By Joe Garvey

The U.S. State Department estimates that 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking at any given time. Traffickers exploit children, adults, men and women, forcing them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. The State Department says human trafficking happens in every region in the United States - including Hampton Roads.

With January being National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Old Dominion University's College of Arts and Letters is hosting an event aiming to raise consciousness about the problem locally.

"Hear Their Voices: A Human Trafficking Awareness Event" is scheduled for Jan. 26 at the Baron and Ellin Gordon Galleries. Participants can attend in person or via Zoom. You can register at this link.

"The event is multifaceted," said moderator Amy Matzke-Fawcett, strategic communications and outreach coordinator for the College of Arts & Letters. "First, we want to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking in Hampton Roads and beyond, which has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also hope to clear up misconceptions about trafficking and who is at risk, because many people are unaware of how trafficking can happen to anyone. And ultimately, we want to help keep our community, both on and off campus, safe."

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. It will feature an artist's talk with Kim McCoy, an ODU student and the creator of "Hear Their Voices," a piece exhibited in the Barry Arts Building rotunda during January. Also on the program is a spoken-word performance by Poetikk Justice, the stage name of Tonya Shell, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and a certified anti-human-trafficking consultant. The evening concludes with a panel discussion that includes McCoy; Shell; Amanda Petersen, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice who researches and teaches on racial and gender violence in the U.S. criminal legal system; and Courtney Pierce, anti-trafficking outreach and direct service coordinator for Samaritan House in Virginia Beach.

"All of the panelists came to work against human trafficking in different ways but feel passionately about the subject and the need to educate our community about safety and what to look out for," said Matzke-Fawcett, who became interested in human trafficking about six years ago and in August 2021 published her thesis on the subject. "Pierce will discuss the realities of what their organization is seeing across the area."

Matzke-Fawcett learned about McCoy's "Hear Their Voices" when she attended an online event through the Slover Library in January 2021.

"The piece had been exhibited in the library, and they invited Kim to discuss it on Zoom," Matzke-Fawcett said. "I was fascinated by the piece and the strong feelings behind it, so when I found out Kim was a student in ODU's Art Department I reached out to her to see if she would be interested in exhibiting it on campus. I was inspired by her artist's talk, which combined information about trafficking with her art, and the passion that fueled both."

McCoy ultimately plans to enroll in the art therapy degree program at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Her pastel art and original music composition were featured in the Virginia Beach ViBe District's Story Exchange "Alone, Together" in June 2020, and she also has a piece on display at Webb Center.

She describes "Hear Their Voices" as a "prayer for all victims of human trafficking."

"May this piece raise awareness, and may we all experience the freedom deserved by all beings," she added.

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