In a continuation of weekly protests outside Gov. Ralph Northam and the Attorneys General’s offices, about 10 anti-pipeline protesters gathered Wednesday morning to voice concerns over the possible increased sexual violence toward women during the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).
The group, organized by local advocates Stacy Lovelace and Jessica Sims, delivered a series of letters both to Gov. Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, including their concerns over an increase of male pipeline construction workers.
“The first impact that would disproportionately affect women would be the arrival of ‘man camps’ in the areas,” Lovelace said. “The vast majority are male workers. They work 12-hour days, they’re socially isolated, and they end up becoming centers for these men to start sex trafficking. Violence and rape go up, violence against women increases, and this has predominantly affected Native women and girls up to this point. These are the camps that will be coming to Virginia.”
Writers and feminists like Gloria Steinem have written editorials for several publications, including The Boston Globe, citing an increase of sexual violence and sex trafficking due to the large concentration of isolated male pipeline construction workers along these paths.
These workers live in temporary trailer parks often in abandoned or rural areas. Housing is not provided by the companies, and workers are instead charged a monthly rent in addition to the cost of parking the mobile home. Money is tight, which leads to less than ideal living conditions, which according to Vice, contributes to the increased sexual violence. Working conditions are also poor, as the likelihood of death increases seven times when working with oil rigs or natural gas.
The correlation between increased rape and oil fields became so pertinent, the Department of Justice began soliciting grant research in August of 2016 to study the impact. In a statement, the Department of Justice theorized, “oil industry camps may be impacting domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the direct and surrounding communities in which they reside.”
When construction work occurred in the Bakken oil fields, local victim advocates from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations reported a doubling in the number of hotline calls to victim-service providers for sexual assault, sex trafficking, and domestic violence. Virginia advocates like Lovelace and Sims fear this type of violence may come to the counties along the ACP and MVP.
“Northam ran his campaign claiming to be a strong advocate for women’s rights,” Sims said. “This is a way for him to prove that. He is a doctor and his oath, ‘to do no harm,’ needs to sway his decision and his understanding that this [pipeline] is immediately doing harm.”
Sims said the women plan to continue holding these protests every Wednesday until “the pipeline project is shut down.”