He sits in the mall watching the girls go by. He spots her in a group, and right away he can tell she’s the one: She hangs back, smiles less, seems less sure of herself and more timid than the others.

He makes sure to bump into her and her friends a couple of times. He seems like a nice guy, and soon he has her phone number, Facebook and other information. Social media makes his job much easier.

After a few dates, he suggests they go to a party at the house of a guy he knows, “just for a few minutes.”

Sounds like fun, she says.

In less than an hour, they’ve left the country.

Her family will never see her again.

This is a typical “Romeo” scenario human-trafficking “recruiters” use to lure victims, according to Lynn Brewer, president of the regional Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Despite what you might think, many victims of human trafficking aren’t abducted. They’re coerced or manipulated by someone they trust. Victims are used for sex, forced labor and servitude and, more recently, organ harvesting. They last an average of seven years in captivity before they die, likely from either a drug overdose or suicide, Brewer said.

In Florida, the prime age for a human trafficking victim is 9 to 15, slightly younger than the national average of 11 to 16, according to Brewer, citing statistics from the United Nations and the nonprofit anti-trafficking organization Polaris. Among other factors, Florida’s large immigrant population and ease of travel — with lots of airports and coastline — make the state attractive to those in the flesh trade.

That’s why we were glad to hear this week that Florida is the first state to require public schools to teach human trafficking prevention in grades K-12. School districts have until Dec. 1 to figure out a plan and submit it to the state.

Some might be concerned about such a horrific subject reaching tender ears, particularly kindergarteners. But school officials promise the lessons will be tailored to each grade level, and as long as staff are properly trained, we don’t see a problem.

The sooner we can get the message to kids about some of the dangers they face in the world, the better.

“It’s imperative they start younger and younger, at least with warnings to beware of these types of situations,” Brewer said, likening this to a similar effort many of us remember. “Years ago ... ‘stranger danger’ probably saved a lot of lives.”

Florida is third in the country for human trafficking cases. Last year, of 767 reported cases statewide, 149 were minors.

“If we don’t make headway on this soon, (human trafficking) will be the the number one crime in the country and in the world,” Brewer said.

Let’s applaud Gov. Ron DeSantis and the State Board of Education for taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen.

An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.


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