COSTA MESA, California — The Global Center for Women & Justice (GCWJ) at Vanguard University is in Southern California, but the influence of director Sandra L. Morgan extends much wider. She has mentored students who now work in careers such as child welfare supervisors, probation officers, and undercover law enforcement agents.
Although she has received plentiful offers herself to move to better-paying government jobs, Morgan remains a bundle of energy on campus, currently mentoring eight interns.
“The way to change culture is through education,” asserts Morgan, who holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Biola University.
Morgan also is on a quest to edify church leaders about the complicated factors surrounding sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. For that reason, she and colleagues have written a handbook to be published this spring called Ending Human Trafficking: A Handbook of Strategies for the Church Today.
According to Morgan, such problems can’t be solved with a one-off sermon or a short-term mission trip. Missionaries who open residential recovery homes for traffic victims often must wait years for proper licensed staffing and government regulation compliance. Cooperative efforts need physicians and law enforcement officers involvement.
“The Church needs greater insight in how to respond to justice issues with more understanding and wisdom,” contends Morgan, an ordained Assemblies of God minister. “So many people want to jump in as quick citizen saviors when it comes to sex trafficking. We don’t need lone rangers trying to rescue girls. We need churches to do prevention in their own communities.”
Labor exploitation is three times as common a scourge as sex trafficking, according to Morgan, with victims evenly divided between men and women. Coercive tactics include withholding pay, physical isolation, and abuse — physical, verbal, or emotional. Children around the globe are endangered while toiling on cocoa plantations, in cotton fields, on fishing boats, in diamond mines, and in chemical plants. Children are enslaved to produce inexpensive products for the masses.
Morgan has learned many children who are exploited already had been identified as 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 become an adult with problems,” Morgan says. “But trafficking is an umbrella for risk factors that include unemployment, poverty, and racial discrimination.”
Although the fight to free people from bondage may seem to be never-ending, Morgan insists progress is being made.
“I absolutely believe this is a winnable issue,” Morgan says. “Our students are learning how to conduct meaningful strategy that results in actual change.”
Through GCWJ, Live2Free students have mobilized to train 1,200 middle school and high school students about trafficking.
While a biology major at Vanguard, Nick E. Mendoza studied to become a doctor. He needed an elective class to round out his schedule, so he enrolled in a human trafficking course taught by Morgan. It changed the trajectory of his life and career.
The classes opened Mendoza’s eyes to the harsh realities of such evils as domestic violence, sexual exploitation of children, and trafficking of body organs.
“The issue is so big,” Mendoza says. “I wanted to be involved in the fight to end human trafficking, whether it’s research or boots-on-the-ground involvement at church, school or community outreach.”
He switched his major to sociology — with a minor in women’s studies — and became a GCWJ intern, which included study abroad research in Italy on trafficking. A 2015 Vanguard graduate, Mendoza now is a deputy probation officer in Fresno, California. While his primary role involves ensuring the court compliance of high-risk individuals, Mendoza has had the opportunity to assist in a human trafficking case. His goal is to become part of a federal task force fighting the scourge.
“A lot of the information I learned in human trafficking courses has stuck with me and I apply it to daily work,” Mendoza says. “It’s not just a women’s issue. Everyone needs to step in 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 combat them. As a senior, Zayas did a research internship under Morgan in which she worked with a sex trafficking survivor.
“I immediately knew I felt called to do anti-trafficking outreach and education,” Zayas recalls. Following graduation, she spent a year and a half conducting trainings and presentations for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
Since obtaining her master’s degree at California State University-Bakersfield, Zayas has worked as a licensed clinical social worker in Visalia. She helped develop commercial sexual exploitation of children policies and programs for Tulare County Child Welfare Services. She and her husband, Nathan, a real estate appraiser who also is a Vanguard graduate, have a son, Lorenzo, 2.
Zayas, who attends Visalia First Assembly, also is a GCWJ adjunct professor. She teaches online courses about sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. She still considers Morgan a mentor.
“People need to do the research before jumping in,” says Zayas, who is the lead for the Tulare County Anti-Trafficking Coalition faith-based subcommittee. “It requires a lot of foundational work.”
Morgan, a trained pediatric nurse, began battling human trafficking in 1999 after connecting with Project Rescue co-founder Beth Grant. Morgan served a decade in Greece as an AG world missionary with her husband, Jean. There, she witnessed a young girl being sold in a tourist area, prompting her to start studying the issue and write about in the Greek-language Lydia magazine, later launching the Lydia Today Foundation.
These days, Morgan is recognized around the world as a catalyst to bring together diverse factions in advocating for the end of mistreatment 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 pads, a factor allowing girls to remain enrolled in classes.
The fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation is broadening all the time. For instance, student advocate Matthew J. Holgate is leading an initiative to take the Ensure Justice conference to the Navajo Nation in partnership with the Native American group’s first lady’s office.
GCWJ opened in 2003 and now is involved in training community leaders, health care professionals, law enforcement officers, and judges.
“This all started as a women’s studies minor, but it’s grown,” says Morgan, whose Ending Human Trafficking podcast, with over 260 episodes, has listeners in 140 nations. “The anti-trafficking world is now male dominated.”
An anti-human trafficking certificate now available at Vanguard focuses on curricula appealing to the professional development crowd. Courses have names such as Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants, and Human Trafficking Survivor Care. The school just launched a concentration in Women and Justice as part of its Master of Arts in Leadership Studies.
Morgan is gratified that various interns have taken the initiative in creating avenues to fight trafficking, such as the student-led fair trade fashion show, now in its 6th year.
“Sometimes students don’t do it the way I would, but they do it so peers will respond,” says Morgan, the mother of two daughters, Angeline and Jeanette.