The Great Plains Oil Rush
3:55 am
Sat February 1, 2014

Booming Oil Fields May Be Giving Sex Trafficking A Boost

Originally published on Sat February 1, 2014 11:00 pm

A Friday night at J Dub's Bar & Grill in Williston, N.D., begins and ends with multicolored flashing lights, thumping dance music and crowds of young men with money to spend.

"A lot of testosterone being thrown around in this town," says Nathan Kleyer, 24, a Williston native who's at J Dub's with some friends for a few drinks.

And he's seen it all over town, he says: "These scantily clad women walking in, and they will hop tables until they find a john to take them home."

He's seen it in bars, and he's even heard about it at a nearby chain restaurant, he says.

"If you're looking for it, you can find it; it's there," Kleyer says. "You know, there's women looking to make money, too."

This is the kind of anecdotal story you hear about prostitution in the Bakken oil fields region. The workforce is well-paid and is predominantly male. Ask people who live there, and it doesn't take long before you start hearing about a rise in prostitution.

Tiffany Aho runs a cleaning company in nearby Sidney, Mont. Her company cleans oil field offices in the North Dakota oil fields as well as "man camps," the clusters of long narrow buildings or trailers built by oil companies to cheaply house workers.

"We get several people when we're out on locations that ask if we offer more services than just cleaning," she says.

"Sex services?" a reporter asks.

"Correct."

"At all times, I send two girls — I never send one girl to a location," Aho says. But that doesn't stop the propositions from coming.

Scan the North Dakota section of the online classifieds site Backpage.com and you'll find pages of postings from female escorts with revealing pictures of women offering companionship, massages and more.

Many posts contain disclaimers saying anything that happens is between two consenting adults.

"I mean, you can't put your finger on it," says Bryan Lockerby, the administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigation for the Montana Department of Justice.

Lockerby knows the oil boom in his state and in neighboring North Dakota means economic opportunities for organized crime. "Guns, drugs, prostitution — all of that goes hand in hand," he says.

But law enforcement in the region just hasn't had the training or the resources to fully grasp what's happening on the ground.

Agencies are trying to change that, though. There are more highway patrol officers now, and the FBI has a new office based in Sidney that covers the entire Bakken region.

And to address prostitution, Lockerby says, you need to start with a focus on human trafficking.

"Seventy percent of the women that have gotten into prostitution started at the age of 13 to 14, when they were recruited by pimps."

Montana established a human trafficking task force in 2012 — a partnership among the state and federal agencies such as the FBI, IRS and the Department of Homeland Security.

Still, the task force has only prosecuted a handful of cases since forming.

Adrian, who lives in Montana, says she wasn't recruited into prostitution. She was originally forced into it, she says, by her adopted parents in Texas.

"I was 11 when I started getting sold," she says. "And by the age of 15, 16, I was sold to a pimp."

Adrian asked that her last name be withheld because she fears for her safety now that she's speaking out. She says going to the police was never an option — she was always so closely watched.

"I mean, if you went to go get help, you were dead. ... There's always someone outside your door when you're doing what you had to do," she says. "If they weren't, they were sitting outside in their cars, so there was no escape."

But she did escape, making it all the way to a Montana safe house called Traffick Refuge. She considers herself one of the lucky ones.

Now 19, with dyed red hair and a new GED, Adrian is trying to spread awareness.

While Adrian was trafficked in Texas, Patricia Freeland, Traffick Refuge's executive director, says she's sure this kind of trafficking is on the rise in the Bakken. She says schools need to be better informed — and that the oil companies need to better monitor those man camps.

"They're so out of control, I believe, because it's so rural — so small town — in North Dakota and eastern Montana."

The attorneys general of both Montana and North Dakota have joined others around the country asking Congress for more funding for programs that fight human trafficking.

As for law enforcement, Freeland says officers need to stop treating prostitutes as criminals. "I don't care how willing they look," she says. "They're victims."

Copyright 2014 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.mtpr.org.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Illegal drugs are a growing problems in the oil fields of North Dakota, where crude and cash now flow. Sleepy prairie towns have seen an influx of young, predominantly male workers and a spike in drinking, drugs and organized crime. As part of our series on the oil boom there, Montana Public Radio's Dan Boyce recently visited the Bakken Oil Fields and he reports there's also been a rise in prostitution.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: A Friday night at J Dubs Bar and Grill in Williston, North Dakota begins and ends with multi-colored flashing lights, thumping dance music and crowds of young men with money to spend.

NATHAN KLEYER: A lot of testosterone, a lot of testosterone being thrown around in this town.

BOYCE: Twenty-four-year-old Williston-native Nathan Kleyer came here with some friends for a few drinks. He's seen it all over town, at the bars. He's even heard about it at a nearby chain restaurant.

KLEYER: These scantily-clad women walking in and they will hop tables until they find a john to take them home.

BOYCE: This is the kind of anecdotal story you hear about prostitution in the Bakken.

KLEYER: If you're looking for it, you can find it. It's there. You know, there's women looking to make money too.

TIFFANY AHO: We get several people when we're out on locations that ask if we offer more services than just cleaning.

BOYCE: Sex services?

AHO: Correct.

BOYCE: Tiffany Aho runs a cleaning company in Sidney, Montana.

AHO: We clean oil field offices, occasionally, man camps as well.

BOYCE: Man camps - the clusters of long narrow buildings or trailers built by oil companies to cheaply house workers.

AHO: At all times, I send two girls. I never send one girl to a location.

BOYCE: But that does not stop the propositions from coming. Scan the North Dakota section of the online classifieds site backpage.com and you can find a steady stream - pages of postings from female escorts with revealing pictures of women offering companionship, massages and more. And many posts contain disclaimers saying anything that happens is between two consenting adults.

BRYAN LOCKERBY: I mean, you can't put your finger on it.

BOYCE: Bryan Lockerby is the administrator of the Department of Criminal Investigation in the Montana Department of Justice. He knows the economic opportunities an oil boom provides for organized crime.

LOCKERBY: Guns, drugs, prostitution - all of that goes hand in hand.

BOYCE: But law enforcement in the region just hasn't had the training or the resources to fully grasp what's happening on the ground. Agencies are trying to change that. The FBI has a new office in the Bakken. There are more highway patrol officers. And Lockerby says to address prostitution, you need to start with a focus on human trafficking.

LOCKERBY: About 70 percent of the women that have gotten into prostitution started at the age of 13 to 14 when they were recruited by pimps.

BOYCE: Montana established a human trafficking task force in 2012 - a partnership among the state and federal agencies such as the FBI, IRS and Homeland Security. Still, the task force has only prosecuted a handful of cases since forming.

ADRIAN: I mean, if you went to go get help, you were dead.

BOYCE: Adrian wasn't recruited into prostitution.

ADRIAN: I was 11 when I started getting sold.

BOYCE: She was forced into it, originally by her adopted parents in Texas.

ADRIAN: And by the age of 15, 16 I was sold to a pimp.

BOYCE: We're not using her last name, because she fears for her safety now that she's speaking out. Adrian says going to the police was never an option. She was always so closely watched.

ADRIAN: There's always someone outside your door when you're doing what you had to do. If they weren't, they were sitting outside in their cars. So there was no escape.

BOYCE: She considers herself one of the lucky ones. She did escape, making it all the way to a Montana safe house called Traffick Refuge. Nineteen now with dyed red hair and a new GED, Adrian is trying to spread awareness. Traffick Refuge Executive Director Patricia Freeland is sure this kind of trafficking is on the rise in the Bakken. She says schools need to be better informed and the oil companies need to better monitor those man camps.

PATRICIA FREELAND: They're so out of control, I believe because it's so rural, so small-town in North Dakota and Eastern Montana.

BOYCE: As for law enforcement, she says officers need to stop treating prostitutes as criminals.

FREELAND: I don't care how willing they look, they're victims.

BOYCE: The attorneys general of both Montana and North Dakota have joined others around the country asking Congress for more funding for programs that fight human trafficking. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce.

SIMON: Our Oil Rush series continues on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED tonight, with an effort to refine some of that oil at the source. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.