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COSTA MESA, Calif. — Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women & Justice (GCWJ) is in Southern California, but director Sandra L. Morgan’s influence extends much further. She has mentored students who are now working in careers such as child protection supervisors, probation officers, and undercover law enforcement officers.

Although she herself has received numerous offers to move into higher-paying government jobs, Morgan remains a ball of energy on campus, currently mentoring eight interns.

“The way to change culture is through education,” says Morgan, who holds a doctorate in cross-cultural studies from the University of Biola.

Morgan also seeks to edify church leaders on the complex factors surrounding sex trafficking, labor trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. For this reason, she and her colleagues have written a manual to be published this spring titled Ending Human Trafficking: A Strategy Manual for the Church Today.

According to Morgan, such problems cannot be solved with a one-time sermon or a short-term mission trip. Missionaries who open residential nursing homes for traffic victims often have to wait years to have licensed staff and comply with government regulations. Cooperative efforts require the participation of physicians and law enforcement officers.

“The Church needs greater insight on how to respond to justice issues with more understanding and wisdom,” argues Morgan, an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. “So many people want to step in as quick citizen sex trafficking saviors. We don’t need lone rangers trying to save girls. We need churches to do prevention in their own communities.

Labor exploitation is a scourge three times more prevalent than sex trafficking, according to Morgan, with victims evenly split between men and women. Coercive tactics include withholding wages, physical isolation, and abuse – physical, verbal, or emotional. All over the world, children are at risk working in cocoa plantations, cotton fields, on fishing boats, in diamond mines and in chemical factories. Children are enslaved to produce cheap goods for the masses.

Morgan learned that many exploited children have already been identified as being at risk, their families may have received social services, and sometimes the child is placed elsewhere.

“If a child grows up healthy and well, he or she will be less likely to grow into an adult with problems,” Morgan says. “But trafficking is an umbrella for risk factors that include unemployment, poverty and racial discrimination.”

Although the struggle to free people from bondage may seem endless, Morgan insists progress is being made.

“I absolutely believe this is a winnable problem,” Morgan says. “Our students learn to carry out a meaningful strategy that results in real change.”

Through GCWJ, Live2Free students mobilized to train 1,200 middle and high school students on trafficking.

LIFE-CHANGING CLASS
While a biology student at Vanguard, Nick E. Mendoza studied to become a doctor. He needed an elective to fill his schedule, so he enrolled in a course on human trafficking taught by Morgan. It changed the trajectory of his life and career.

The classes opened Mendoza’s eyes to the harsh realities of evils such as domestic violence, child sexual exploitation and organ trafficking.

“The problem is so big,” Mendoza says. “I wanted to get involved in the fight to end human trafficking, whether it was research or involvement in the field at church, school or in the community.”

He changed his major to sociology – with a minor in women’s studies – and became an intern at GCWJ, which included study abroad and research in Italy on trafficking. A 2015 Vanguard graduate, Mendoza is now an assistant probation officer in Fresno, Calif. While his primary role involves ensuring court compliance for high-risk individuals, Mendoza had the opportunity to assist in a human trafficking case. His goal is to be part of a federal task force fighting the scourge.

“A lot of information I learned in human trafficking courses stuck with me and I apply it to my daily work,” says Mendoza. “It’s not just a women’s issue. Everyone must step up to help end human trafficking.

Alicia D. Zayas, a 2008 Vanguard graduate, says GCWJ classes opened her eyes to the atrocities humans commit against other humans and how Christians can fight them. As a senior, Zayas did a research internship under Morgan in which she worked with a sex trafficking survivor.

“I knew right away that I felt called to do anti-trafficking awareness and education,” Zayas recalls. After graduating, she spent a year and a half leading trainings and presentations for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

Since earning her master’s degree from California State University-Bakersfield, Zayas has worked as a licensed clinical social worker in Visalia. She helped develop policies and programs on commercial sexual exploitation of children for Tulare County Child Protective Services. She and her husband, Nathan, a real estate appraiser who is also a Vanguard graduate, have a son, Lorenzo, 2.

Zayas, who attends the first Visalia assembly, is also an assistant professor at GCWJ. She teaches online courses on sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. She still considers Morgan a mentor.

“People need to do their research before they jump in,” says Zayas, who leads the faith-based subcommittee of the Tulare County Anti-Trafficking Coalition. “It takes a lot of groundwork.”

GLOBAL NETWORK
Morgan, a trained pediatric nurse, began fighting human trafficking in 1999 after meeting Project Rescue co-founder Beth Grant. Morgan served a decade in Greece as an AG World Missionary with her husband, Jean. There she witnessed the sale of a young girl in a tourist area, which prompted her to begin researching the matter and write in the Greek-language magazine Lydia, later starting the Lydia Today Foundation.

These days, Morgan is recognized around the world as a catalyst for bringing together diverse factions in advocacy to end the abuse of women and children. In 2019, President Donald Trump appointed Morgan to the new Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council to End Human Trafficking.

She is renowned for her collaborative abilities with people such as Philip Kitoto, who serves on the World Assemblies of God Commission on Sexual Exploitation, Slavery and Trafficking. A Vanguard study abroad program in Nairobi, Kenya, scheduled for May, will provide feminine hygiene products, health education and economic empowerment to keep girls in school. A factory is being built to manufacture sanitary napkins, a factor in keeping girls in school.

The fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation continues to expand. For example, student attorney Matthew J. Holgate is leading an initiative to bring the Ensuring Justice Conference to the Navajo Nation in partnership with the office of the First Lady of the Native American group.

The GCWJ opened in 2003 and is now involved in training community leaders, health professionals, law enforcement officers and judges.

“It all started as a women’s studies minor, but it grew,” says Morgan, whose Ending Human Trafficking podcast, with more than 260 episodes, has listeners in 140 countries. “The world of anti-trafficking is now male-dominated.”

An Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate now available at Vanguard focuses on programs that appeal to the professional development crowd. The courses go by names such as Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling and Care for Survivors of Human Trafficking. The school has just launched a concentration on women and justice as part of its Master of Arts in Leadership Studies.

Morgan is pleased that various interns have taken the initiative to create ways to combat trafficking, such as the student-led Fair Trade Fashion Show, now in its 6th year.

“Sometimes the students don’t do it like I would, but they do it so their peers react,” says Morgan, the mother of two daughters, Angeline and Jeanette.

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