Highway 85 cuts miles north through fields filled with wheat, corn, and alfalfa, skating along the eastern edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The rocky buttes and mixed-grass prairie that once enchanted the former president are punctuated with oil derricks, their Tyrannosaurus-shaped he bobbing slowly up and down across the horizon. Semitrucks lumber along, rattling compact cars as they pass through the Meet, an oil patch that spans some 25, Dakota miles and covers much of western North Dakota, eastern Montana, and the southern parts of two Canadian provinces.
Bakken was the surname of the farmer who once owned part of the land. At the edge of town, a billboard re: "Welcome to Williston, ND. Boomtown, USA. Here, in this ly quaint farming community, s of the state's oil boom are everywhere. The once-cozy Main Street has been ripped sex by road construction. Banners pinned to the sides of hotels, apartment complexes, big-box stores, and chain restaurants announce grand openings.
A new strip club stands two doors down from the remnants of a Christian bookstore. Oil isn't new to North Dakota, but the development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," opened the rich Bakken shale deposit to thousands of additional wells, creating more thannew, high-paying jobs since April Tens of thousands of people from all over the country—the vast majority of them men—have flocked to Williston and the neighboring oil-patch towns of Watford City, Minot, and Dickinson, among others, seeking work as foremen, engineers, welders, electricians, mechanics, drillers, and derrick hands.
Williston alone has seen its population more than double, from fewer than 15, people in to at least 30, today. The actual of residents may be even higher, as the Census doesn't count transient workers—locals say they think the population was closer to 60, at the end of last year. North Dakota now has the biggest concentration of men in any state except Alaska. Many maintain a six-weeks-on, two-weeks-off schedule North sees them living in temporary housing developments known around here and popularized in the media as "man camps"—seemingly endless rows of identical squat, white trailers and privately owned RVs, some so large they've been dubbed "Taj Mahals.
A rough-and-tumble vibe pervades, with as many as four men sharing square-foot trailers, and property managers struggling to rein in raucous parties, fights, gunplay, and drug use both meth and heroin use have spiked in the area—drug-related arrests increased by 66 percent between and The few women living among the men share stories of life outed.
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Texas native Morgan Greer, 20, says she's had men follow her around a grocery store—one went as far as to enter the women's restroom, but she called for help. Many women around here carry guns—maybe for good reason. This modern-day gold rush has brought the problems of the old Wild West: crime, drugs, and sexual violence. Overall, violent crime, including murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape, and robbery, increased by percent between andaccording to the state's Uniform Crime Reports.
In Williston, calls to the police went from 4, in to 15, in ; in nearby Watford City, from 41 to 3, in that same time frame. It's gotten so bad that earlier this year, the FBI announced it would open a new permanent office in Williston. It was against this backdrop that officials in the Bakken started to worry about a different kind of crime. In the spring ofthe U. The small-town police departments were overwhelmed by day-to-day calls, forcing detectives off larger investigations and back on the streets to respond to bar fights and patrol for drunk drivers.
Social services, too, were overrun. Williston's battered-women shelter reported a percent increase in victims between and Workers there were in triage mode, with no time to define what they were seeing or identify trends among victims. Those factors, combined with the large male population newly flush with cash, meant it was open season for opportunists. In NovemberJordan whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy moved to Williston with a boyfriend who had taken a job in the oil fields.
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At 18, she wanted a "new start," she says, away from New York, where she had been abused as and lived in and out of the foster care system. Eventually, he became her first pimp, selling her to his boss when he took a new job as a mechanic. High at the time, Jordan doesn't know how much money her ex made from selling her. After she left him, she sold herself on Back.
They went to the mall, got their nails done, stayed in nice hotels, ate good food. Around that same time, law enforcement began conducting sting operations known as Operation Vigilant Guardian. Detectives posed as someone selling a year-old girl on classified websites and arrested interested buyers. One weekend in Williston, police arrested three men; two weeks later, they arrested 11 in Dickinson, a town of roughly 25, located about two hours away. Lakey is now serving five years in federal prison.
Police had to shut down the sting ahead of schedule because Dickinson ran out of jail space. He calls the stings the "seminal events" in galvanizing support in the area for the fight against trafficking. Fourteen arrests may not sound like an emergency to city dwellers, but to many in this rural area, it was devastating.
His alarm was well-founded—not only did all s point to a burgeoning crisis, but the state was uniquely ill prepared to deal with it as well. Victims here were at a huge deficit: There were no social-service organizations or advocacy groups specifically focusing on the issue in the state and no safe houses or shelters dedicated to trafficking victims.
Nationally, there are only beds in shelters deated for trafficking victims; North Dakota doesn't have any. Even the federal government was concerned. In Septemberthe U. Department of Health and Human Services identified two towns in the Bakken, along with four other locations—Boston, Houston, Atlanta, and Oakland, California—as places in need of support to combat trafficking.
The other is South Dakota. As anyone who's lived through one knows, there's nothing like a natural disaster to bring a community together. Key stakeholders in North Dakota—including five nonprofits, law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers, and tribal representatives—decided to combine forces. At the kickoff event, a statewide summit on human trafficking in Bismarck in Novembersome attendees heard from major players on the front lines—cops, shelter workers, and a trafficking survivor.
They walked away fired up, their mission clear: Quantify the scope and scale of trafficking in the area, raise public awareness, increase victims services, and institute forward-thinking legislative and law enforcement practices to fight the problem head on. Sambor, 32, was born and raised in Bismarck.
Her mother, who worked in corrections, taught her that she could be whatever she wanted to be. So she went to law school outside of Los Angeles, worked in Washington, D. But Sambor graduated in the middle of the recession and found her options limited, so she moved back to Bismarck to work in a private practice. To her surprise, those big-city issues she dreamed of tackling were right before her eyes.
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On a warm day this June, Sambor and Erin Ceynar, 41, a North Dakota native and fundraiser for the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, are touring the Bakken, trading stories of junkyards stacked with abandoned RVs and truck drivers who toss bottles of urine out the window. Ceynar's throat clenches up. Ceynar grew up in the wide-open spaces between Watford City and Williston, working oil jobs on summers off from the University of North Dakota.
Holy shit, she thought. I'm gonna get raped right now. Instead, another coworker intervened. But when Ceynar told her boss about it, the employee wasn't punished. She was, relegated to counting pipes alone in a warehouse for her own protection. After graduation, she fled to politically progressive Minneapolis. One North described being sex for sex at a hotel where Ceynar had done 4-H exhibits as. Ceynar e-mailed Purdon, with whom she'd discussed women's issues in the state over the years, to see how she could help. He connected her with Sambor, who had been talking with him about combating trafficking, too.
The two women started exchanging e-mails and eventually met face-to-face in Minneapolis in the fall of at a conference on trends in victims services hosted by Ceynar's employer. The first step was to increase public understanding of what it means to be trafficked. Victims are more often women who were sexually abused at a young age and sold for the meet time by someone they trust, like a parent or boyfriend.
Victims of Dakota need not be transported anywhere—they must only have been induced by force, fraud, or coercion including tactics like withholding drugs to participate in commercial sex.
Minors must only be induced, as those under age 18 cannot legally consent to sex. By that definition, anyone being sold by a pimp who controls their comings and goings and cash supply is being trafficked. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, who has long championed anti-trafficking measures. Women who fit the victim profile—no jobs, money, connections, or any reason to be there—started showing up in the Bakken. Could it be entrepreneurs coming to access the market?
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But is it more likely something more sinister and something involving exploitation? Employees at women's shelters in the area started reporting victims unlike any they'd ever seen: a year-old sold by her mother for drug money, a young woman with "property of" and a man's name tattooed across her chest. Women posing as victims even started using the shelters to recruit others to work for their pimps. A police sergeant monitored local Back.
A few big arrests brought national attention to the cause. In JuneLevell Durr of Wisconsin was arrested on charges of transportation for illegal sexual activity in Bismarck. In court, an FBI special agent testified that Durr had trafficked three women to North Dakota, used drugs and physical violence to keep them compliant, and forced them to have sex for money and then turn it over to him, kissing his hand when they did.
At one point, the FBI agent said, Durr kept a girl in a dog kennel for days for breaking one of his rules.