This article is part of the Echoes of Cologne forum. Click here to read the introduction and the other contributions.
The streets of Cologne, Germany seem far from the windswept plains of North Dakota. Yet surprising parallels can be drawn. In our work, we’ve been exploring a sex panic that has unfolded in rural Western North Dakota, in the context of the biggest oil boom in the region’s history. While the circumstances are very different than those of Cologne, both became occasions for the ordering of social and political life, and opportunities to see societal anxieties laid bare.
In North Dakota, workers, mainly men, have flocked to oilfield jobs, which tend to be well-paying but risky. Many lost their previous jobs or homes in the 2008 economic recession, part of the shifting up of economic precarity to include more and more workers and families. Crew camps housed migrant workers by the thousands, while an even larger number crowded into existing housing stock in Williston and surrounding communities, enduring extortionist rents higher even than those found in Manhattan. There are many stories to tell about about the oil boom, but local, national and international media have focused almost obsessively on the strip clubs, prostitution, and sex trafficking that is presumed to have arisen in response to this influx of ‘unruly’ working-class men, far from families and friends, with time and money to spend.
North Dakota’s Sex Panic in the News
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