In 2003, a woman named Paulina began an online relationship with a man named Stephen Bolen. They met in a Yahoo chat group and quickly formed a bond, sharing intimate details about their lives. Paulina, a single mother living in Atlanta, told Bolen about her abusive childhood and her desire to provide a better life for her daughter.
Bolen, intrigued by Paulina’s story, asked for pictures of her daughter. Paulina complied, sending innocent photos of her child. Bolen, a known pedophile, was arrested when he attempted to meet Paulina and her daughter in person. But Paulina was not who she seemed. She was FBI Special Agent Nikki Badolato, working undercover to expose child traffickers.
The Agent Behind the Alias
Badolato, now retired from the FBI and living in a quiet suburb of St. Louis, has spent her career fighting against child exploitation. She has arrested more than a thousand people, all of whom have been convicted. Her work has taken her into the darkest corners of the internet, where she has posed as a willing participant in child trafficking to catch predators. Despite the emotional toll of her work, Badolato remains committed to protecting children from exploitation.
The Reality of Child Trafficking
However, Badolato is frustrated by the misconceptions surrounding child trafficking. She argues that the problem is not confined to foreign countries or Hollywood, but is a pervasive issue in American society.
According to a 2018 report by the State Department, the U.S. is one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. The Department of Justice estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the U.S. each year, but this pales in comparison to the estimated 199,000 American minors who are sexually exploited annually.
The Societal Roots of Child Trafficking
Badolato’s work has shown her that child trafficking is not just a criminal issue, but a societal one. Many victims are exploited by people they know and trust, often family members. The problem is exacerbated by societal issues such as poverty, addiction, and mental health issues. Badolato believes that addressing these root causes is key to combating child trafficking.
Read more at Rolling Stone.