The 2008 oil and gas boom that started in the Bakken region of rural North Dakota and Montana led to a series of economic, environmental, social, and crime-related changes that transformed life in the region. Rural communities struggled to accommodate the rapid population changes as workers and their family members from out of state sought their fortunes in the oil fields. Soon after the boom occurred, police agencies reported an increase in crime (Dahle & Archbold, 2015; Montana All Threat Intelligence Center [MATIC] & North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center [NDSLIC], 2012), and human service workers identified an increase in the volume and seriousness of interpersonal violence (IPV) they were seeing among their clients, especially domestic and sexual violence (Jayasundara, Heitkamp, Mayzer, Legerski, & Evanson, 2016; Jayasundara, Heitkamp, & Ruddell, 2016). One question arising from these observations was whether there were specific risk factors or sources of vulnerability that contributed to increased IPV in these resource-based boomtowns.
Although all communities are affected by crimes, some places have much higher rates of violent and interpersonal offenses, and this variation is attributed to a number of economic, demographic, political, and social factors. Much of the research to evaluate the influence of these factors has been conducted in urban areas (see Weisburd et al., 2016). Less attention has been paid to the factors contributing to crime in rural places, and more specifically, in rapid growth communities such as boomtowns (Ruddell, 2018). Of special interest to a growing number of investigators is whether contextual factors associated with boom communities, such as economic prosperity, work culture and lifestyles of oil-field personnel, rapid population change (and the distorted ratio of males to females), shortcomings in the community infrastructure, and a lack of adequate services (health, education, social, and criminal justice), contribute to increased vulnerability for victimization.
Scholars are also interested in better understanding the relationships between contextual factors distinctive to a resource-based boom community and violence toward women, specifically including offenses related to family and dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault. A review of the research reveals a number of common correlates of these offenses, including issues of power, control, and subjugation (Bart & Moran, 1993; Brush, 1993; Lockhart & Danis, 2010; McClennen, 2010; Patrick, Murray, & Burke, 2008; Sween & Reyns, 2017). Moreover, these acts are not typically isolated to a single event and many offenders do not stop with one survivor or act of abuse (Lockhart & Danis, 2010; McClennen, 2010). Individuals are situated within micro- and macro-level contexts, and the interplay between those factors influences risks of victimization (Guruge, Morrison, Jayasuriya-Illesinghe, & Mock, 2016; Lockhart & Danis, 2010; Sanz-Barbero et al., 2015). For example, although an abuser may use physical abuse to control a partner, he or she can also use the partner's children, religion, financial or immigration vulnerability, as well as other individual or social factors (such as a partner's social isolation) to further harm their victims (Lockhart & Danis, 2010).
Research also reveals that violent victimization varies by geography and that where a person lives influences his or her vulnerability (Sanz-Barbero et al., 2015; Weisburd et al., 2016). Donnermeyer and DeKeseredy (2013) contend, for instance, that the cultural values and beliefs present in some rural communities support violence toward women (see also DeKeseredy, Hall-Sanchez, Dragiewicz, & Rennison, 2016). Women in rural communities may be further disadvantaged as survivors often have limited access to resources such as emergency shelters (Bhandari, Bullock, Anderson, Danis, & Sharps, 2011; Kershner, Long, & Anderson, 1998; Krishnan, Hilbert, & Pase, 2001; Randall & Tower, 2010). A lack of resources--or inability to access them--can trap survivors seeking an escape from violence, which in turn creates additional sources of vulnerability and risk (Paat, 2014; Raj & Silverman, 2002).
Similarly, the premise of this study is that the industrialization and rapid population growth associated with oil and gas development in the Bakken region created conditions that led to an increase in women's risk of victimization. In order to test that proposition, the authors analyzed data obtained from interviews with ten survivors of IPV that solicited responses about their experiences and perceptions of their vulnerability. In what follows, the authors will provide a brief overview of crime in resource-based boomtowns, identify issues associated with the victimization of women in boomtowns, describe the data and methods used in this study, and identify a series of policy proposals based on the findings reported.
Boomtown Effects: Antisocial Behavior and Crime
The rapid population growth and development associated with resource exploration and extraction in rural and remote communities can create boomtowns. Boomtowns are not a new phenomenon; early examples in the United States date back to the 1849 California gold rush. Although all have distinctive characteristics, they share a common set of resultant social problems including increases in social disorder and crime, which are called boomtown effects (Government of New Brunswick, 2012). Resource-based booms typically occur in rural communities that lack the infrastructure needed to accommodate the increased population. As a result, most local governments struggle initially with providing services that match the increased population and social problems (Morrison, Wilson, & Bell, 2012). Although boomtowns in the western U.S. states in the 1970s and 1980s were characterized by rapid growth followed by economic busts, new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have led to contemporary oil and gas booms that are taking place over much larger regions and may occur over a longer period of time (Jacquet & Kay, 2014).
Population booms associated with resource development typically follow a cycle in which populations surge during the construction phase and then decrease as production starts and the need for workers stabilizes. The initial stage of a boom often requires specialized labor that small communities are unable to supply, resulting in an influx of outsiders who fill these needs. Few communities have the capacity to accommodate this rapid population growth, and this reduces their ability to mitigate potential social problems (Brown, 2010; Frick, 2010; Jacquet, 2009). For example, a lack of safe and affordable housing leads to congested living conditions, makeshift housing arrangements (such as living in vehicles), and the emergence of man-camps in the countryside, where workers live in dorm-like settings that may house up to 1,000 persons (Fernando & Cooley, 2016). The lack of housing in turn creates precarious living conditions, especially for many women (Amnesty International, 2016).
Freudenburg (1984) proposed that traditional forms of informal social control decrease in boomtowns as populations grow and people become more anonymous. As a result, social disorganization increases and crime occurs at a rate higher than the population increase (Freudenburg & Jones, 1991; Ruddell, 2018). Few migrant workers who come to boomtowns are interested in becoming long-term community members, and this can create tension between them and the local residents (O'Connor, 2015). Nonresident workers who drive in and drive out after their two-week shifts have even less stake in these communities.
The results of prior studies reveal that most forms of property, public order, traffic, and minor violent crimes, such as simple assaults, increase in boomtowns, but there is seldom a substantial increase in homicide (Ruddell, 2018). Crime also increases when local criminal justice systems are overwhelmed by workloads (Archbold, 2013; Dooley & Ruzicka, 2013; MATIC & NDSLIC, 2012; Ruddell, 2011). Writing about boomtowns, Gilmore (1976) observed how a community's social problems are interrelated. For example, mental health service programs and agencies confronting legal and social problems (such as those offering substance abuse treatment) are important in responding to the unmet needs of individuals. They also work toward stabilizing a boomtown, which in turn reduces boomtown effects such as antisocial behavior and crime.
A number of researchers have identified the initial inability of law enforcement and other human service providers to adequately respond to the social problems in rapid growth communities due to the high demands placed on these agencies (Archbold, Dahle, & Jordan, 2014; Dahle & Archbold, 2015; Dooley & Ruzicka, 2013; Jayasundara, Heitkamp, & Ruddell, 2016; MATIC & NDSLIC, 2012; Ruddell, 2011, 2018). These studies show that human service organizations, including police, courts, and corrections, are burdened by higher volumes of work and confronting more serious cases without a concomitant increase in personnel and resources (Flanagan, Heitkamp, Nedegaard, & Jayasundara, 2014; Geigle, 2013; Perry, 2012; Weber, Geigle, & Barkdull, 2012). Demands on voluntary, charitable, and religious organizations that support the activities of government agencies also increase (Cwiak et al., 2015; Flanagan et al., 2014).
Violence toward Women in Rapid Growth Communities
With respect to violence toward women, the influx of males in boomtowns leads to a distorted ratio of men to women (Taylor & Carson, 2014). Media accounts report that women are hounded and feel unsafe, even during daytime hours (Eligon, 2013; Shilton, 2015). These increased fears are common in resource-based boomtowns, as documented in studies carried out in Australia (Benham, 2016), Canada (Amnesty International, 2016; Britto, 2016), and the United...