Are Women In Danger In North Dakota’s Oil Patch?


Like a lot of North Dakotans, I’ve grown a little weary of the national media attention paid to the Bakken oil boom. At one point it was novel, and even illuminating, to see the changes in our communities covered by national media reporters who strike a tone which is often that of a stringer on a safari into some strange and remote culture.

It’s always amusing to hear some reporter who has spent just hours or days in North Dakota speak, with absolute authority, about the realities of living here.

But now it’s all become a little tiresome. The reporters have begun to tell the same stories over and over again. It’s either the story about how the oil boom has set the state’s economy on fire, or the story about the vile “consequences” of the oil boom. Or some mixture of the two.

Yes, we get it. The oil boom has been great for our economy, but the rapid growth and development has caused some political and social headaches. At this point, these aren’t stunning revelations. We’re working on it.

But the New York Times too a bit of a different tact. They dispatched their reporter to some strip clubs in the oil patch where they interviewed some women and found out (hold on to your hats) that in these communities inundated with young men who are making lots and lots of money said young men sometimes behave themselves like louts.

Because that’s exactly the sort of story you find when you go to strip clubs and bars.

The headline of the resulting story is, An Oil Town Where Men Are Many, and Women Are Hounded.

Based on little more than anecdotes, the Times paints a picture of women put in danger by the oil boom and the stampede of mostly male oil workers. But, as Breitbart notes, that hasn’t really resulted in women actually being in more danger.

We shouldn’t be happy about more crime in western North Dakota, but the data speaks volumes. Crime rates, which is to say incidents of crime in the context of population increases, really haven’t increased all that much. According to the most recent data, they’re about on par in oil producing counties with crime rates from 10 years ago.

For those used to the quiet and slower-paced sort of life the western part of the state used to provide, the oil boom can feel a bit like an invasion. It’s easy to understand why people might feel fearful, especially when they read articles such as the one from the Times. But how people feel about something, and what that something actually is, often aren’t the same thing.

People may feel less safe in the oil patch because they’re upset about their changing communities and scared by sensational and irresponsible reports from the media, but that doesn’t mean they really are less safe.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

Related posts

  • Roy_Bean

    I always laugh when some reporter shows up from a cesspool like New York or LA and writes about the dangers of living in North Dakota.

    • Rob

      Heh. There is that.

    • $34543430

      I have wandered around downtown Boston, Seattle, Denver, San Fransisco, DC, alone as a young women, and never received a fraction of the hassling I get leaving the movie theater in Williston at night on a weekend. I’ve been screamed at in full winter clothing, holding hands with my 6’5″ boyfriend!

  • yy4u2

    I didn’t read the article. Was there mention of how much these scared souls took home in cash? On a side note, I bet the sheep maybe aren’t as scared as they used to be.

    • sbark

      ya figure that “cash” is tax free on top of it………..
      Capitalism has its risks……..always has, always will be.

  • SusanBeehler

    They should feel safe though because oil country is not a “gun free” zone. Sex and Violence have always been used to sell newspapers, promote any media. The photo you posted will probably attract a few hits too. Rapes holding steady out the context of population, car accidents up in the context of the population? Both I would say have seen increased traffic.

    • Rob

      Sometimes I think you need to slow down when you’re writing, Susan. I have a hard time understanding the points you’re trying to make.

      • SusanBeehler

        Were you saying they don’t feel safe so you think they should feel safe because it is not really unsafe they are just perceiving it is not safe, because the data does not show an increase threat ? I was making the comment of a no “gun free” zone because it has also been the theme of someone how making people feel safe. In another article you want the “media” to fess up about the dangers of driving in the oil company,because there is a “real” danger. It appears you are devaluing the safety some women may sense with the increase in activity in oil country yet want to “pump” up the “danger” of driving. You state a no “gun free” zone will keep people safe and this is the problem with the gun violence. Are all these articles simply a difference of perception and isn’t what makes one feel secure a personal perception? Gun or no gun, traffic or no traffic, more men more danger (sex crimes).

        • Rob

          I’m not sure where you think i’ve been writing that the media has understated the danger of driving in the oil patch. I think they’ve overstated it. In a separate piece, I did argue that we could get a lot of the traffic off the roads if the government would get out of the way of building pipelines.

          And how women do or don’t “feel” is kind of the problem. I think media stories make people “feel” lots of things that aren’t necessarily true. Former Governor candidate Ryan Taylor went around the state talking about a woman he knew who had finally started locking her doors in the western part of the state because she felt scared.

          But is that woman really in more danger? Or does she just feel scared because of media reports and grandstanding politicians like Taylor were/are scaring her?

          Statistically speaking, crime isn’t any more of a problem in the oil patch than it was 10 years ago.

          • seejai

            I still don’t think hounded has to mean physical danger.

        • awfulorv

          I cannot imagine a panel which would, in all fairness, fail to award a Pulitzer Prize to yourself, and the equally attractive Seejai, should you choose to collaborate with her, for “Blogging under the extreme pressure of numerous, unrelenting, catcalls, whilst dog walking, and dodging autos, in an open carry, oil patch zone”. In my opinion you, and the lovely Seejai, have only to cut and paste what you’ve already written on the subject, in order to carry off the top prize.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    Media need to sensationalize to sell papers. That’s why reporters seek out the idiotic quote and the reactionary. Facts (especially when properly presented) do not excite readers and sell papers or give the reporter a famous name.

    Furthermore, stories tend to fit a template. A few years ago, North Dakota stories in the national media were all about dying small towns. Now they’re all about oil destroying a bucolic existence. They rarely move beyond stereotypes.

    • Rob

      That is the irony, isn’t it?

      Not so long ago, western North Dakota was dying. I remember taking almost weekly business trips out to Williston and staying in this gigantic old hotel that was almost always totally empty. Now you have to book a hotel room a long way in advance to have a place to stay.

  • $34543430

    I moved there about 6 years ago just when the oil boom was starting. I was 14 at the time and would walk my dogs and men would slow down and scream profanities at me, offer rides, etc. I was 14!! I had never experienced that before and I was NOT “asking for it” with my clothes. I was traumatized, especially considering I didn’t understand most of the innuendos, and I definitely felt threatened.

    There are tactics to avoid bad attention (mainly, avoid eye contact and forget about putting any effort into looking good, because that’s asking for it), but I don’t understand why, locally, the pressure is put on us women to avoid this behavior. My mother has been followed from the grocery store, men have tried to get into my parked car, I could tell stories all day about my and my friends’ experiences with unwarranted sexual harassment, every incident NOT in a bar or strip club. It’s almost impossible to walk my dogs without getting hassled (in the winter, I dare you to accuse me of wearing something sexy when it’s 10 degrees). Maybe I haven’t been physically damaged, but constant harassment has made me incredibly uptight and weary of men every time I leave my hometown (Williston).

    Of course many of the men are great, and really are lonely and will respectfully show interest, but overwhelmingly a lot of unacceptable behavior is tolerated and excused just because they are lonely and male.

    • awfulorv

      Well, there you have it, you’ve mistaken innocuous entreaties from frugal males, intent on saving the expense of a subscription to online dating services no doubt, for profanity. Or, perhaps, it’s a tactic, and none too successful it would seem, not in fashion during my courting days. For what you relate does seem an odd way to ask for a date, does it not? Or, quite likely, you’ve been mistaking the rap “Music” you’re listening to, and the filthy lyrics, emanating from that device stuck in your ears, for what’s, actually, going on around you. If you find that to be the case, a simple change of the dial will cause immeasurable change in your opinion of we males.

      • $34543430

        Is that directed at me? Why do you think I listen to rap? Maybe the guys listen to it and think it indicates appropriate ways to address women, but often times, those are the same guys complaining in Williston how they can’t get a date.

      • SusanBeehler

        Not if the quality of the “we” males is something that crawled out from a rock. These men do not need “servicing” they need to “zip” it.

    • SusanBeehler

      seejai I am sorry that happened to you, maybe it is what we allow in North Dakota. I remember walking home from school when I was 12 and the same thing would happen in our capital city in the day time. I hated it, and I didn’t even know what they were talking about, we did not have foul language in our home. When I was about 15 and I couldn’t even go to the mall with out being followed around. One guy followed me out to the parking lot and wanted “whatever”, I told him I was only 15 and to leave me alone. It does shake your sense of security, to have that kind of “stranger danger”. Now that I am grown, I have asked guys why do they do this, do they really think someone is going to do something when you yell some obscene act to them, the answer is because sometimes it works, sometimes they do get lucky. YUCK!

  • $34543430

    And the title of the NY Times article says women are hounded, which doesn’t necessarily indicate physical violence.

  • Kevin Flanagan
    • $34543430

      So I have to pretend to be married to avoid sexual harassment. I know a lot of waitresses who do this, but seriously? This married reporter’s experience doesn’t necessarily represent young, attractive women who have grown up in Williston and receive unwanted attention.

      • awfulorv

        Attractive? In who’s opinion? We all know that Williston, and Jamestown, are not known as locations, as Miles city, or West Fargo are, where one is likely to find an overabundance of attractive young women. Methinks the lady doth embellish too much…

        • seejai

          I’m talking about Williston, where apparently there isn’t an abundance. I guess it doesn’t really matter whether or not I’m attractive, since being a young female seems to get you hassled either way. That lady’s blog says she’s OK from harassment, as long as she wears a wedding ring.

  • awfulorv

    Or the men might be yelling for you to pick up after your dog which is, though most young people are unaware of it, considered good manners these days. Might I suggest, when next you leave your hometown and visit Chicago, you walk your dog in either East, or West, Garfield Park. I’m sure you’ll find the denizens of these lovely areas much more to your liking.

    • $34543430

      My experience has been with people driving past and yelling, not property owners that I walk past. What’s the issue? I just relayed my experience as a young women in Williston. I have never once been screamed at in Jamestown (where I attend college), and the population of Williston was less than Jamestown when I moved there.

  • $34543430

    It’s kind of annoying to me when I see men say women aren’t hounded in Williston. If you are not a women in Williston, how would you know?

  • Guest

    I would guess awfulorv is one of those problematic, harassing males, judging by his hostility and available time for snide comments to each woman he can find online :P

    • awfulorv

      It’s true, whiny women, willing to have a male arrested for a harmless remark, an imagined slight, have never been held in high regard by this writer. The sooner they realize they are sitting on their only worthwhile asset, the better. Of course a Lesbian would feel it their place to leap to their defense, so that explains your interest in the matter.