A friend drew my attention to this story in South Dakota's Argus-Leader last month. The headline is "Stripping, sex-trafficking, and small towns looking the other way," and it seems to support my long-standing argument that law and legal institutions are less present, less effective in rural areas, in part for socio-spatial reasons. That is, material spatiality disables law because of the challenge and cost of policing vast, sparsely populated places. Further, material spatiality reinforces (and is reinforced by) social expectations of law's anemic presence and role.
Here's an excerpt from Jeremy Fugleberg's story in the Argus-Leader.
Pheasant hunting season was once a homespun South Dakota tradition. But increasingly it is a commercial enterprise, one that comes with a dark side: sex trafficking and pop-up strip clubs that cater to hunters here for a good time.
The hunting season's dark side stands in stark contrast to South Dakota’s friendly, clean-cut image. It can be easy to overlook by small farm towns that increasingly rely on hosting a flood of rich pheasant hunters to offset losses from troubled agricultural markets.
Pop-up strip clubs, while legal, have their own place in the shadow. They can trap freelance dancers in a web of exorbitant fees, throwing them into debt and making them vulnerable to being illegally exploited by traffickers and hunters.The story features Frank Day's bar in Dallas, in Gregory County (population 4,271), which has "become legendary as a South Dakota destination for groups of hunters, mostly male, sometimes wealthy, looking for after-dark entertainment."
South Dakota is dawning to the realization that human trafficking isn’t just a big-city problem. It’s essentially modern slavery that does happen in the state, as (usually) men, control and manipulate (usually) women and sell their bodies for sex.
It’s a shocking practice, one that can be masked as simply providing entertainment for hunters in remote communities.
“These small towns allow this to happen because it’s a social norm, right? 'Boys will be boys,' that’s what we tell ourselves,” said Tifanie Petro, co-chair of the South Dakota West River Human Trafficking Task Force. “There’s this social acceptance because, ‘that’s just what happens here, that’s just what goes on during the rally, or during the pheasant season.’”Fugleberg suggests that Gregory County authorities turn a blind eye to exploitation of strippers by establishments like Frank Day's, which becomes "No Wives Ranch" during pheasant season. Fascinating.
So, what is the onus on local government to protect the women who come to work as strippers? What would government protection look like in that context? Is the exploitation mostly economic? or is it something else?
The story suggests that these are the secret ingredients to sex trafficking:
South Dakota’s two largest tourist events, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and pheasant hunting season, both have the ingredients that attract sex traffickers: lots of men a long way from home, looking for a good time, with money to spend. (emphasis added)Interesting. Maybe so. I always assumed there was a pimp or profiteer or clear-cut criminal who was making a lot of $$$. Is Frank Day's Bar making a lot of money during the period it is the "No Wives Ranch"?
Are these the ingredients to a patriarchal society, turning a blind eye to women not earning what they deserve. But does that equate to sex trafficking?
I noticed a few years ago at conferences that what we previously called prostitution is now widely labeled "sex trafficking." Hmmm. Is all prostitution sex-trafficking? To be more precise, is all sale of sex for $$$ sex-trafficking? or only when a man or men are involved and are making the profit.
I really appreciate Fugelberg's reporting, but I'm trying to sort things out here.
Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism and Feminist Legal Theory.