I recently went to see The Whistleblower with my husband Jay and some abolitionist friends. The movie is based on the book (my review here) by Kathryn Bolkovac and Cari Lynn, about Bokovac’s real life experience working for a US military contractor in Bosnia. There she uncovers that peacekeepers from several international agencies are involved in sex trafficking.
The film is gritty. My husband came very close to throwing up in the theatre. The film is heartbreaking. I wept as I watched. At the end when the room was clearing out, I saw two elderly women at the back, sitting in a stunned silence from what they just saw. I asked two of my friends who saw the film to share their thoughts. Heather Sheppard wrote the following:
Last weekend I watched the film The Whistleblower, and have spent every day since attempting to decipher my sentiments on Kathryn Bolkovac’s story, as told by authors Kondracki and Eilise Kirwan. Moved does not begin to describe how I felt after watching the film, a true story of an international police task force (IPTK) who utilized their power, abused trust and facade of legitimacy in order to perpetuate the horrific realities of an Eastern European sex trafficking operation.
I am no expert on the topic of human trafficking. I have read The Natashas by Victor Malarek and learned briefly about it throughout my undergraduate degree in International Development, (mainly that it is the third largest source of profits for international organized crime, after only drugs and weapons). On a trip to Kosovo in 2009 I was made aware by social workers how the sale of (mostly) women for sexual enslavement is a reality they are often forced to face in their field. I was however, never fully aware of the complicit role of the United Nations and the security companies which they utilize in the perpetuation of modern day slavery.
Post-conflict regions face vulnerabilities of many kinds, and when the very people entrusted to guide the transition from conflict to peace are directly involved in the kidnapping, cross-border smuggling and sexual enslavement of innocent victims, true peace will never be achieved. I admire Kathryn Bolkovac’s courage and her willingness to blow the whistle on such blatant injustice, when in all likelihood it meant giving up any future employment opportunities in the often-corrupt world of IPTK.
Since watching The Whistleblower I am motivated to become better informed, learn the stories of survivors and remember that in order for any illegal trade to thrive, a demand is required. No level of demand in the sale of human beings is appropriate; may Bolkovac’s example set precedence and prove to be an ongoing deterrent.
Jennifer Lucking, who saw the film with us, writes the following.
For myself, this is not the first exposure I’ve had with human trafficking; I have done a lot of reading, seen various films, and have done work with human trafficking survivors, and I also plan to write my thesis on some aspect of human trafficking.
For my husband, being married to me he has obviously heard about human trafficking, but on a much smaller (and toned down) scale. His exposure to human trafficking has mainly come from how it affects me, hearing my passionate (and often angry) rants and seeing how affected I am after meeting with a human trafficking victim. It was interesting to see how the movie moved him. He left feeling angry. Anger at individuals who could inflict so much pain on other human beings. Anger at politicians and officials who do not do enough to prevent it. Anger at people who turn a blind eye. And I could empathize with him, because I too felt that initial rush of anger at the beginning of my journey. It was almost refreshing to see his anger, to see that first spark of raw emotion that most of us feel the first time we really understand and see the ugliness of modern slavery.
As for myself, I felt sadness. It took all I had not to break down in tears as I watched the film. For those who have not seen it yet, please be forewarned that will likely push you out of your comfort zone no matter what kind of experience you have with human trafficking. It is raw, and it is real. And the realness moved me.
My husband and I talked about the movie all the way home, and we wondered how the actors felt after filming scenes filled with rape, humiliation and brokeness. How do the actors deal with that kind of emotion after the director yells Cut!? I couldn’t help but watch those scenes and think of the survivors I have come into contact with. And it brought me to tears. Believe me, the anger was still there as I watched the scenes. The anger at injustice. The anger at individuals who are filled with so much evil. But after the anger comes hope. Hope for change and hope in people who are working so hard to make a difference.
You can read the rest of Jen’s review on her blog.
It frustrated me that the security contractor Bolkovac worked for has a different name in the film. I am assuming that DynCorp threatened another lawsuit if their name was mentioned. How can the truth be told when those who need to be held accountable hide behind their cash and power?
For those of you who want to see a political thriller you can eat popcorn to, this movie might not be suitable. However if you want to catch a glimpse into the raw reality of what some people are experiencing in this world, The Whistleblower is one to see.