Kathryn Bolkovac, author of The Whistleblower, poses with a copy of her book Tuesday evening at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. (Mark Wilson Photo)
When Kathryn Bolkovac traveled to Bosnia in 1999 as a peacekeeper, she never thought she’d be fighting fellow peace officers — and even the United Nations — to recognize and help cease human sex trafficking.
During a rare visit to Roswell, Bolkovac — who currently resides in The Netherlands — shared her ordeal during the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center’s monthly Healthy Woman event at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Tuesday evening.
Bolkovac had been a police officer in Lincoln, Neb., for 10 years when she decided she wanted to expand her career and work an overseas mission. She got a chance to travel to Bosnia to train its local police forces following the war, although the opportunity seemed suspect from the start.
“The contractor was rather corrupt,” Bolkovac said. The training [auth] that Bolkovac and others received was minimal — involving what she described as a “downhill run,” a urine test, and a psychological evaluation by an individual with dubious credentials. There was never a formal interview or background check, she said.
Bolkovac arrived in Bosnia to work as an International Police Task Force human rights investigator for DynCorp, a defense contractor that recruits and sends peacekeepers to various locations around the world.
Not far from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, Sarajevo, Bolkovac encountered her first human trafficking victim. The young girl had fled a brothel and could speak very little English, but most astonishing to Bolkovac, the girl could not speak the local language, either.
“We had to get an actual interpreter who could speak her language,” Bolkovac said of the young victim, who was originally from the Ukraine. The girl repeatedly mentioned a bar, and the former cop said she had a gut feeling to go check the place out. When she got there, the bar had been gutted — except for one crucial find. When Bolkovac went to the second floor, she found a group of young girls.
Bolkovac spent the following months researching human sex trafficking in the area and trying to rescue its victims.
“These girls were enticed by … organizations that promised them the moon and stars,” Bolkovac said. Many girls and young women had probably been told they would be working as maids or waitresses. Some, Bolkovac said, undoubtedly knew they would be prostitutes — but had no way of knowing they were entering an environment of abuse, rape, starvation and confinement.
Many women had come from post-Communist countries, Bolkovac said, and were otherwise educated, but had no way of supporting themselves or their family.
Bolkovac eventually discovered that fellow IPTF members and even U.N. personnel were implicated in the sex trade. When she complained, or in other words blew the whistle, she was met with officials who had rather she turn a blind eye to what was happening.
“The U.N. … didn’t support me,” Bolkovac said. “They looked the other way. They were very intimidated by the bullies in high-level positions.”
When Bolkovac refused to be silenced about what was happening she was at first demoted, but eventually fired from DynCorp. She had been in Bosnia 22 months. Bolkovac won a wrongful termination lawsuit, but is still frustrated that DynCorp has not had to face any further consequences.
“Ultimately, nothing happened to the government contractors that fired me,” Bolkovac said.
Bolkovac’s story is detailed in her book, “The Whistleblower,” and in a film by the same name. At the RMAC, Bolkovac sold and signed copies of her book, and urged those present to be cognizant of the world around them, as human trafficking is not specific to just one area of the world.