As the oil boom continues in North Dakota, one of the unintended consequences of the bonanza is that the state has become a hot spot for sex trafficking — and Indians from surrounding reservations are a particularly vulnerable population. As the region becomes increasingly saturated with male workers, law enforcement struggles to handle the prevalent issue.
A recently released report, Trafficked, compiled by Forum News Service details the rising problem of sex trafficking in the oil fields of North Dakota, and how the social problems that continue to plague Indian reservations make Indian women — many of whom are often underage — susceptible to the ravages of the sex trade.
Pimps have taken advantage of legal lenience by exploiting their networks of prostitutes on ND soil. Prostitutes, often underage, stand at a greater risk of abuse in this kind of unhinged environment. The crime works in a vicious cycle.
Pimps are masters of manipulation who tend to seek emotionally damaged victims as pawns for their illegal schemes. The systematic injustices that put many reservations at risk of poverty and drug abuse play into vulnerability of young Native women. When places such as North Dakota become sex trafficking hubs, girls in surrounding tribes stand at a huge risk of getting caught up in the trade.
North Dakota hadn’t dealt with much trafficking up until this point, unpreparedness evident in the state’s severe lack of safe houses and advocacy programs, according to the report. The sudden rush of activity to previously calm towns has revealed an incredible need to put these systems in place in order to remedy the situation.
Sadie Young Bird, director of the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence, describes the current panic to Forum News:
“We’re in crisis mode, all the time, trying to figure out these new ways, these new crises that are coming to us that we never thought we’d have to worry about. No one was prepared for any of this.”
Many states are currently experimenting with legal methods to combat illegal sex trade activity. “Safe Harbor” laws, for example, decriminalize prostitution for minors. It is rare for young victims to be fully compliant in their activities, and putting prostitution charges on their record would add to debilitating disparities rather than aid in rehabilitation.
North Dakota has Safe Harbor legislation in the works while states such as Minnesota and South Dakota have already put the laws in effect. Other regions grapple with whether to criminalize the buying of sex, selling of sex, or both sides of the equation. In Nevada, the sex trade has been decriminalized all together.
Criminal charges or not, it is vital that law enforcement recognize the disturbing realities of the commercial sex trade. An effort must be made to offer victims of sex trafficking support services to help ease them out of the dangerous lifestyle.
Awareness must be spread to the general public, as well. At a court ordered “John School“, or Offenders Prostitution Program, a third of men charged with buying sex claimed to view prostitution as a harmless arrangement between consenting adults. By the end of the informative session, the number of attendees affiliated with this claim fell to just 4%. Public misconception of such a harmful industry makes progress significantly more difficult.
Help us support Indian women who have a right to grow up unsullied by the moral degradation of prostitution and sex trafficking. Help Lakota People’s Law Project support the comprehensive renewal of indigenous people in America.