but who swears he has never paid for sex.

It all kicked off when his second wife Veronica Lario demanded a divorce in 2009 from a man that she alleged "cavorts with minors" and was "a dragon to whom young virgins offer themselves".

Newspapers quickly discovered the main apparent source of her anger: Noemi, a Neapolitan model who celebrated her 18th birthday with Berlusconi and said she had only affection for a man she called "papi".

Then in mid-2009, the media went wild over the revelations by call-girl Patrizia D'Addario, an attractive blonde in her 40s, who released audio tapes from a night of passion with Berlusconi.

The first revelations about "Ruby" appeared in the press late last year.