I came back to the apartment to find Laura sitting at the kitchen table, upset. She said she had just gotten off the phone with the district attorney's office in New Orleans, and they told her that since her ex-boyfriend did not stab or shoot her but beat her up without a weapon, he would get a maximum sentence of six months in jail.
"I was getting comfortable knowing that he was going to jail, and now it's like, 'Bam! He's free!' But the good thing is that if he beats somebody else up, it's his third offense and he's going away for life. So now I am just crossing my fingers that he beats another motherfucker up? That is stupid. That's just stupid," Laura said. "That just kills me."
Laura moved from New Orleans to Williston, North Dakota, in 2013 to be with her boyfriend and the father of her youngest son, who had moved to Williston months earlier to find work and to escape charges in Louisiana.
The recent oil boom has transformed practically every aspect of Williston and the surrounding area.
In particular, episodes of domestic violence have skyrocketed since the boom began. A local shelter reports that, prior to 2009, it was occupied for approximately 15 nights a year. Now the shelter is rarely unoccupied.
When it comes to domestic violence in the United States, Williston is notable for a unique set of circumstances that allow for a rise in sexual trauma: the transient nature of the workforce, the isolation that many women experience when they move away from their friends and families, and the remote environment. Yet Williston is not the only place where these issues play out. The struggles that these individuals and families face, when confronting and recovering from instances of domestic violence and sexual trauma, are common all over the country.
These are photos from my time spent in Williston. None of them depict perpetrators of domestic violence or sexual assault.