Women engaged in prostitution seem to target Williston's Vegas Motel, likely because they can solicit customers from the motel lounge, says general manager Jeff Smith. But prostitution is "rampant" in Williston and an issue all hotels are dealing with, says Smith, president of the local hotel association. "It's everywhere. You can't just point the finger at us." - Photo by Eric Hylden; Illustration by Troy Becker / Forum News Service
By Katherine Lymn
Forum News Service
Editors Note: This is the life of Jenny Gaines. Lured into sex trafficking at age 14, she spent 28 years in a life of prostitution. Throughout the past six months, Forum News Service has spent time getting to know Jenny. This is her story.
Before she ever visited North Dakota during the oil boom, Jenny Gaines posted an ad on Backpage “just to see” if men would call her phone.
The rumors were true.
“It just rang off the hook,” she said.
The numbers of men away from their families, a general lack of female companionship and large paychecks added up to big potential.
When Jenny visited the Bakken between 2009 and 2011, she would spend a week in Williston or Minot and earn $15,000. The going rate for sex at that time was $300, which means she was having sex with about 50 men a week.
“I was pretty good at getting them in and out of there in 10 minutes. I made a lot of money,” she said.
At first, she would stay at Williston’s Vegas Motel. But it soon was “too hot” there and she worried about getting arrested.
Jenny would book her hotel room online, pay with a credit card and only stay one night before moving to a new hotel. She’d bring luggage and a laptop to look like she was traveling on business. And she’d wear glasses and dress more conservatively than other women in prostitution.
“I worked real hard to not look like I was doing that,” she said.
Jenny was familiar with North Dakota long before the Bakken boom.
In the 1990s, she worked the dancing circuit, performing in strip clubs across North Dakota. Her trafficker would send drugs with her to sell to other dancers and the locals.
“I made money two ways when I was out there,” she recalled.
Jenny had a “sugar daddy” in Dickinson in the 1990s who would come see her at the Minot strip club.
“He’d always come to (now-closed) Stockmen’s and he’d round up some girls to take out to Dickinson on the weekend,” Jenny said. “It would be after the bars close.”
The clients then were primarily local men.
“Everything out there is like all these farmers, and the wives don’t know,” she said. “Farmers … and dirty old men, just dirty old men.”
During her more recent trips to North Dakota, many customers were kids who had money and didn’t know what else to do with it.
“‘You only want $300? Here, how about $500?’” she recalled one saying.
But many were rowdy and carried guns.
“It got kind of scary in the end. Some of them, if they wanted their money back, they’d get violent,” Jenny said. “Half of them were always drunk or high, and I don’t know how they did it, but they had to be at work the next morning.”
The rough days in the Oil Patch were some of Jenny's last in the life of prostitution. She didn’t have a trafficker for her last trips West, but felt somewhat trapped when she needed money, not ever having had another job and often facing stigma when she reached out for help. She turned her last trick in Williston around Christmas 2011.
“Since that oil boom happened … It used to be nice farmers, maybe a couple weirdos or goofies, but they were nice. These oil people are idiots and obnoxious and ignorant. Really have a sense of male entitlement. And I never felt more like a commodity than I did this last trip or two in North Dakota. I just said I’m never coming back.”