It has been likened to a Mars mining colony, pilloried for its high rents and flagged as a danger to women.
The term boomtown is likely to evoke images of prosperity. But in Williston, North Dakota—known as Kuwait on the Prairie, in some circles—the lack of housing, stores that cannot stock shelves fast enough, and a man-woman ratio of 10:1 are delivering more of a nightmare than the fabled, so-called American dream.
BBC News has delivered a scathing portrait of suicides, death by cold and perilous conditions for women.
"I do this work back in Illinois," said one stripper to BBC News, revealing that she is a mother of two. "But the men here are 100 percent worse. It's horrible. They're animals. I've only been here a week, but I'm done with Williston. I'm going home next weekend."
The law enforcement people interviewed talk of jailing the “bad guys,” but there are all too many of them. In fact jail cells are as scarce as housing, it would seem. With 132 beds, “I’ve been full,” said Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching to the British television network. Crime and violence have risen sharply since the low-key ranching community of 12,000 tripled in population in just the past five years, he said. So has homelessness, according to a pastor interviewed for the piece.
But perhaps most compelling is the fear expressed by women, who describe being afraid to conduct routine, daily business. One 26-year-old woman, pregnant as well as engaged to be married, is constantly being "hooted and hollered" at, she told BBC News, and carries a stun gun in her purse. Another carries pepper spray in her hand just to walk from Wal-Mart to her car.
"It's always in my right hand. I have to have it,” said the petit blonde twenty-something. "It's just not a safe environment. I've definitely had some people follow me before. I just kind of walk past—headstrong, I don't want to show fear."
Neither woman goes out alone after dark.
"I wouldn't go out during the night,” said the blonde woman. “There's a lot of men, and the ratio is just way too many men to women, and I feel like I'd be their prey."
Read North Dakota Oil Boom: American Dream on Ice at BBC News.