Sexual Assault Resources Available in Black Rock City

[This is the second in a series of blog posts addressing sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the importance of consent in the Burning Man community.]

In the horrible event that you or a friend are the victim of a sexual assault at Burning Man, you are not alone out there. This is not one of those playa moments when you have to rely solely on yourself. There are resources available to sexual assault survivors on playa, and we want you to know about them.

Burning Man’s Emergency Services Department (ESD) has a specialized Crisis Intervention Team whose main goal is to support participants with issues related to sexual assault, domestic violence, psychiatric emergencies and what they call critical incident stress management, which includes providing short-term psychological help, acute crisis intervention, and post-crisis follow-up. Its purpose is to enable people to return to their daily lives more quickly and with less likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

In cases of sexual assault, ESD’s goal is to provide participants with a full range of support — from having someone to talk to, to escorting the person to a hospital for treatment and ensuring they return safely to the event if they choose to do so. The team that works on mental health evaluation issues is comprised of clinical professionals such as licensed therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. The team that responds to sexual assault and domestic violence calls includes therapists and victim advocates with various backgrounds.

The Crisis Intervention Team may also be called upon to provide support to camp members after a tragedy to help an assault survivor integrate back into his or her camp and aid the healing of the participant’s community. Sometimes campmates have experienced similar issues, and an issue on the playa can serve as a trigger.

In addition to providing on-site support, the sexual assault team offers to work with survivors post-event, providing contact information for local support services in their home towns, following up to hear how they are coping and to lend a supportive and knowledgeable ear.

Each year we’re asked why Burning Man does not provide forensic exams — also known as “rape kits” — on the playa. We’d like to address that here. First of all, while we’re proud of the medical support services that are available at the event, conducting forensic exams is a highly specialized service. There are only two sites in all of the State of the Nevada that do them: one in Reno and one in Las Vegas.

We have been informed by medical and legal experts that, due to location and uncontrollable factors associated with the playa environment, an exam done on the playa would face a high probability of being successfully challenged in a court of law — essentially making it useless in aiding a conviction. (The ‘chain of custody*’ is partially what’s at issue here; if you obtain the evidence on playa and then transport it to Reno, it’s more likely to become contaminated.)

We have also been told the best course of action to ensure the highest likelihood that any evidence collected will help identify a perpetrator and secure a conviction is to transport the assault survivor to Reno for an exam by a Nevada Sexual Assault Response Team. This year (for the first time), the Burning Man organization will offer to pay for flight transport of survivors to and from Reno, greatly decreasing the examination time and facilitating a speedier reconnection with friends and family.

To contact the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) on the playa:

  • Contact a Black Rock Ranger or walk in to one of the medical stations and let the person know you want to report a sexual assault, domestic violence or mental health issue. You can find medical stations at 3:00 & C, 9:00 & C, 4:30 & H, 7:30 & H, 11:00 from the Man on the open playa and the main medical facility is at 5:15 and Esplanade.
  • A Black Rock Ranger will contact the CIT team.
  • A Black Rock Ranger will also contact law enforcement. (All sexual assault and domestic violence in Black Rock City must be reported to law enforcement as mandated by law.)
  • CIT will work with law enforcement to provide a safe environment for the participant, and law enforcement will conduct the investigation if necessary.
  • After the initial law enforcement investigation, BRC will use the on-playa fixed-wing air ambulance for transport to Reno to the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) clinic. Swift transport will ensure timely evidence collection and maximum possible comfort for the survivor.
  • CIT and law enforcement will stay with the survivor throughout the interview and transport process, ensuring maintenance of the chain of custody and emotional support to the survivor.

We hope this information helps you to understand the resources and tools that are available in Black Rock City for responding to and addressing instances of sexual assault. Of course the best outcome is to prevent these instances from happening in the first place, and we encourage you to read this recent post and others in this series (additional posts coming soon) to learn more about how to be part of our collective effort to make Black Rock City safe for everyone.

Lastly, do you have experience in this area? Do you want to help make Black Rock City a safe, more supportive city? The CIT team will be taking applications in the spring (2016) for new volunteers who are active year-round as victim advocates in their communities. Volunteers must be willing to be on call onsite and understand that Burning Man is a mandated reporting event, so they must have experience working with law enforcement with a positive, professional attitude. To volunteer, you can fill out the volunteer form.

We invite you to join this important conversation by sharing your comments below and on future posts in this series. And we should note that while we normally give a lot of latitude regarding our comment policy in the spirit of self-expression, comments on these posts will be vigorously moderated to maintain civil discourse. If you want to be overtly offensive, sexist, or go about trolling sexual assault victims, please go elsewhere on the internet.


* Chain of custody (CoC), in legal contexts, refers to the chronological documentation or paper trail, showing the seizure, custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence. (back to top)

Top photo by Todd Gardiner

About the author: Burning Man

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45 Comments on “Sexual Assault Resources Available in Black Rock City

  • Taser Bunny says:

    Interesting to note, ‘Yes Means Yes’ has just been ruled unconstitutional:
    http://www.prlog.org/12482984-yes-means-yes-date-rape-consent-rule-unconstitutional-judge.html

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  • Laser Bunny says:

    Interesting to note, ‘Yes Means Yes’ has just been ruled unconstitutional:
    http://www.prlog.org/12482984-yes-means-yes-date-rape-consent-rule-unconstitutional-judge.html

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    • Jim says:

      When your best defense is “It’s not technically illegal”, you’ve already lost the debate.

      It’s not that hard to do a check-in with a potential partner, and if you are too intoxicated to remember, you’re too intoxicated to tell if you’re going to violate someone else’s consent. The kink community has been working like this for decades…

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      • Tigger says:

        “It’s not that hard to do a check-in with a potential partner”

        Which partner? The reason this is a story is because a judge ruled that under a very narrow circumstance (both partners blacked-out drunk) that the woman cannot claim sexual assault or rape. That’s the controversy.

        Under every other circumstance relating to drunk sex, it is the man who is responsible for gauging the woman’s level of intoxication – all the responsibility and liability in on him him. This should infuriate feminists because it’s essentially a legal ruling that says women are not equal to men in terms of their own personal responsibility (agency), and not unlike children. This is special treatment under the law, and either you have equality or special treatment but you can’t have both.

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  • Kevin Roberts/ranger OldGoat says:

    And please PleasePLEASE! Dear ones, use the “buddy system” OxO. Play well,…

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  • Lazlo says:

    Take care of yourselves (radical self reliance) and don’t be afraid to interject if you see something sketchy going on. Don’t take candy (or liquids) from strangers. Let’s be careful out there…

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  • Green Cat says:

    So when everyone complains of ticket prices, keep in mind that Burning Man offers specialized services that cost a shit ton of money to ensure the accessibility and safety of everyone coming to this event. Most events of this scale would pretty much tell you SOL if anything serious like this happened.

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  • Jackie says:

    Remember, ‘no’ always means ‘no’, and ‘yes’ doesn’t always mean ‘yes’. It’s possible to rape without laying a hand on a woman.

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    • Raeline says:

      ” It’s possible to rape without laying a hand on a woman.”

      Can you please add some sort of context to this statement because personally, I find it incredibly confusing, vague and somewhat out of context insofar as this thread is concerned. As one who has been sexually assaulted I also find the statement demeaning both to myself and to others who have also been the victims of a sexual assault crime.

      Really, you need to step up and clarify your statement.

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      • Jackie says:

        @Raeline

        i.imgur.com/FeK7xSK.jpg

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      • Jackie says:

        @ Raeline

        http://40.media.tumblr.com/a3c0c8abb67a53026d0017628e07c1d5/tumblr_inline_noq8szQtnz1rc2uyi_500.jpg

        You really need to broaden your definition of rape. Rape in the US happens to a woman every 10 seconds, and sexual assault happens 10 times every 2 seconds [Southern Poverty Law Center].

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      • Jackie says:

        @ Raeline
        40.media.tumblr.com/a3c0c8abb67a53026d0017628e07c1d5/tumblr_inline_noq8szQtnz1rc2uyi_500.jpg

        According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, non-contact rape happens to a woman in the US 10 times in every 2 seconds. Rape is not just about penetration anymore. There are many ways men rape women everyday. Please don’t side with the enemy.

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      • Raeline says:

        “Please don’t side with the enemy.”

        Sister, your comment is both insulting and more than a little fucking patronizing. ‘Side with the enemy’ because I choose to call you on your post? Just because you elect to buttress your point on a singular attempt by the SPLC and a few Tumblr photos of pensive, white college women (seemingly) trying to re-define what constitutes *actual* rape does not change the *actual* definition of such a heinous, soul-murdering act.

        So please, before you set out to speak truth to something as odious as sexual assault with pathetic vagaries and reinterpretations, consider those of us who don’t see rape as an abstract but rather a trauma which many carry throughout their lives.

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      • Jackie says:

        @Raeline

        Sister? You don’t sound like a member of the Sisterhood.

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      • Tex says:

        Ladies, please calm down and stop playing in the Victimhood Olympics.

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      • TB says:

        Well, that may be true if you redefine hand, rape, and woman.
        Or acknowledge that men are raped as well.
        But meanwhile, I don’t really think that this conversation is intended to cover your particular agenda.

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  • Good on you. This is a big step in the right direction.

    Watch your drinks, stay with friends, and get help if you need it.

    Have a great burn!

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  • Jackie says:

    Does anyone know if affirmative consent rule apply at Burning Man? That men must prove they obtained consent if accused of rape? I know we have it at my University and it make all the women feel comfortable knowing they don’t have to go through the difficult legal system to get their rapist removed from school. It would be great if we could have the same thing at Burning Man, where women can just get these guys kicked out if we don’t like them.

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    • TB says:

      Burningman does not appear to have rules or a pre-court system like this. The event turns over legal authority to legal authorities. If there is claim and evidence sufficient for LE, then an arrest will assure that the accused is removed from the event.
      But if you continue to redefine “rape” as in your above comments, I’m pretty sure that you are not going to be able to toss out any guy you think might have think violated your particular version of ideals.

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  • Brooke says:

    Please remember all consent must be affirmative, voluntary, and conscious. To be safe, go three steps further for an enthusiastic, vocal, sober “yes!”

    When working with consent as a principle and introducing it as an everyday tool in our social lives, I frequently see people shocked to realize how often they break the consent barrier and interfere with someone in a way that is inappropriate. It might be a hug, a hand across the back, a gentle shoulder squeeze, a kiss on the cheek. Asking before touching another person is always ok. Touching before asking is not.

    Men, please know we need to hear your voices, too. Please speak up when women are touching you inappropriately. Please tell us to stop when our hands offend you. You might be stronger than us, but we can violate consent and sexually molest and assault you with no one even noticing. We don’t know you don’t like it if you don’t tell us to stop. And the cycle will continue.

    Everyone must take ownership of their bodies. Say “no.” Ask first. Respect yourself and one another. Consent is temporary. Consent is sexy. If someone looks like they need help, ask them if they need something. Take care of one another. If we don’t, who will?

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    • Mike says:

      I’m a little confused. If consent has to be continuous, what about my girlfriend who likes to be gagged during sex. I don’t even like it, she bought the gags herself, it’s her fetish, not mine. But with the gag in her mouth she can’t speak. How am I supposed to know if she changes her mind about consent at some point during sex?

      I thought about hand signals, but she also like to be tied up.

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      • Rollin says:

        Mike, I had a similar situation and I had to break up with my GF. She would have me act out some very questionable fantasies she had, and one day my neighbor call the police. I has handcuffed and my GF wouldn’t tell the cops that it was an act. They were actually walking me out of my own house when she finally confessed that it was all consensual and her idea. And she was actually laughing as she told the cops this.

        If I were you, I would bail on that kind of relationship before things get out of control. I was within inches of being charged with rape.

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      • SnarklePony says:

        The responsible thing to do is agree on safe words/signals before being tied up and/or gagged. Just a couple of ideas:
        – She could hold a piece of cloth in her fist. Dropping it signals “stop and remove the gag”
        – Three short, low-pitched grunts signals “stop and remove the gag”
        – etc.
        – etc.

        Lots of good camps on the playa where you can take some classes in how to play in this arena safely.

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  • Tinker says:

    @Brooke

    Sober is key. A woman cannot consent while intoxicated. Having sex with an intoxicated woman is rape, and supplying women with alcohol is no different than drugging them. Alcohol is a drug. Bars and clubs these days are no different than rape dens.

    Men, if you have sex with a woman you need to be 100% sure she is not legally intoxicated, or you are a rapist.

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    • Me says:

      What if the man is intoxicated, then he can’t give consent and isn’t the woman a rapist?

      What if they’re both intoxicated, are they both guilty of raping each other?

      I’m for sexual equality, not laws stacked against one gender in favor of the other.

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      • Rexican says:

        Drunk rape only applies to the woman. If both are equally drunk, only the woman is raped. As a man, it’s your responsibility to know the blood alcohol level of the woman you’re about to have sex with. Also, many women react to even a small amount of alcohol, so while she may not be legally (.08) intoxicated, she may still not be able to consent to sex.

        To be on the safe side, NEVER have sex with a woman who has consumed more than 1 drink within 12 hours.

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  • Jim says:

    There’s a lot of good education out there on consent – my home regional, Transformus, has a team (11th Principle) that does consent education both pre-event and at the event.

    The basic gist: words are sexy. Enthusiastic yes is the only yes, badgering someone is no good, and ask before going to that next step. Especially if orifices are involved. This includes dosing someone, giving them food that they may be allergic to, and a fair bit of non-sexual touching.

    It’s easy! “Are you huggable?” “Would you like some magic chocolates?” “These cookies are peanut butter. Want some?” “I’d like to have sex.”

    No pressure on the partner, make it easy to refuse. Yeah, sometimes it means you won’t get what you want. Suck it up, cupcake. You don’t get to take what is not offered to you freely.

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    • Mako says:

      I always ask for consent at every step of the way. Once, I got past, “Can I hold your hand?” but was stopped when I asked, “Can I please kiss you?”

      I’m 30 years old and I’ve never kissed a woman, but I have held a woman’s hand once. Respect!

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  • Anna Duffy says:

    I just read this newest post. This article is really informative and easy to understand. I am both excited and humbled that Burning Man has decided to fly survivors to Reno for the forensic exams.
    I have been working and volunteering as an advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault for a long time now and this is just the best news ever. As Chief of the Crisis Intervention Team I am so happy to be a part of an organization that cares about helping survivors on the playa. All efforts to reach the highest levels of care is truly appreciated and will make a difference to those with the courage to come forward and report .

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    • Tina says:

      @Anna

      Every offense against a woman must be reported. We must not forget that Burning Man is a rape culture. Hopefully we’ll see plenty of men brought up on charges by the end of the event this year.

      Keep fighting the Good fight, ladies!

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      • burninggil says:

        First- In a general sense: it’s not ONLY women that are victims of sexual abuse.
        Second- As a long time burner (my 12th year] I’ve seen quite a bit @ BM but for you to claim BM to be a “rape culture” illustrates your ignorance of the event. Please, IF you come, leave your angers at the gate….

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      • Maxi says:

        @burninggil
        >it’s not ONLY women that are victims of sexual abuse.

        But it’s only women we care about.

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    • Transam says:

      That’s pretty awesome! A free flight to Reno from the playa. This would be better alternative than roaming around Monday afternoon in the heat trying to find a ride.

      So can you just bail from the hospital after the exam, or do you have to hang around and shit?

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  • MAK says:

    Just a side note – all this discussion about enthusiastic consent is great and its definitely a good discussion to be having. However, it’s important to remember that rape doesn’t happen due to miscommunication, this is a myth. People in everyday life rarely explicitly use the language of direct refusals (e.g., NO!) if they do not want to do something. For example, if someone invited you to coffee and you didn’t want to go, you might say, I’m really busy today, but perhaps another time. Research shows that these are understood as refusals in daily life and people do not just suddenly stop understanding what these mean when it comes to sexual activity – these are conscious decisions to ignore refusals (check out the studies coming out of NZ I think, M. Beres does a good job if I’m spelling her name right). Just my two cents.

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  • Gear Cutter says:

    This is good stuff.. We are having a lot of Virgin Burners (several foreign girls.. and others) in our camp this year and will include this info in our opening camp meetings.
    There is NO EXCUSE for anyone getting away with sexual assault…

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  • Chad says:

    @Gear Cutter
    >several foreign girls.. and others

    Please post pics.

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  • ZigZag says:

    I think this is a great service to be offered to victims who want to report an assault to law enforcement! It’s great that the org is offering flights to people who want to go to the hospital to push forward a possible conviction against bad actors who should be purged from our community.

    I am very disturbed, however, that Burning Man touts itself as a “mandated reporting event.” Many victims do *not* want to report their trauma to Law Enforcement. Some people of sexual assault do not feel safe involving Law Enforcement in their healing process – and this should be their right.

    BUT, if what I’m reading is true then a victim of sexual assault cannot contact a Ranger – or have access to the Crisis Intervention Team – if they do not want their assault reported to Law Enforcement. This is VERY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE to the healing process many survivors want. Most Rape Counseling authorities agree that Law Enforcement should only be involved if the victim wants them to be.

    Burning Man – please open your Crisis Intervention Team services to any victim of sexual assault – even ones who do not want to report to Law Enforcement officers!

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  • SnarklePony says:

    It’s sad to see the amount of trolling on this page.

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  • Spirulina says:

    I said this in the last blog post as well, many survivors of sexual assault are unable to scream ‘NO!’ or something to that effect when an attack is occurring. They paralyze or freeze if you will. After having men simply fondle me without my consent, especially while under the influence, it wasn’t until after the fact that I thought of all the things I should of said or done. Please, please ask before touching or doing anything of the sort. If the person doesn’t seem all that interested or ok with it, or too inebriated to really know what they won’t, then STOP!

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  • Rahul says:

    My buddie was traliveng from Downtown to Old North Sac along the bike trail, coming from the 20th and C entrance, and was brutaly assaulted in the middle of the day (Sunday) by a couple of younger males apparently they hid in the bushes next to the stretch that rounds the open field next to the almond factory where it begins to incline more significantly and connects you to the main trail at the top of the levee right before the bike bridge it was an animal style attack from the side (the guy just threw himself at my friend and tackled from the side my friend’s head hit the pavement hard, but was saved by his helmet) , and in the middle of the incline they took my friend’s bike, and then tried to take his backpack, and even used pepper spray to try and incapacitate him, but at least they weren’t successful at that. Unfortunately, although pretty banged up, my buddie never reported it, but I thought it should be mentioned so others would be aware of potential dangers that may be lurking maybe some fencing along stretches like that would help??

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