Trafficking in women and young girls for the purpose of prostitution is among a plethora of signs that North Dakota’s oil prosperity has a down side. Mounting evidence from law enforcement agencies and other sources cannot be minimized. Organized prostitution rings have moved into oil country for the same reason drug cartels are operating there: It’s where the money is.

These are not misguided local folks trying to make a buck on the boom. Rather, it’s a cadre of organized “businessmen,” mostly from out of state, whose business just happens to be selling the services of women and sometimes men. They are not new to the trade; they are new to North Dakota. They are making a lot of money by exploiting young girls, many of whom are underage. Demand is high, driven by an expanding population that includes men who have money to burn.

Hold on, complain deniers in the Oil Patch. It’s no different than what goes on in Fargo, they say. Not so. Sure, prostitutes work in Fargo, but the organized, girl-trafficking aspect of what is happening in oil country is not a feature of Fargo’s relatively small problem.

Second, prostitution follows population and money, so Fargo has always had some level of such activity. But big-money organized prostitution trafficking in Williston? In Watford City? In Dickinson? That’s new. It’s disturbing because it’s an in-your-face threat to a way of life in those places. It should be of deep concern to community leaders, who are seeing the quality of life in their towns deteriorate. It should be on the radar of energy company executives who are profiting big time from the Bakken oil play.

Federal and state law enforcement authorities are concerned. They are candid about the situation but not yet alarmist, even as they work very hard to stem a rising tide. They are going after “businessmen,” that is the pimps, who are victimizing young girls by entangling them in prostitution. They are partnering with the private sector, in particular truckers, and with nongovernmental organizations that focus of the welfare of women and girls.

It’s a huge challenge. In the next weeks and months, expect busts to make headlines. Expect to be surprised and angered by the reach of human trafficking and prostitution into North Dakota’s oil country.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.