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Sunday, March 6th, 2011
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by Kathryn Bolkovac

Trafficking Cop

A review by Natalie Wilson

In 1998, Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer trained in forensic science, applied to work with the private military contractor DynCorp on a peacekeeping mission in post-war Bosnia. During her training, she overheard a fellow recruit boast, "And I know where you can get really nice 12- to 15-year-olds." "I must have misheard," she recalls thinking. "Any other alternative would not only be repulsive but wildly illegal." However, when a roughed-up young woman was delivered by a local police officer to her office, Bolkovac was spurred to investigate a crumbling bar named Florida. There she found a thick stack of U.S. dollars and a bundle of passports belonging to women and underage girls from the Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, damning evidence that soldiers and DynCorp workers were making use of victims of sexual trafficking.

The U.N.-sponsored effort in Bosnia had the essential elements for trafficking, Bolkovac writes: "lots of money; lots of free time to scheme; completely new surroundings a continent away from home; an audience of broken, desperate people ripe to betaken advantage of." In The Whistleblower, she calls for the eradication of the "boys-will-be-boys environment" of contractors like DynCorp, showing how the scarcity of women on such missions allows them to function like fraternities, with the "boys" punishing those who dare to expose their "fun." She details an atmosphere with no formal mechanism to report sexual harassment, and uses the harassment she herself suffered to explore the insidious nature of sexism. When she blew the whistle on their involvement in trafficking, Bolkovac's superiors tried to frame her as psychologically unfit for the job and wrongly accused her of falsifying time sheets. "Intimidation was not only the tactic captors used with trafficking victims, it was also becoming an effective method used by the high ranks to silence human rights officers in the field," she writes. There were upsides. Bolkovac and others brought Bosnia's first successful prosecution against an abusive husband; her investigations led to the formation of anti-trafficking taskforces. Nevertheless, the "well-greased machine of human trafficking" grinds on, not only because of the pervasive attitude that victims are "whores seeking a free ride home," but, Bolkovac argues, because of monetary disincentives to airing problems. She posits that if DynCorp were to get bonuses for mission time with "no incidents," managers might be under pressure to ignore breaches in conduct by civilian peacekeepers.

The U.S. State Department and the U.N., by hiring and supervising these military contractors, remain complicit in hiding, as well as perpetrating, sexual trafficking. Contract workers from companies like DynCorp continue to be shipped around the globe -- to Haiti, Liberia, Iraq and Afghanistan, areas that see regular allegations of sexual assault and human-rights violations from the very forces meant to keep the peace. We all have a stake in stopping this ongoing atrocity, not least because we're paying for it: Ninety-six percent of DynCorp's $2 billion in annual revenues is footed by the U.S. government.

Natalie Wilson is a lecturer in women's studies and literature at California State University, San Marcos. Her feminist analysis of the Twilight Saga and fandom, Seduced by Twilight, comes out in spring from McFarland.

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