We know that transient workers bring sex trafficking trouble. Women have spoken up, but their voices have been minimized or ignored.
The recent ruling on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline (“Judge pushes back timeline for Minnesota oil pipeline,” Dec. 28) is a welcome development in the critical decision about whether to allow this project to go forward near the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota.
As the benefits and costs continue to be debated, very few mention the consequences to women and girls.
Minnesotans should be fully aware not only of the environmental risks this so-called “good for the economy” project entails, but also the human risks. Large numbers of transient workers, often from out of state, will descend on small Minnesota towns along the pipeline construction route. They are housed in what’s become known as “man camps.”
The workers have no connection to the community, get paid large sums of money and have little to do in their free time. Some will bring trouble, attracting the drug trade, sex trafficking or both. They will pollute the land by day, and women and children by night.
In Iowa, when the Dakota Access Pipeline was being built, there were several instances of this in Lee County, where I grew up. An agent of the Texas pipeline company was alleged to have offered a farmer who did not want the pipeline crossing his land sex with two teenage girls. Fortunately, the farmer taped the conversation. In another Iowa county, a Native American mother and daughter were protesting the pipeline when a worker in a truck stopped and yelled, “How much for the girl?”
We live in a culture that disrespects the very things that give us life: women, land, air and water. We know from the North Dakota Bakken oil boom that man camps drastically increased violence against women and girls.
If we take a look at the state’s Line 3 environmental-impact statement (EIS), it shows the project’s negative impacts on women, particularly Native American women and girls, and on the broader environment. In Chapter 11, it states:
“Concerns have been raised regarding the link between an influx of temporary workers and the potential for an associated increase in sex trafficking, which is well documented, particularly among Native populations. … The addition of a temporary, cash-rich workforce increases the likelihood that sex trafficking or sexual abuse will occur. Additionally, rural areas often do not have the resources necessary to detect and prevent these activities.”
The EIS drafters took time to talk to Enbridge about this concern for Minnesota. Here is what the EIS says:
“To address the potential for sexual abuse or sex trafficking, Enbridge can fund or prepare and implement an education plan or awareness campaign around this issue with the companies and subcontractors it hires to construct, restore and operate the pipeline. Enbridge can also provide funding to local and tribal law enforcement to identify and stop sex trafficking.”
The EIS makes it sound simple. Throw a few dollars at education and more cops, and poof! Sexual violence disappears. However, absent from the EIS is 1) research that shows these so-called “awareness campaigns” are effective and 2) specific financial commitments from Enbridge.
Most significant, the EIS is missing voices of women and the Native American community. Women did speak up about this issue during EIS public hearings, but somehow their voices are missing in the EIS.
Why does Enbridge get a voice in this critical document but not women? This is the old-school response to complaints about sexual violence; when women speak up, our concerns are minimized or ignored.
I agree with Lisa Brunner, White Earth Ojibwe former program specialist for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, who described the wide-ranging impact of extractive industries such as oil fracking and pipelines as “predator economics.”
“They treat Mother Earth like they treat women. … They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment and kill us.”
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will have the final say about Line 3, and we urge these leaders to withdraw their consent from this destructive project and protect all we hold dear. As has been said: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”