Black Rock City is a community of thousands of well-meaning people. But like any metropolitan area, there will always be a handful of individuals with criminal intent.
Each year there are a few reports of sexual assault on the playa, and this year is no different. In light of the community’s concern regarding public safety, we would like to share our procedure for addressing these situations and outline plans to increase education and prevention efforts for the future.
Specifically, we’ve recently received a few inquiries as to why Burning Man does not conduct sexual assault forensic exams (commonly referred to as “rape kits”) on site. Organizers have examined this several times, each time facing the reality that this type of exam requires specialized training and equipment not designed to operate in desert conditions, and which could produce legally questionable results if not performed in an appropriate facility. There are only three designated facilities in the entire state of Nevada that regularly perform these exams. The closest to Burning Man is the Northern Nevada Medical Center in Reno.
When sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement in Black Rock City, our Emergency Services Department assigns a mental health professional and a sexual assault specialist to the individual and provides transportation to and from the hospital in Reno (as needed). Our Emergency Services Department coordinates with the Sexual Assault Response Team at Northern Nevada Medical Center and follows up with the individual post-event with referrals to local support and counseling services.
Aside from preventing these horrible crimes from occurring in the first place, our goal is to provide comprehensive care and support for victims of sexual violence. We have been working for years with the Bureau of Erotic Discourse, a group of community volunteers who conduct information sessions and workshops related to sexual violence and personal safety on the playa (more info here). We will continue our commitment to education and prevention on the playa; in the coming months you will be seeing more information on what to look for and what to do if you suspect any sort of physical violence has taken place on the playa.
We can raise awareness, but we need your help. Our principle of Civic Responsibility* demands we all have a stake in the safety and security of our fellow Burners. We must each make every effort to educate each other and to speak up if we see or hear something that doesn’t look, sound or feel right. Reporting strange behavior to BRC Rangers allows them to intervene before a situation gets out of hand or hidden from public view.
Sexual assault at Burning Man, while uncommon, is unconscionable. We work hard to ensure the safety and security of participants and we are open to suggestions on what we can do better. We can’t do it alone. We ask each and every one of you to help ensure the safety of everyone in Black Rock City and to unite against sexual assault of any kind.
*Learn more about Burning Man’s Ten Principles.