Welcome to prosperity: Violence against women in the Bakken oil fields

Welcome to prosperity: Violence against women in the Bakken oil fields

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June 18, 2013

As CNN reported in October 2011, the oil boom at the Bakken formation in the Dakotas and Montana comes with a price. The resultant crime wave, due to tens of thousands of oil workers descending on the area and looking to party, has overwhelmed small town law enforcement. Narcotics, strip clubs and prostitution have soared. So have burglaries and alcohol-related assaults.

As CBS reported in February 2012, rapes have increased as well. With tens of thousands of single men living away from home, that might not be surprising, but for once safe small communities, it is a traumatic development. As Oil Patch Dispatch observed in July 2012, the consequent housing shortage and lack of available abused women shelter space is causing victims of domestic violence to stay with their abusers. Local agencies that deal with domestic violence and sexual assault are tapped out.

As noted in High Country News in April 2012, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation has raked in hundreds of millions from the Bakken boom. Some tribal members who once lived in poverty are receiving $10,000 monthly checks. But like other communities off the reservation, drunk driving, hard drug use and sex-trafficking is rampant. Domestic violence has doubled.

In February 2013, The Atlantic magazine examined rising violence on the Fort Berthold Reservation, and how tribal officers are often powerless to do anything about it. One in three Native American women are raped during their lifetimes, mostly by non-Indians. In Fort Berthold, thanks to the oil boom, that rate is going up. So are other crimes over which the tribe has little legal control.

In response to this crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it is seeking applications for funding to support an exploratory study on the domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking implications of the oil industry across communities in the Dakotas and Montana. Meanwhile, women in the region are beginning to carry weapons. Welcome to prosperity.

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