COVER STORY

The Long Night

Tackling the scourge of sex trafficking, from the big screen to the big street

by Paul Hond Published Fall 2011
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VII

11 August 2011

Dear Ms. Kondracki,

I write to thank you most sincerely for your letter of 1 August and for sending me a copy of the film for my personal viewing. 

Last week, I saw the film, along with our senior advisers. I was pained by what I saw. I was also saddened by the involvement of the international community, particularly the United Nations, in the abuses connected with the trafficking of women and their use as sex slaves, as highlighted in the movie.

The letter from Secretary-General Ban to the director of The Whistleblower went on to list the measures taken by the Security Council on the issue, such as appointing a special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, stricter standards for recruiting personnel, the addition of Conduct and Discipline Teams to peacekeeping operations, and due protections for “those who blow the whistle.” Ban went on:

But, I recognize, rules and measures alone are insufficient. The culture must change. I am determined to lead by example.

I welcome your suggestion that The Whistleblower be screened especially for United Nations staff. I propose to go further. I have asked that a special screening be arranged at United Nations Headquarters not only for staff but also for Member States, with full support of the President of the General Assembly. As suggested by you, after the screening we shall have a panel discussion as the starting point for a frank and honest discussion of the issues the film raises. I hope you will be able to join us in this engagement.

I want to assure you that we shall embrace the challenge your film places before the United Nations. The vulnerable women whose condition your film showcases will not be forgotten. Thank you for raising this issue with such passion.

The screening was scheduled for mid-October. Kondracki and Kirwan planned to attend. 

 

VIII

In her fourth-floor office in Low Library, Tanya Domi, senior public-affairs officer at Columbia, is enjoying a moment of satisfaction over the news from Turtle Bay. 

“That the secretary-general invited Larysa to screen the film at UN Headquarters represents a seismic change in attitudes,” Domi says. “After 10 years, this is really an about-face.”

But Domi cautions that it doesn’t fix everything: Neither DynCorp nor the UN has apologized to Bolkovac.

“The American people should be disgusted,” says Domi, who served in the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1990. “Disgusted that somebody went over there, did her job, uncovered incredibly heinous crimes, and was fired for it. Fortunately, Kathy came out of this intact. She did a brave thing, and I really believe that that comes out of being an American who knows the difference between right and wrong, and standing up and saying, ‘This is not okay.’ Now peacekeepers are held to an accountability that didn’t exist before. We have Kathy to thank for that.”

Ten years ago, Domi had expected that the story of Bolkovac would shake the U.S. media. That never happened. 

Colum Lynch of the Washington Post wrote a couple of stories, and there were a couple in the New York Times, but there was no ongoing coverage about Kathy, about DynCorp’s retaliation, about the fact that in 2003 a British labor tribunal unanimously found in Kathy’s favor. Despite all our best efforts in 2001, The Whistleblower has accomplished what the news media and law enforcement were unable to achieve.”

Domi pauses. On her desk is a photo of row upon row of slender coffins wrapped in bright-green cloth, containing victims of the Srebrenica Massacre of July 1995, in which 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered. On her shelves, among her books, is a Bosnian hand-hammered copper coffee set.

“I’m grateful to Larysa and her colleagues for making this film,” Domi says. “Kathy Bolkovac and Madeleine Rees are the real heroes here. I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to break this story, but as I’ve said to everybody: This is not going to be the end of this.” 

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