The personal losses suffered by
whistleblowers are often forgotten by the public whose interest we hope to
serve. It is a thankless task which is why so many give up and just go on
with their lives. Only the truly committed or the foolish continue and
even fools find the risk of loss too great to bear. Therefore I have found that
the persons I have met on this journey are those who have been tested for their
personal moral courage. There are many ways to show courage.
Bravery does not come with a gun, a pulpit, a title, or a megaphone.
I remember the words of Mohandas Gandhi "There is a higher court than the courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts."
In the wonderfully insightful article by K. R. Sawyer*" The Test Called Whistleblowing" a paper Delivered to the National Conference of Whistleblowers Australia, "Whistleblowing: Making It Work", I found an analysis of the courage that I see in my whistleblowers.
K. R. Sawyer describes whistleblowing ".. "As a test of values, whistleblowing becomes a test of a culture. As many have recognized, only through cultural change will the attitudes to whistleblowers change."
The First Test of Whistleblowing is a test of moral and ethical values. Values are supremely important to whistleblowers. It is these values that give them their inner strength and resolve. Without these values they have nothing to stand for, and they would cease to be whistleblowers. Those responding to whistleblowers will try to dilute the importance of values, to find some way to distract and disguise the true nature of the ethical and moral problem facing the whistleblower and society. So the first test of whistleblowing is related to values. It is by the whistleblower's values that they are able to identify themselves to themselves, and also to others. Relinquishment of these values is not an option considered by the whistleblower, although many around him/her may urge him/her to do so. The whistleblower stays steadfast in face of this pressure much to consternation of family, friends, co-workers and others.
The Second Test of Whistleblowing is when pressure is exerted on the whistleblower to change his story, to cease his advocacy, to become silent. Those who were friends of the whistleblower eventually have their own values tested, as do family members, co-workers and even bystanders. Whistleblowers are bound by these ethical choices based on their internal value system, and forced to abandon those friendships and relationships that do not share or understand those deeply held values. So not only is the whistleblower tested, so also is everyone with whom they have come in contact. Even bystanders become the silent accomplices to the whistleblowers trauma and often a source of secondary wounding and trauma. Those who sit silently and watch and do not intervene are the propagators of the problem, they allow the cancer of corruption to flourish and prosper. These silent witnesses act as a backdrop for the efforts of the criminals and wrongdoers to target the whistleblower for brutal retaliation.
The Third Test of Whistleblowing is that imposed by the justice system, a test where pragmatic technicalities of the law dominate truth and where the statute of limitations often runs out. In the slow grinding pathway through the legal system the whistleblower,who is a natural conformist puts his faith in the rule of law. The whistleblower finds out that his very values are of little consequence. The justice system with all its complexity invariably allows pragmatic legitimacy to dominate moral legitimacy. For the whistleblower, this is a betrayal of all he/she believes in becomes a moral wounding of the soul, a deep personal loss of confidence in the very system of government. Many a whistleblower who believed in the justice system, has come forward relying on the protection of the law only to find that the system is slanted so strongly against them that there is no possibility to win a moral victory. They instead see their hopes dashed time after time, in appeal after appeal. The right to freedom of expression is sometimes a hallow promise, and a faded shadow of Constitutional Rights under the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech). The monopoly of power of those who have symbiotic relationships with the accused will show no wish to expose the corruption, instead they will target the whistleblower for continuous reprisals. The agency to which the whistleblower discloses often lacks independence and there is usually no right to appeal.
This was certainly true in my case. The system of control was more important to the court than the truth I wished to reveal. There was such a close connection between the regulators of my profession and those criminally involved that the wall of protection was oppressively effective. The lack of independence of the court system and the clear bias of the judge meant there was no place to find protection from abuse. So faced with judicial complicity in the abuse, I fled.
The statute of limitations limits whistleblowers, particularly in systemic whistleblowing cases. I was reeling from the realization that what I believed about our system of checks and balances, constitutional rights, human rights was untrue, and could be so violated with absolute impunity by these criminals. I reached out to higher authorities - the Washington State Governor, the Washington State Lieutenant Governor, the Washington State Congress, the United States Congressional Representatives from Washington State (both US Senate and US House of Representatives) and even testified in front of the Washington State Senate Commerce Committee. All these actions just brought more retaliation, employment blacklisting, surveillance, searches of my home, destruction of documents, freezing of my financial assets, disappearance of all my money, fraudulent interference in my student loans, illegal takeover of my personal possessions through fabricated guardianship, and additional attempts at intervention abduction to silence me forever.
I filed multiple complaints -- sexual assault criminal complaint, stalking and torture abuse complaint, EEOC complaint, Civil Court Complaint regarding whistleblower retaliation and crime victim retaliation, Washington State consumer "lemon law" complaint, and even a credit card fraud complaint, all with no avail.
This points out The Fourth Test of Whistleblowing -- the test of inversion. All whistleblowers are very familiar with this. It is the betrayal of the whistleblower's own belief in a fair and equitable system. Everything is so unfair.
In a study of US whistleblowers, Alford (2001) found that: "The average length of time between blowing the whistle and being fired was about two years. Little of this time was taken up with appeals. Rather, most time was spent waiting for time to pass until management could adequately disconnect the act of whistleblowing from the act of retaliation."
There is no place to obtain justice. The personal losses are so great and there is no eventual success that makes the loss more bearable. The financial losses are often considerable but there are many personal losses as well, including loss of one's professional identity, loss of the respect of one's colleagues, loss of one's position in society, loss of personal friends and family, loss of a sense of self worth or value, to name just a few. The retaliation that targets the whistleblower is so clearly unfair. There is a gap between the career path of the criminals and wrongdoers and that of the whistleblower. The greater the gap the more extensive is the corruption. Often the corruption extends higher and further than the whistleblower ever initially imagined. The strength of the negative response is a gage of how tacitly the corruption is accepted within the organization.
"The whistleblower identifies the cancer, attempts to remove it, and then is attacked by it"The whistleblower must at all times behave honorably; the cancer can behave as it likes, it has all the power."
This targeting of whistleblowers is usually precise, often imperceptible to outsiders and almost always has a deniable response from the wrongdoer. I have experienced most forms of targeting including burglary of my home and storage space, surveillance by a private detective and police,incessant harassing phone calls, sexual harassment at my workplace,bugging of my phone calls, multiple fire alarms to force me out of my home, threatening letters, drug entrapment schemes and even a bomb threat. There are an almost limitless number of possibilities for those who wish to target the whistleblower. Often the court system in an upside down logic, drag whistleblowers into court and absurd judgments are given against them. I had police officers stalk me in an effort to try to find some kind of infraction with which they could claim I was a criminal and thus expose all my HIPPA protected records to my abusers. An 8 miles over the speed limit traffic ticket they escalated to a criminal offense and put out a warrant for my arrest.
My career path rather than the steady upward progression that I had earned by my skills, intelligence, hard work and honest effort, was instead inverted in a downward spiral due to blacklisting and open gossip. Many whistleblowers hope and expect that their inversion will be inverted, that the truth will become self evident and the whistleblower will exonerated. But I can offer them few examples of that ever happening.
Like many other whistleblowers I found that the corruption extended higher, farther and was more extensive than I had ever imagined. Clearly the decision to cover up the murder of Assistant US Attorney Tom Wales was done at the highest levels of government and with full knowledge of the implications to the public health of such an obstruction of justice.
The Final Test of Whistleblowing is the test of self-worth. This is something that must be an internally held value rather than one based on what others think of you. So what is the true worth of a person? The social and economic worth of the whisltelbower is so devalued by the system of retaliation and social ostracism, that they appear to be empty shells of their former selves. Their detractors quickly seize on their diminished status to gloat and brag and exalt the victorious wrongdoer over them. The whistleblower's friends and family exit the supportive network, as they can no longer sustain their relationships through the trauma. These witnesses to the retaliation often beg the whistleblower to sacrifice their internal value system for some level of acceptance by the authorities. So loyalty becomes subservient to the social pressures of retaliation. This reality forces on the whistleblower an acknowledgment that his/her own worth has to be self derived. The true value of a whistleblower is their long term value not their short term value.
Just as those who have shaped history have often not been revered and rewarded in their own lifetime so it is for the whistleblower. That was the true value of Mother Theresa - the Pope refused to fund her work with the poor in the Calcutta slums and yet to many she is a Catholic Saint. Her value was not in her possessions or in the estimation of the value of her work to those in Rome who made church financial decisions. The contributions of whistleblowers occur in many dimensions and surely they are contributors to the evolution of our social society. Think of Lincoln, Mozart, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Jesus, and many others. The value to history is not measured in the balance sheet today but with benefit of hindsight. The true value of a person is inestimable.
"The valuations of others inevitably affect the whistleblower's assessment of themselves. It is difficult to value yourself highly when others have written you down, if not written you off entirely. But, just as in the other tests, the whistleblower must discount the values and judgment of others. The test of values by which they became a whistleblower underwrites their own value. Their values define their value."
I believe that the value we gain and that we give to others by our whistleblowing experience is greatly enhanced by a clear, directed, concise message that is shown in all our thoughts words and deeds. This is difficult because the trauma experiences often make us bitter and desirous of some financial restoration to acknowledge our deep personal loss. Through all the court battles, appeals, administrative hearings and public media attention, it is hard to keep constant to that goal. It is important to remember the message, rather than the needs of the messenger. But in the throes of mind altering trauma, it is difficult to reach more deeply into one's soul to find the personal and spiritual resources to be able to face more suffering. This is why I believe that being such a whistleblower messenger is a spiritual journey, one that reaches deep into your soul and which is unique and individual to each person. This story of personal struggle and triumph may be the final testament to the true value of the whistleblower to our society.