Boom in the Bakken Increases Danger for Women Outside the Oilfield

While most workers endangered as a result of the Bakken oilfield boom are men, who may work on unsafe rigs, drive improperly loaded trucks on overcrowded roads, and drill for oil under unsafe conditions, the boom has also meant increasing danger for women—and for women who are not directly involved in the oil patch. Although women are represented among those who drill, drive, and maintain the Bakken oil patch, conditions in the Bakken have meant an increasing lack of safety for women in the overall community as well.

Sexual crimes such as assault have spiked in the past few years. There has also been a surge in prostitution. However, while many would argue that prostitution is a victimless crime—and historically, common when large groups of single men are present--there is also widespread fear that sexual trafficking (in which the women may not be free to leave) is increasingly present as well. A first-person account last year by an Atlantic reporter who wrote on her experiences as a store clerk in the Bakken noted that this was a fear on the part of the customers. These issues are not only traumatic for the women involved, but for the small communities in which they take place, which prior to the oil boom were notable for safety.

Perhaps the most dramatic case was the 2012 murder of teacher Sherry Arnold by two men who had recently arrived in the area to work in the oilfields. Drugs were involved in her abduction and murder, and the killers are serving an extensive jail sentence.

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