We Need Whistleblowers Everywhere
A review of “The Whistleblower,” by Kathryn Bolkovac and Cari Lynn
I warn you: once you start reading whistleblowers’ stories, you won’t be able to stop.
I am fascinated by whistleblowers, so I have been steadily working my way through every book my local public library has about or by these brave souls who see wrongdoing and…get this…REPORT IT.
The book I chose this month was The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice, by Kathryn Bolkovac, with Cari Lynn.
Former Nebraska police officer Bolkovac details her time spent in war-torn Bosnia at the end of the 1990s and early years of the 2000s, after she applied to and went to work for a private military contractor. She thought she would be spending her time helping support a UN peacekeeping mission in the region, but that turned out not to be the case, particularly when she began filing reports about how women were being trafficked into and out of Bosnia, and, more importantly, who was paying to use those victims.
Whistleblowers’ stories are often fascinating, but they are also usually as depressing as hell.
Particularly when Bolkovac tells one story of how she started to realize that many members of the international forces (including her co-workers) were not so much helping in an already bad situation as they were taking advantage of it. Consider her tale about “Carl”:
“That evening, as [Carl] drove me home, he was not his normal, happy self. He told me his girlfriend had left him. I figured he had been trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with a woman back home and she just grew tired of being so far apart. But then he sighed and said, ‘Yep, she ran away.’
I did not understand. ‘She’s a local girl,’ he explained.
‘Did she go back to live with her family?’ I asked, still confused, but thinking she was probably a language assistant or secretary who worked in our offices.
‘Well, she’s not exactly from Bosnia. I think her passport says Romania or Moldova or something…’ His voice trailed off, and he looked helpless.
I could not believe what I was hearing. I looked straight at him. ‘Carl, where did you meet her?’
‘At the Como Bar.’
My eyes narrowed. ‘Is it possible she’d been trafficked into Bosnia?’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that, Kathy,’ he said dubiously. ‘I bought her from Tanjo, he’s the owner of the Como.’
I clutched my armrest, digging in my nails. I knew of Tanjo — he was one of the most notorious traffickers in the region. The Human Rights Office had been after this elusive man for several years — and all the while DynCorp’s very own Carl had been having up-close-and-personal dealings with him?
‘Tanjo gave her to me for 6,000 Deutsch Marks,’ Carl continued as if he were talking about a puppy. ‘I kept her in my apartment, and I wanted to marry her and bring her back to the States. But she ran away yesterday, and she took my mobile phone. I’d at least like my phone back.’” (pp. 148–149.)
Bolkovac’s story followed the standard whistleblower plot: She noticed the problem, she tried to report the problem, her reports were covered up, she kept pushing because she didn’t understand why her reports weren’t being filed, and then she started to be retaliated against by her employer. It never fails to strike me as a really disheartening narrative, but she was (unlike many whistleblowers) vindicated in the end, although vindication did not really make up for her eventually losing the DynCorp job or the accusations she withstood during the entire process.
It was an interesting read, but dry at times. If you don’t have the time to give to the book, it was also made into a movie starring Rachel Weisz; you might want to try that.
And, as always: support whistleblowers.