Last week, NPR released a series of radio pieces connected to the so-called Great Plains Oil Rush, or, if you’d prefer, a “modern-day Gold Rush in motion.” Most of us have heard something about the newly-bustling oil fields of eastern North Dakota, where sleepy rural towns have been transformed by sky-rocketing populations and traffic jams.
This “new” rough-and-tumble frontier, much like historical iterations, is predominantly populated by men: single, lonely men living in “man camps,” trailers and temporary row housing sponsored by oil companies. According to a February 1 installment of the NPR series, Booming Oil Fields May Be Giving Sex Trafficking A Boost, it is this demographic that an allegedly increasing number of sex workers–and sex traffickers–are looking to capitalize on.
In the words of one long-time resident of Williston, North Dakota, “If you’re looking for it [paid sex], you can find it; it’s there. You know, there’s women looking to make money, too.” But in North Dakota and Montana, as elsewhere, it is difficult for law enforcement and advocates alike to differentiate the “professional” sex workers from those forced into the trade by traffickers. In the United States, it is easiest to do so using the age of consent, currenty 18 years in North Dakota and 16 years in neighboring Montana. Young women or men found to be working in the sex trade may be considered trafficking victims by default though, in practice, it takes knowledgeable local authorities and a successful application of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act plus relevant state and local laws to connect an individual “victim” with the services to which they are entitled. Women and men above the age of consent, on the other hand, are usually jailed or fined as perpetrators of illegal sex work.
See the whole Oil Rush story here (also hyperlinked above).