UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

U.N. peacekeeper blows whistle on human trafficking


Laura Figueroa
The Signal

“The Whistleblower” is based on the real-life experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, who spoke on campus Nov. 5. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Mejia.
“The Whistleblower” is based on the real-life experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, who spoke on campus Nov. 5. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Mejia.

Kathryn Bolkovac, a former Nebraska policewoman who uncovered a sex trade conspiracy in post-war Bosnia, was a guest speaker at UHCL for the Governmental Accountability Project’s “American Whistleblower Tour.”

Bolkovac took a job as a peacekeeper for the U.N. International Police in the late 1990s and discovered that international personnel were involved in human trafficking.

Bolkovac’s experience is the subject of the movie entitled “The Whistleblower” starring Rachel Weisz.

UHCL was the first stop of the tour, which took place Nov. 5 and featured a screening of the film, a book signing and reception. The event was sponsored by UHCL Film & Speaker Series.

“Sex trafficking is a horrendous crime and an important issue,” said Sonia Hernandez, UHCL film curator. “Houston is the forefront in which victims go through when they are brought into the country. Bringing Kathryn Bolkovac, someone who wrote a book, had exposure to sex trafficking and is a major whistleblower on an international stage, on campus generated publicity for UHCL within the community, brought people onto campus and brought awareness of this growing problem.”

A whistleblower is a person who tells authorities about illegal activities occurring inside a company, organization or inside its own government or department.

“Whistleblowers are heroes who can have a tremendous impact on our society,” said Shelley Walden, international program officer for Governmental Accountability Project. “They speak up about corruption and threats that jeopardize lives, health or the financial well-being of the public. But whistleblowing can take a tremendous toll on an individual and his or her family. Therefore, before blowing the whistle, we recommend that people learn about the whistleblowing process.”

“The Whistleblower” was inspired by true-life events Bolkovac experienced while working with the United Nations International Police in Bosnia for a private company called DynCorp (Democra Security in the movie), a U.S. paid contractor.

Bolkovac was assigned to a domestic abuse case involving a Muslim woman’s right to a trial. The case was won for the woman, which earned Bolkovac the position of head of the Department of Gender Affairs with the U.N.

During her new role as the head of department, she became involved in the case of a girl named Raya, who was sold to a sex-trafficking ring. As Bolkovac investigated the case, she discovered that numerous U.N. members from different countries, including international personnel and diplomats, were involved in human trafficking and forced prostitution.

Bolkovac took her story before an English tribunal and brought light to the human trafficking underground world.

“We partnered with Kathryn on this tour stop because her experience demonstrates the impact that one whistleblower can have, as well as the difficulties and obstacles they face for speaking out about wrongdoing,” Walden said. “She has an important story to tell and is a very courageous and inspiring person.”

UHCL Film & Speaker Series brought Bolkovac to campus to bring light to the seriousness of human trafficking, not only around the world, but also in the Houston area.

“Houston has been named by the Department of Justice as one of the main jurisdictions for human trafficking in the country,” said Maria Trujillo, executive director of Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition. “There are many reasons that make this city ripe for this crime: the city’s proximity to the Mexico border; home to a major international airport and seaport; the diversity of the community as well as having a very diverse labor sector; and, finally, the city of Houston also has a large commercial sex industry. We found that the combination of all these factors make Houston a main distribution point for human trafficking for the rest of the country, as well as a major hub for the crime as well.”

Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public and training professionals on how to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking.

“For me, the most important thing for [students] to realize is the diversity of this world,” Bolkovac said. “They need to pay attention to global affairs and to global events to connect those dots to how it’s affecting them locally, and a good way to do that is to take an interest in human trafficking, government corruption and whistleblowing, and see how that’s all tied together, especially with regards to this particular situation.”

For more information on upcoming events from the Film & Speaker Series, visit their website at http://www.uhcl.edu/movies or call the Office of Student Life at 281-283-2560.