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Limited options exist for Oil Patch domestic violence victims

SIDNEY, Mont. -- A housing shortage in the Oil Patch is causing more victims of domestic violence to stay with their abusers, victim advocates said Tuesday.

Darianne Johnson, executive director for the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson, said during a listening summit on the impacts of the oil boom that victims have limited options.

Victims can stay in a shelter long term, leave the state or stay in the abusive relationship, Johnson said.

"We're seeing a lot of women go back because it's the only way they'll have a roof over their and their children's heads," Johnson said.

The North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services and the Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence held a joint session in Sidney, Mont., to discuss the challenges facing oil-impacted communities.

State and federal law enforcement officials, congressional aides and other stakeholders attended the session.

A lack of affordable housing and shelter space was a common theme from victim advocates in both states.

In Dickinson, the emergency shelter can accommodate up to 18 people. They can stay up to two years, and more are staying longer because they don't have another option, Johnson said.

On the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, one victim has been on the waiting list for housing for seven years, said Sadie Young Bird, director of the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"That's why they stay in their violent relationships because there's nowhere for them to go," Young Bird said.

Julia Kourajian Bush, direct service provider for the Family Crisis Shelter in Williston, estimated that at least 80 percent of domestic violence victims her agency serves are women are new to the area.

In most cases, the abuse started before they moved to North Dakota, Kourajian Bush said.

"They think maybe in a different setting, life will be different," she said.

Janelle Moos, executive director of North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services/Coalition Against Sexual Assault in North Dakota, said agencies are getting more requests to help victims return to their home state, but there are limited funds for that.

"They often just want money for a bus ticket, money for a plane ticket, gas money to go back home," Moos said. "Our programs aren't set up in that fashion."

In Williston, an anonymous donor has contributed funds that the shelter uses to help women relocate, said Director Lana Bonnet.

In addition to domestic violence, agencies are getting more reports of sexual assaults by strangers, Moos said.

"And really brazen attacks," Moos said. "Things that are happening in restrooms in bars or in laundry rooms at hotels."

Colleen Reese, who directs a domestic violence program for Mountrail and Burke counties, said victims come looking for services that the agency can't provide.

"The agencies are just tapped out," Reese said. "I hope the people at the top hear what's going on."