Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kathryn Bolkovac

The Awesome Woman of the Day is KATHRYN BOLKOVAC, a law enforcement professional who blew the whistle on DynCorp, a contractor paid by the U.S. Military to assist in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in the late 1990s, for failing to take action against their own task-force trainees who were patronizing Bosnian establishments that trafficked in very young sex slaves. (A movie called The Whistleblower, based on this true story, was released on Friday, August 5.)

Bolkovac was working as a police officer in her native Nebraska when she saw a recruiting poster for the mission. A mother of three, with two of her children in college, she signed up to be one of 2,000 police officers from 45 countries to work as peacekeepers. During her training session in the States, she learned that at least one man in her group was aware of the use of very young girls for sex in Bosnia, a fact that was borne out once she was deployed. Bolkovac discovered restaurants and night clubs in Bosnia that were fronts for sex-trafficking operations that rented out girls aged 12-15 to international clientele, including her fellow U.N. peacekeepers. The Bosnian police were no help; they apparently were being paid to ignore the awful situation.

The treatment of these young girls was truly atrocious. Bolkovac uncovered evidence of girls who, when they refused to have sex, were beaten and raped in bars by their pimps while peacekeepers stood and watched. She discovered that one UN policeman who was supposed to be investigating the sex trade paid $700 to a bar owner for an underage girl he kept captive in his apartment.

[Madeleine Rees, the head of the UN Human Rights Commission office in Sarajevo, believes trafficking in little girls started with the arrival of the international peacekeepers in 1992.]

Bolkovac reported her findings to her DynCorp, which at the time had a $15 million contract to recruit and train police officers for the Bosnian operation, and she was immediately demoted. Six months later she was fired, and was warned by fellow workers that her life was in danger. After a two-year lawsuit she waged against DynCorp, in 2002,  an employment tribunal ruled that Bolkovac was unfairly dismissed by DynCorp.

In 2002, Salon did a two-part investigation into the participation of DynCorp employees in the Bosnian sex-slave trade, and determined that t least 13 DynCorp employees have been sent home from Bosnia -- and at least seven of them fired -- for purchasing women or participating in other prostitution-related activities. But despite large amounts of evidence in some cases, none of the DynCorp employees sent home have faced criminal prosecution.

In January, a book co-authored by Bolkovac about her experience, The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman's Fight for Justice, was published