Last month, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office announced a large-scale, headline-grabbing prostitution sting that netted 154 arrests.

An important detail in the aftermath was that detectives had found victims of human trafficking, including at least two 17-year-olds — one female and one male.

In a recent interview, Christa Hicks — the executive director of the anti-trafficking division of One More Child, which partnered with PCSO during the sting — said it is likely that many of the 69 suspected prostitutes arrested were victims of human trafficking at some point in their lives, likely as minors.

“We know that many, many people who are arrested as adults for sex work were trafficked or exploited previously — and a good number are still being exploited currently,” Hicks said.

Human trafficking and the many shapes it takes is a scourge we all must reckon with and defeat.

The International Labor Organization estimates that, globally, there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation. Here in Florida, statistical and anecdotal evidence suggest our state sees more than its fair share of this activity, given its location as an international tourism, travel and economic hub. Many of the victims of these activities tend to be minors.

We applaud the efforts of local law enforcement and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in combating these appalling practices.

It is not hard to find reports of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and its latest efforts to crackdown on sexual predators and deviants. Hardly a month goes by without word of a bust for child pornography or an adult soliciting sex from a minor, among other crimes.

These news items can be disheartening, but are not reflective of the overall character of Polk and its residents. These arrests — and the attention given to them — should, however, be seen as messages.

With each new sting or investigation, PCSO and other local law enforcement staff are working to make it clear that Polk County is not a place where this behavior will be tolerated.

Amongst all these activities, there is overlap. Whether it is human trafficking, child pornography, prostitution or other crimes, investigations into one often find traces of another.

It is of the utmost importance that our communities are vigilant in protecting our young people from those who would prey upon them, and we commend the efforts of our local law enforcement in leading that charge.

We encourage readers to be part of the solution and to contact local law enforcement with any information that may be of some assistance. Contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at (863) 298-6200.

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