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Anti-sex trafficking art contest falls victim to fundraising hurdles

When Lena Walther contacted Desert Companion last fall, she was gearing up for an art contest meant to educate Las Vegas children and teens about sex trafficking. As noted in our October story, “Off Track,” Walther’s 2-year-old nonprofit, Awareness Is Prevention, had just started soliciting entries into the contest and spreading word about it among community centers and youth groups.

She got in touch again this month with a bad news/good news update: The contest is off for now, but Walther’s relationship with the Swedish Embassy, for which she’s Nevada’s honorary consul, has presented an opportunity for local combatants in the war on sex trafficking to learn from Sweden’s success.

Walter writes, “AIP is continuing to work on the ‘Awareness through the Arts’ talent contest. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to raise enough funds to get the program implemented in the fall of 2016. However, we are planning to have our first talent competition this spring. Dates are yet to be decided upon.”

Her fundraising difficulties illustrate a problem in anti-sex trafficking efforts that UNLV criminal justice professor Alexis Kennedy discussed in the story. Kennedy said it’s tough to find corporate sponsorships for awareness-raising events in a city whose economy runs, in part, on the hypersexualized culture of casino nightclubs and topless pools.

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The story also described a shift, led recently by Metro Lieutenant Patricia Spencer, in law enforcement perspectives on sex-solicitation crimes involving minors — from seeing them as perpetrators to understanding them as victims. This is the area that Walther’s latest effort targets.

In Sweden, she writes, “They prosecute the people buying sex, which is illegal. Statistics show a significant reduction of sex trafficked victims. Several other European countries are following Sweden.”

(A 2008 study by Northwestern University School of Law researchers, published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, found that Sweden’s 1998 Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services had had a “chilling effect” on sex trafficking in the country.)

Walther plans to invite Swedish officials who focus on global sex trafficking issues to Las Vegas, where they can share best practices with people like Kennedy and Spencer.

But such events don’t produce themselves, as Walther notes: “We are in crucial need of larger financing through corporate sponsorships, donations and grants.”

Whether the community answers her call will be seen at AIP’s first fundraiser of the year, scheduled February 26.


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