COSTA MESA, Calif. Friday afternoon at a quiet summer college campus Sandie Morgan enthusiastically shared her vision for grassroots change in domestic human trafficking. Her audience consisted of men and women from a church in a Costa Mesa. Passionately, she prompted each one to repeat back to her the language that will help change the view of girls who society refers to as prostitutes.
"By virtue of her age, each one of those girls has protection from sexual exploitation," Morgan said. The legal terminology for human traffic victims is Commercially Sexually Exploited Children. Morgan, a registered nurse specializing in pediatric development, goes on to explain the significance of recognizing that medically, a child does not have the mental capacity to make the best decisions.
"The part of the brain that contributes to making executive decisions, forms, for girls, at about age 20, and for boys at about age 23 or 24," Morgan said.
A minor cannot be legitimately charged with the crime of commercial sex. Finding a way to help people define these terms is essential to helping people understand what, or rather who, is at the proverbial stake when we take action. Young girls are being seduced into the arms of a lifestyle formally labeled as prostitution, which, by definition, has traditionally assigned blame to minor girls.
Now, with more awareness and investigation into the multi-billion dollar industry known as human trafficking, it has become clear that American children are being lured into a relationship in which they become enslaved. Morgan has committed her life to building awareness about this issue to bring restoration to the many young girls who are in need of an advocate and a place of safety in order to grow up and integrate normally into society.
Ministering to women
As a missionary, Morgan spent 10 years living in Greece, during which time her husband taught at an international university. Her nursing license was not recognized there, so she founded an organization known as Lydia Today, ministering to women in Greece through a Christian magazine called Lydia Living. Lydia Today published articles about such topics as health, marriage, children and spiritual awareness. Lydia is the name of a woman in the Bible. She is a symbol of inspiration, a woman who could affect the culture around her in a positive way. Her message to women was simple and meaningful, meeting practical needs in a godly way, nurturing women, their marriages and their children.
"We felt like we could change the next generation if we change the women who are raising them," Morgan said.
While Morgan researched an article about children with disabilities, she stumbled onto the issue of human trafficking. A U.S. ambassador introduced her to areas of need for women in Greece and Morgan began to volunteer at a local shelter and quickly became a vocal advocate for female traffic victims.
Recruited to SoCal
In 2007, while participating in a conference at Athens, Morgan was recruited to become a coordinator for the Vanguard University Center for Women Studies in Costa Mesa. After a year of championing the causes of women and students seeking to research and find solutions to social issues, funds ran low.
She remains on the volunteer board of directors for the center, but continues to make her living as an administrator for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. Her work on the secular task force is vital to finding solutions to the human trafficking problem in Southern California, and beyond. Morgan has a strong commitment to the next generation and continues to recruit and activate college interns.
The task force works with a variety of corporations, as well as public and faith-based organizations, to eradicate human trafficking in Southern California. The task force seeks to build awareness by recognizing the problem of trafficking in Orange County and working to provide valid solutions, which will benefit the community.
Although specific statistics for Orange County were not available, Shared Hope International, through its Domestic Report, highlighted the dangers for children.
"Approximately 55 percent of street girls engage in formal prostitution," the report read. "Of the girls engaged in formal prostitution, about 75 percent worked for a pimp. Pimp-controlled commercial sexual exploitation of children is linked to escort and massage services, private dancing, drinking and photographic clubs, major sporting and recreational events, major cultural events, conventions, and tourist destinations. About one-fifth of these children become entangled in nationally organized crime networks and are trafficked nationally. They are transported around the United States by a variety of meanscars, buses, vans, trucks or planes and are often provided counterfeit identification to use in the event of arrest."
Slaves to debt
One common misunderstanding, according to Morgan, is the difference between human smuggling, which is a crime against a border, and human trafficking, which is a crime against a person. Residents of Southern California are well aware of the immigration issues that surround border life. The idea that many people are brought to the United States under the pretense of freedom is a foreign concept. Yet, in the midst of political debate, many immigrants living in Southern California are no more than modern-day slaves, working to pay off an ever-increasing debt, human rights advocates say.
Just as the crime is different, so are the resources. Human trafficking occurs when labor or sex is performed through force, fraud or coercion. And Morgan believes the church can play a vital role in putting a stop to the exploitation of adults and children that is happening right in our own backyard.
"Churches can sponsor a training, presentation or an in-service or help spread the word about the language, the movement and the purpose," she said.
Morgan encourages people to look inside their own local church and use the resources already in place. Her goal is to find professionals in churches who work in various parts of the community already. Through these positions, the ministry of the gospel can easily be mobilized in order to extend the message of how people can help in a practical way.
For example, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is Jan. 11, and the task force has made a call to churches to play a three-minute video presentation about the trouble and needs for victims of human trafficking.
While Morgan works to abolish slavery in Southern California, she continues to be present throughout the year in Greece. Lydia Today has become an international electronic resource and a beacon of hope for women everywhere.