Abstract: Sex Trafficking in the Bakken Oil Fields (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

477P Sex Trafficking in the Bakken Oil Fields

Saturday, January 13, 2018
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Thomasine Heitkamp, MSW, Professor, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND
The purpose of the study was to determine the impact of the growing oil industry on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking (DVDVSAS) in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Montana. The three-year mixed-method exploratory study was funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The project was supported due to the surge in population growth and economic activity related to the oil industry (Klimasinsak, 2013, Louwagie, 2013).

A total of 185 participants were interviewed in the qualitative component of the study in 2014 and 2015. Those interviewed had direct knowledge about DVDVSAS and included victim service providers (20.5%), criminal justice personnel (21.6%), general human service providers (17.3%), community members (23.2%), oil industry personnel (6.5%), health care providers (5.4%), victims (5.4%), and participants from tribal communities (21.1%). All interviews were taped, transcribed, and coded for analysis using NVivo software.

Participants described how the Bakken oil fields had created an increase in not only DVDVSAS but an increase in sex trafficking. People who were interviewed described the oil patch as a “fertile ground” for sex trafficking women. Findings indicated that the incidents of sex trafficking occurred due to a confluence of underlying forces including big oil money, an increase in drug cartels and drug use, degradation of women in a male-dominated workforce, increased access to weapons, and a rise in transient populations. Noteworthy is that many participants did not feel prepared to address the needs of victim of sex trafficking. Participants noted that this crime as new to the area and expressed concerns about their limited training on how to conduct assessments and address the needs of this population of victims.

Domestic violence advocates described their frustration with addressing the needs of victim of sex trafficking in the oil fields due to the limited resources available, including shelters, in the Bakken. Additionally, access to any resources often required extensive travel. Advocates noted that they have requested that women who are, or have been, engaged in sex trafficking be housed in facilities separate from domestic violence and sexual assault victims so recruitment into sex trafficking industry would not occur.

These findings support concerns about the criminogenic nature of boomtowns (Ruddell, Jayasundara, Mayzer & Heitkamp, 2014) and that the rural nature of the Bakken oil fields exacerbates problems with access to social services (Flanagan, Heitkamp, Nedegaard & Jayasundara, 2014). While much of the data is representative of what is commonly cited in the literature regarding the dynamics of sex trafficking (Schauer & Wheaton, 2006), noteworthy are the struggles described by the providers who participated in this study. Participants served victims in isolated and rural communities with very few resources, limited background and experience in serving victims of sex trafficking, and working in a boomtown environment with transient populations.