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

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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 SayAnythingBlog.com. 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. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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