Lessons from a Whistleblower

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By Arianna R. Marucci

Justice is an ideal we commonly seek as individuals and as members of societies. Though so many of us chase it, I don’t think we can all agree on what justice looks like. Some of us spend the majority of our lives trying to uphold it, some fight to the death in its name, and others could care less about it.

In the human rights arena where we are constantly pulled towards justice, it seems we often fall short of achieving it. We will never run out of arguments and opinions against us in our fight for human rights, but that doesn’t mean we should give up or stop our pursuit of justice for all. Even though we may not agree on a definition of justice, do we know what it looks like when we see it?

Justice Served?

Kathryn Bolkovac, author of The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight For Justice, has a bittersweet view of justice. In her case, it was not easily won and there were casualties along the way. As a human rights security officer, she was able to help people in Bosnia and Herzegovina as they tried to adjust to life after war. There were also those that, despite the best efforts made, could not be rescued from sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

In 1999, Bolkovac started working for DynCorp International, a private security company. She was assigned to be a human rights investigator in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. Through her work she discovered a human trafficking ring involving fellow security officers and United Nations officials. She decided to send an email to her superiors and relevant employees within her company. Her goal was to alert them to the fact that the very officers who were supposed to be protecting people were committing crimes themselves, including the buying and selling of women.

When she blew the whistle on this illegal activity, she was fired by her security company. The Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Madeleine Rees, helped Bolkovac sue DynCorp for wrongful termination, a case which she won. Her legal victory was one of the first of its kind and helped set a precedent for similar cases in the future. It is imperative that whistleblowers receive protection. The private security sector is filled with powerful, multi-billion dollar companies like DynCorp. Many of them fulfill government contracts funded by taxpayer dollars, which should raise concerns regarding transparency and the accountability of security officers.

Lessons Learned

Bolkovac’s experience in the field catches the interest of people of all ages, races, and creeds who are able to learn from her situation, even if they’ve never given serious consideration to human rights. There are a number of lessons to take from her story, including why you should never  give up. Bolkovac could have stepped away from Dyncorp by simply accepting her termination. Instead, she chose to fight for what was right in a two-year legal battle.

A specific lesson I took from The Whistleblower was that success can take on a variety of forms. Sometimes, you set out to accomplish one thing and wind up on a completely different path. There is so much more to your work than just showing up and simply following your superior’s orders. Yes, you need to try to do your job everyday, but that’s not enough – you need to try to do it well, and to stand up for what’s right, even if no one else is standing up with you. Even if it means losing your job.

Kathryn Bolkovac’s search for justice is a story that builds connections between people from all walks of life. I am fortunate to have witnessed these connections first hand as an educator. If you’re looking for a way to discuss justice, or human rights in general, her example is one that won’t let you down.

Find Kathryn Bolkovac’s book at your local library or watch the film (also called The Whistleblower ) and let us know what you think in our comments section below. I guarantee you’ll find something of value through reading the book and watching the film. You might even learn a thing or two about yourself in the process. I know I did, and I am forever grateful for her story and her work.


Edited by Erin Cooper, Director of Communications

Photo Credit: Arianna R. Marucci

Do you have any book suggestions you think we should be reading? If so, let us know in the comments below! We would love to know what you’re reading or doing to address human trafficking. You might see a review of your book suggestion in the future!

About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.


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