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Published February 07 2012

Forum editorial: The sense of safety goes away

Reporters for western North Dakota newspapers broke a story this week that is yet another indication of the fraying of the social fabric of the west’s farming and ranching communities because of the boom in the Oil Patch. Ashley Martin of the Dickinson Press and Lauren Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune wrote of sharp increases in sales of self-defense weapons, primarily purchased by women.

In addition, women in unprecedented numbers are signing up for self-defense courses and/or even hosting home parties to learn how to use self-defense devices. More than 200 women attended a recent hands-on self-defense class in Watford City, the Tribune reported.

It’s a new phenomenon in a part of the state that, until the oil boom, was proud to define itself as safe and civilized, not only for women but also for families and children. The boom is changing both the perception and reality of living in oil country.

A major industrial overlay, complete with man camps, has created an overlay of anxiety, concern and just plain old fear among longtime residents who have rarely, if ever, had to live in such an atmosphere. They are responding by purchasing self-defense items such as stun guns, pepper spray and super-loud keychain alarms. While such merchandise might be routine in cities (even Fargo), it is a new growth center for retail and mail-order sales in western North Dakota. Firearms sales at a Dickinson outlet are up 50 percent, the Press reported.

In addition, there has been an uptick in the number of women applying for concealed weapons permits since a female jogger disappeared and is believed to have been killed near Sidney, Mont.

Law enforcement is quick to warn about overreaction. “Are there rapes out on the sidewalks? No, there’s not,” said Williams County (Williston) Sheriff Scott Busching. Fair enough: no rapes on sidewalks.

But that extreme does not diminish both anecdotal evidence and the increases in law enforcement reports of crimes of all kinds. When the statistics are compiled and the rises in everything from domestic violence to assault to motor vehicle injuries and deaths are confirmed, no amount of happy talk will lessen the realities the oil boom has wrought.

One story is instructive and getting typical of women in oil country. The Tribune reported about a woman from Ray who had moved back to her family. She’s had it with what has happened to her hometown and the region, and is getting out and moving to Detroit Lakes, Minn. “I’m not going to stay in this circus,” she told the Tribune. “The hardest is having my security taken away. I don’t like feeling afraid.”

She’s not alone. Her story is but one example of societal deterioration of consequence. North Dakotans who soft-pedal the situation apparently are willing to sacrifice their heritage, culture and communities to a pot of gold at the end of an oil rainbow.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.