Sounding the Alarm on Human Trafficking

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Kathryn Bolkovac was working as a police officer in Nebraska when she accepted a position with private military contractor DynCorp International. She was sent to Bosnia, where DynCorp had been contracted to support the UN peacekeeping mission. She was assigned as a human rights investigator, heading the gender affairs unit. In Sarajevo, she began to unravel the ugly truth about officers involved in human trafficking and forced prostitution and their connections to private mercenary contractors, the UN, and the U.S. State Department. After bringing this evidence to light, Bolkovac was demoted and fired. But thanks to the evidence she collected, she won a lawsuit against DynCorp, finally exposing them for what they had done.

Kathryn Bolkovac, author of The Whistleblower, talks with us here about what she saw, how she found the strength to speak out, and what we can do to end human trafficking.

How did you first discover that women were being trafficked by U.S. government employees and contractors in Bosnia?

I had the first inkling at the training session in Texas. A recruit made comments to the effect that he knew “where to find nice 12 year olds” [in Bosnia].

Once I got to Bosnia, it was about 6 months before I was assigned to work on violence against women. There were several cases where women had been beaten and raped – and had run away from brothels. That was when they started to implicate internationals.

There was a report that an American had bought a woman for $1000. What does that mean?

That particular case was one that Human Rights Watch reported on. The case I dealt with was my coworker. He bought a woman for 6000 Deutschmarks. He went to Tanyo – who ran a bar – and bought this girl. He took her passport and took her home to live with him.

He was rather uneducated. He had been a police officer in Illinois. He was American and worked for DynCorp. He told me all about it.

It was just really sad. I could not imagine any police officer thinking this was okay. He had the power and opportunity to go into that bar and raid it – he could have done that. Instead, he bought a woman from the bar.

There were many, many, many men in the same category. It was just bizarre because these men were someplace where they thought this was okay to do.

Were there other women working with you? 

Yes – there was a rather large human rights subdivision, and there were a lot of women who worked in it.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bosnia Madeleine Rees was actively talking about this trafficking. But the chain of command for the international police force made it hard to root out, which was the reason to create my position with the U.N.’s Gender Office. Unfortunately, the allegations were usually trash-canned before they got to my office. Or if they went on to Internal Affairs (from my office), or to the next level up (the level directly under Kofi Annan), the case was designated not credible, or already looked at. If the offenders were American working for DynCorp, they were “repatriated” or totally ignored. In other cases, they were sent to other missions.

Did the women who worked with you at DynCorp speak out against the trafficking?

Only 10% of the force was women, and only a few were willing to speak up. I was the only one from DynCorp who spoke up while I was there.

Why do you think they didn’t speak up?

Out of fear of losing a paying job. They were making $85-100K tax-free, which just doesn’t happen for a woman cop in America.

Where did you find your strength?

I was brought up in a different world than some of the other women there. My family was educated; I traveled a lot in my life. I had worked in a lot of fields other than police work. I had a global perspective – to see the bigger picture — to see what other management within the mission was doing.

How can we stop the trafficking and sale of women?

The most important thing is to do some research and try to contact your congressman. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman David Price (D-N.C.) have introduced a bill to congress called The Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) As stated on the website, it would “close a gap in current law to make certain that American government employees and contractors are not immune from prosecution for crimes committed overseas.”

The UN has done a really good job of raising public awareness – but it’s not making the necessary changes behind the scenes. It’s all public relations with the exception of those really putting pressure on government officials. Three organizations are doing the follow-up to make real changes:

Lastly, I wrote my book The Whistleblower, as an educational tool. I hope people will buy it and inform themselves about this issue.

The Whistleblower has been made into a movie starring Rachel Weisz

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