Miss North Dakota pageant tries to make contestants feel safe in oil boomtown

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The oil boom in North Dakota has brought much to the state, including new wealth, increased crime rates and lots of male workers. Recent media reports have noted that women often unsafe in some areas where men far outnumber them. The New York Times recently chronicled how women feel hounded and harassed. In a Star Tribune commentary this week, writer Maya Rao describes drawing unwanted attention from men, even shopping for vegetables at Wal-Mart.

So boomtown Williston, N.D., might seem like an unlikely place for the Miss North Dakota beauty pageant, to be held this weekend. But Williston has been home to the contest since 1987.

The town has changed a lot since then as men have flocked to the oil fields for work, Forum Communications reports. Organizers have had to reassure some parents of contestants in recent years that their daughters are safe, Forum reports.

“We’ve had parents nervous about their daughters coming,” Marilyn McGinley, president of the event’s board of directors, told Forum.

The pageant has always had security for the week the women are in Williston, Forum notes. Precautions are taken. For example, contestants are driven to contest events by volunteer hostesses, B. Michael Quayle, producer of the show, told Forum. The contestants stay at Williston State College, away from hotels where some workers stay.

For the third year in a row, the pageant itinerary this week included a dinner at a camp that houses oilfield workers – often called a man camp. (The Associated Press profiled what life is like inside the camps.) That created some anxiety, but the event went smoothly.

“One set of parents was very concerned about their daughter going to the man camp,” McGinley told Forum. “We had five chaperones for 20 girls and I think we saw maybe five men while we were there.”

Laura Harmon, Miss Grand Forks, said Williston has not lived up to its reputation.

“You hear a lot of things, but it’s not like that when you get out here,” Harmon told Forum.

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