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North Dakota: Unsafe for Women

In News stories | on 01.16.13 | by | Comments ( 0 )

Trigger Warning.

Via the New York Times:

“Jessica Brightbill, a single 24-year-old who moved here from Grand Rapids, Mich., a year and a half ago, said she was walking to work at 3:30 in the afternoon when a car with two men suddenly pulled up behind her. One hopped out and grabbed her by her arms and began dragging her. She let her body go limp so she would be harder to drag. Eventually, a man in a truck pulled up and began yelling at the men and she got away, she said. The episode left her rattled. Going out alone is now out of the question…

Some women have taken aggressive steps to protect themselves. At the urging of her family, Barbara Coughlin, 31, who recently moved to Williston after her 11-year marriage ended, is now getting her concealed weapons permit so she can carry a Taser. Ms. Coughlin, who wore silver glitter around her eyes at work as a waitress on a recent day, said her mother and stepfather, who live here, advised her to stop wearing the skirts and heels she cherishes, so she does not stand out like “a flower in the desert,” as her stepfather put it. Her family hardly ever lets her go out on her own — not even for walks down the gravel road at the housing camp where they live.”

There’s been much demonizing of “Indian men” when the world heard about the brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in December, but it’s time to acknowledge that there are plenty of American men who are just as bad.

Sexual violence in public spaces is a problem worldwide. Delhi is unsafe for women. Cairo is unsafe for women. London is unsafe for women. Williston, North Dakota is unsafe for women.

In North Dakota, men far outnumber women, especially young men, many whom have migrated to the area for well-paying jobs in oil towns.

“At work, at housing camps and in bars and restaurants, men have been left to mingle with their own. High heels and skirts are as rare around here as veggie burgers. Some men liken the environment to the military or prison.

“It’s bad, dude,” said Jon Kenworthy, 22, who moved to Williston from Indiana in early December. “I was talking to my buddy here. I told him I was going to import from Indiana because there’s nothing here.”

This has complicated life for women in the region as well.

Many said they felt unsafe. Several said they could not even shop at the local Walmart without men following them through the store. Girls’ night out usually becomes an exercise in fending off obnoxious, overzealous suitors who often flaunt their newfound wealth.

“So many people look at you like you’re a piece of meat,” said Megan Dye, 28, a nearly lifelong Williston resident. “It’s disgusting. It’s gross.”

Prosecutors and the police note an increase in crimes against women, including domestic and sexual assaults. “There are people arriving in North Dakota every day from other places around the country who do not respect the people or laws of North Dakota,” said Ariston E. Johnson, the deputy state’s attorney in neighboring McKenzie County, in an e-mail.”

Street harassment and sexual violence stems from the perpetrator’s disrespect for the target, often, disrespect for women. I think disrespect for groups of people is stronger when you’re not around them much and you don’t have the chance to interact with them as friends/neighbors/colleagues/classmates. This is one reason why I think sexual violence is so blatantly strong in countries with sex segregation, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and India, and is one of the reasons why I’m opposed to sex-segregated public transportation, schools, and places of worship.

And this seems to be partly why gender violence is high in North Dakota. There are tons of single men in a male-dominated workplace and male-dominated community who don’t have the chance to interact with women in platonic or respectful ways and, given all the messages they receive from the media, politicians, and other men that it’s okay to objectify women, without those respectful interactions, it’s easier for them to give into the messaging of sexual objectification and disrespect.

I’m not sure what the solution is to the problem in North Dakota – but at least the New York Times article is raising our awareness and that’s a start.

(Thanks go to my dad for sending me the article)

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