November 1, 2012

Is the oil patch ripe for human trafficking?

Is the oil patch ripe for human trafficking?

By Jerry W. Kram

Domestic violence and sexual abuse have been long term problems on Indian reservations. The oil boom and the attention it has brought to western North Dakota may lead to a new and expanded challenge to advocates for abused people and law enforcement: the trafficking of human beings.
Human trafficking defined as forcing someone to work, sometimes as a prostitute, through fraud, intimidation or coercion, said Scott Santoro, with the Department of Homeland Security.
Suzanne Koepplinger, director of the Indian Womens Resource Center, described her experiences working with women who were forced into prostitution in Minnesota. She said many of the women were lured away from the support of their family and friends by men pretending to be in love with them. Others are led away with promises of lucrative jobs that also turn out to be lies. She said many of the native women who are victimized this way come from North and South Dakota.
One of the impacts of the oil boom, Koepplinger said, is that the flow of money into the Bakken may have turned the flow of human trafficking around, with women being lured to this region.
“We have anecdotal evidence, but we don’t have any hard data,” Koepplinger said. “We have been hearing stories of vulnerable native girls from the reservations who are being brought into the man camps and oil fields and being sold for sex. We don’t have any law enforcement data, just stories. But we know that Native American girls are really vulnerable to predators. The reservations have some really rough challenges.”


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