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On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, survivors share their courageous stories

Posted at 5:37 PM, Jan 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-12 00:13:29-05

Jan. 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It’s a crime with far more victims than many of the public would like to think.

"I remember talking back to my father, and he grabbed my face and shoved my head through a window, and that was just a conscious moment where I was like, 'oh I can’t say anything,'" said Kimberli Kocherhans, a victim of human trafficking.

Kocherhans says she was abused by her adopted father and trafficked throughout Idaho and Northern Utah for 21 years.

"I was probably abused, I would say, by hundreds and hundreds of people," Kocherhans said, "and some weekends would be 50 men in a night."

It took Kocherhans multiple suicide attempts for her to finally break free of the cycle.

"I moved, and I change my name," said Kocherhans. "I just had to go into hiding basically, to give myself even a small chance."

June Haskell says while watching a documentary in college, she realized she herself, was a victim.

"'Wait a second. That happened to me,' and 'wait a second. I know what that feels like,'" recalled Haskell, a victim of human trafficking.

She said for years, her mother would send her to men's houses in exchange for money or items.

"I just thought I was the most unlucky girl, and maybe it was just me," Haskell said. "Maybe I was wearing something, or saying something, or doing something."

Russell Smith from the Utah Attorney General's Office said sadly, stories like these are not rare. Human trafficking cases in Utah went up 200 percent in 2017, and Smith says the upcoming Sundance Film Festival can be a problem.

"Human trafficking always goes up when there’s events. The larger the event, the more human trafficking that occurs," said Smith.

For National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, victims like Kimberli and June ask for people to look for the signs and know that it has many faces.

"Maybe if enough people listen and enough people are not afraid to say something and raise their own voice, then maybe something will change," said Haskell, "and more people will be willing to acknowledge what’s going on every day in every community all over Utah."