United States: Sex Trafficking and Violence Against Women Follow Bakken Oil Boom
Thursday, May 08, 2014 10:00 AM

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has launched a $3 million special initiative for the oil-rich Bakken Region in response to a dramatic increase in domestic violence, sexual assault and "horrific" sex trafficking of women and girls in the area. The Bakken region, which has experienced a boom in oil production in recent years, is a large rural area in western North Dakota and eastern Montana that overlaps with the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Increased crime has accompanied oilfield economic and population growth, straining law enforcement and local and tribal organizations that provide services to surivors of domestic violence, sexual assualt and trafficking. Sex trafficking has risen to alarming levels, with the administrator of Montana's Department of Criminal Investigations, Bryan Lockerby, stating that at least 70% of women selling sex in the area are victims of sex trafficking and many are young girls in their teens. 
 
Domestic violence coalitions in the region face significant funding challenges due to the sharp increase in cost of living, which has led victims who might otherwise move to private housing to seek housing at a shelter instead. Law enforcement is trying to counter the explosion in illegal trafficking of women and girls. Law enforcement, victim advocates and US congressional officials recently held a panel discussion in Williston, North Dakota to discuss the growing problem of trafficking in the region, and in particular, the lack of law enforcement training in how to recognize the signs of trafficking and how to assist victims rather than arresting them for prostitution. As stated by an undercover law enforcement agent, the sex trafficking problem is "so horrific, that the faster we can learn [about] this and act on it, the better off all of us will be." The panel also discussed the ways in which oil companies, the hospitality industry, the trucking industry, schools and other local organizations can help detect trafficking.
 
The OVW Bakken initiative consists of two programs.  One program will fund two Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (“Tribal SAUSAs”) for the Bakken Region to bring cases in both tribal and federal courts and to “maintain an active violence against women crimes caseload.” The other program will provide funding and technical assistance to state domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, as well as local and tribal victim service providers.