Sexual Assault in Black Rock City

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.

About the author: Megan Miller

Megan Miller

Megan is an accomplished communications professional with experience in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. She’s a skilled leader, writer, editor, public speaker, and strategic adviser. Megan is passionate about the art of sharing information in creative and impactful ways, and believes in the power of ideas and authentic self-expression to change the world for the better. Before joining the year-round Burning Man staff in 2012, Megan spent ten years working for environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, political campaigns, and the United States Senate. Born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, Megan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English & Art History from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and is a 2007 graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. She is also a certified yoga instructor who loves shaking it loose on the dance floor.

16 Comments on “Sexual Assault in Black Rock City

  • Andie Grace says:

    Thanks for speaking out on this important issue and addressing this question.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    Thank you to everyone at the Org for clarifying all of this. When something like this happens in our city, we react violently, and rightly so, but the organization that manages the event can’t lose sight of the practical considerations. I think this post frames them well.

    Some people in my circles have objected that this post does not take a radical stance. While of course it accords with our basic values as a people, it doesn’t respond to the problem completely. There are a few definitive statements on sexual assault at Burning Man that we would like to see made publicly and firmly.

    I’ll make them. This is not in my capacity as a volunteer for the Org. I’m merely voicing views I personally share with people in my camp.

    If a burner sees another person doing something wrong and does not intervene somehow, that burner shares some responsibility. It is the responsibility of every burner to come to the aid of someone who is saying “No.”

    If your friend is so intoxicated as to be unable to give consent, you must protect that friend and assume the answer is “No.”

    If someone is raped at Burning Man, and members of the rapist’s camp could have stopped it from happening and did not, those people are also responsible.

    When an unconscionable violation of our values happens on the playa, the only recourse we have as a community is ostracism. Nobody responsible for a sexual assault on the playa should be allowed to form a theme camp again.

    The above was not the Org’s response. But the Org does not have to respond for us. The Org is not us. The Org is something we hire to throw this festival for us. It has to maintain stability to make that possible. The Org can’t be radical anymore. But the Org doesn’t have to be radical to facilitate a radical experience. If we want to be radical, we have to stand up for ourselves.

    Sexual assault is a problem with people. It is a default-world problem, and we bring it to Burning Man like we do all of our engrained problems. And the default world, in all its brokenness, has conditioned us against standing up and intervening in the evil acts of other people.

    But we go to Burning Man to learn and invent new solutions to default-world problems. We have invented it. It’s an intentional city full of people who care about each other. We just don’t live up to that ideal at all times. Let’s work on that.

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  • Miss R says:

    Thank you for posting this.
    My daughter was assaulted this year and elected not to be taken to Reno for the rape kit -she was still hallucinating from the ‘dose’ she was given and it was NOT made clear to her that she had any way to get back to the playa.
    For this reason no charges can be filed or arrest can be made, even though she identified her attacker while in the presence of myself and two other Rangers.

    The Rangers were wonderful and provided us with help. I wish that the Pershing county Sheriff’s office would have told her that she was able to return to the playa -and someone had contacted ME; she knew where I was and no one took the time for me to intervene or find out more.
    I want to thank retired police officer Garettson, who was working with the Pershing county police, for his help and kindness to my daughter.

    Once again I thank you for clarifying the procedure, and understand the procedural problems involved in providing the forensic teams on the playa.

    Please please make sure that when anyone is assaulted that it is made clear to them that they will not be left alone, with all of their belongings miles away in BRC, believing they have no chance of returning.
    It took the police 24 hours to even accept that she had been drugged and raped before taking action.

    I contacted BED last week and informed them in detail what happened.
    As a long time Burner this was the first time I had witnessed such a horrible crime on the playa.
    We all know it is not a common occurrence, but it would be interesting to find out the numbers and stats.
    Is there any chance of those being released?

    Once again, thank you for addressing this issue.

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  • Miss R says:

    Oh, and we were never provided any information for follow-up services or counselling, even after my daughter gave her statement to the police.
    Being on disability I cannot afford anything and am attempting to get my daughter help through NNMHS.

    All of the policies you’ve listed MUST be enforced. If anyone has information on help for a victim in Reno please let me know.

    thank you.

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  • Ducky says:

    I have not been to BM since 1997…. but I remember feeling the potential for crimes of this nature. It sounds like you have some good people on the playa and at the ready to help. I am a Sexual Assault & Violence Intervention Counselor. I have worked in 8 emergency rooms in NYC. In the future if you would like someone on hand or if you would like some training for volunteers, etc… please reach out. Every survivor deserves the best treatment and anyone who has to rush in to help also deserves to be given some skills to help them along the way as well.

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  • Caleb says:

    I have to say that, while I appreciate your post, I disagree with the overall framing. I disagree that sexual assault is a problem due to “criminal intent” on the part of the few. And I disagree with the logistical, bureaucratic perspective that you are offering on addressing this problem. We need to be more ambitious about what our city can accomplish. I have no doubt that a city with a freaking airport can figure out a way to have functioning rape kit collection and custody procedures — it just means getting the right burners working on that problem. But that isn’t the point. Fear of getting caught doesn’t stop people from raping in the default world, so why should we expect anything different?

    Instead, I want to bring up the question of how our burner culture supports rape. I legitimately think that the amazingly shared ethos of Burning Man (and all burners in general) puts us in a unique position to take a stand, and I want to make sure we actually, in good faith, mobilize our cultural resources.

    Our tribe loves sex, and we have developed at BM an incredible space where sexual diversity is truly allowed to flourish. But the way we think and talk about it is off point. Whatever your appetites and practices, the only thing that actually matters when it comes to sex is consent. Period. Get consent early and often, because that is what it means to PARTICIPATE. Otherwise you are just a consumer, just like in the default world. This is what our principles demand, and we need to enforce it culturally the same way we enforce LNT or radical self-reliance—-namely by COMMUNICATING with and ACCULTURATING people who don’t seem to get it, whether they are our campmates, friends, or strangers on the street.

    This doesn’t mean simply “reporting strange behavior.” Rape unfortunately isn’t strange behavior in the default world, at least not in its most common forms, so let’s make it clear that those typical, nonconsensual ways of expressing ourselves are NOT normal in our city.

    I take issue with the idea that the rapists among us aren’t burners, or are somehow “other.” Anyone who doesn’t make consent the most important thing about every single sexual interaction could be a rapist under the right circumstances, and I think that most men and many women among us have at least experienced that disconnect (even if we got lucky and consent was actually present). Getting consent is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced, and if we don’t teach it to our community and remind our citizens to practice it, then people will continue to rape, just like they do everywhere else in our society.

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  • Megan Miller says:

    @ Miss R Thank you for taking the time to express your questions and concerns here. As a matter currently under legal investigation, I cannot comment on the specifics of your daughter’s case, but as a woman who hopes to become a mother one day, I must express my profound sadness for what your family has gone through. It is truly heartbreaking. I sincerely hope that our community can and will come together to address this issue more thoroughly and effectively. With regards to statistics, the numbers from this year are still being compiled and are not yet available, but you can find emergency services statistics from past years in the Afterburn section of our website ( Here, for example, is the report from 2010:

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  • Flower says:

    @Miss R-

    I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your daughter. Unfortunately, I can relate firsthand as I was also drugged and raped myself earlier this year (not at BM). There are a lot of resources out there for victims, unfortunately NO ONE- not law enforcement, not any medical facility, and not even some rape crisis counselors, no matter their otherwise good intentions, are helpful when it comes to helping navigate the health, legal, and psychological aftermath of sexual assault. There is no road map and people will send you away with the best intentions to call or talk to someone else at another org or agency with the hope that the “other place” will be able to help your situation. I called my health insurance company after it happened for a referral but they insisted that I go to their emergency room. Never mind there is only one hospital in the entire area equipped to do rape kits and rape drug testing and that ER was not in it! (This part alone hosed my police case. I couldn’t be my own witness as I was blacked out for 9 hours, and my insurance company referred me to their ER where they knew full well that I would not be able to collect any evidence!) Granted, everyone was very nice about it! Just…not the best advice or care for the crime. After that, I actually got caught in a “referral circle” where the crisis center would refer me to an agency, and the agency would in turn refer me back to the crisis center, then the crisis center would refer me elsewhere, and they would refer me back to…yup, you got it.

    Anyway. Hopefully you won’t deal with half the frustration that I have dealt with. There is a program called “Victim Witness”. Victims of crime can apply to have the expenses that they have had to pay out of pocket as a result of the crime committed against them reimbursed, including future counseling and health related issues. I’m in California, but I see they have it in Nevada too. ( As the assault was reported to the police, you should have the case number and all the paperwork associated with it. Good. You’re going to need that to file for victim compensation.

    In fact, before you contact Victims Witness, it might be helpful for you to contact one of the few groups in Nevada that do this sort of thing in case they can help you with the process. Forgive me, I don’t know where you live and I know Nevada is a big place, but hopefully even if you call a number out of area, they will still be able to refer you to someone locally. Remember- and this is vital- if you get someone you don’t like or who gives you the wrong advice- speak up! Just because it’s “free” doesn’t mean they have to treat you cheaply. Get a different advocate, talk to their supervisor, or try another organization for a referral.

    I would start here: Sexual Assault Support Services (775-784-8090 or 1-800-992-5757). “The Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) advocacy team provides immediate crisis intervention services for survivors of sexual assault, their family members and friends. The SASS program can provide information regarding medical treatment and reporting to law enforcement. We are also able to assist with referrals for financial assistance and long term counseling services. All services provided by the SASS program are free and confidential.”

    Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence is in Reno, however their website is useless. Here’s a link to their Facebook page (still useless, but maybe someone checks their messages more than their blog?): This one says “Southern Nevada”, but maybe they can refer you to a colleague where you live. Rape Crisis Center:

    Most of these places should be able to provide your daughter with some sort of counseling or will be able to refer you to somewhere that can. They should also be able to help you with Victims’ Witness.

    By the way, your daughter is extremely fortunate that she has such a concerned mother who is going to help her in this journey. I’ve been dealing with this process and all its headaches on my own as I’m single and I don’t have much of a family to lean on even if I were to tell them what happened to me. Luckily, I did get into complimentary counseling as soon as a spot opened up in the schedule, and in the course of my medical treatment I was referred to the most awesome infectious disease nurse practitioner in the world who has made all the follow up medical “stuff” clear and easy to me. I get my last Hep B shot and last HIV test related to this crime next month. I’ll be so happy when I get the 100% free and clear!

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  • Batman says:

    Just call me next year, I delegate justice swiftly and painfully, then let the authorities take over.

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  • Cheetos says:

    Let’s look for a moment at the dark side of sexual assault cases. Accusations are not always true. It’s very easy for a woman to cry “sexual assault” when she just wants more power in a situation in which she feels powerless. Bystanders (like “Batman” above) will rally to her aid, regardless of the truth of the situation. Just know that if you do that on the Playa, to a Ranger, you will get your accused (who is often a friend or life partner) into real criminal-law legal trouble. Which might not be what you had actually wanted. (Look at the mess that Julian Assange’s accusers made, for example, after a night of explicitly consensual sex.)

    The Black Rock Rangers are not police — they’re volunteers. Most of the time they merely try to mediate among the citizens of BRC. In many ways they exist because of the failure of the US law enforcement culture to actually be friendly and helpful to ordinary citizens. When a cop approaches me, either at BRC, on a city street, or when my vehicle is stopped along a highway somewhere, I am far more likely to be harassed than I am to be helped. I wish it were otherwise. When a Ranger approaches, on the other hand, I usually don’t need to have my guard up that way.

    But the community should know that if you report an alleged sexual assault to a Black Rock Ranger, they are required to pass on that info to the actual police. So if you thought you were just talking to a supportive volunteer community member, think again.

    I know someone who used to train Rangers. They were disciplined by the Ranger Council for suggesting to those new rangers that if a BRC citizen started to speak to them about something that might end up as a sexual assault case, they should let the citizen know that if the citizen actually accuses someone of a sexual assault, in front of a Black Rock Ranger, it will become a police matter, not a Ranger matter. Rangers are REQUIRED to report sexual assault allegations to the police. Apparently the Rangers don’t want people to know that.

    I think it’s important for BRC citizens to know when their raving mad comments are going to be communicated onward to a police officer, even if they might five minutes later wish they had never said it.

    I am someone who has been falsely accused of (non-sexual) assault because a woman was mad at me for other reasons — and I had to spend time in an Alabama jail because of this false allegation. I also ran a small company which was sued by a former employee with an allegation of sexual harassment, even though no such harassment occurred, because it was an easy way to extort $60,000 from the company. Our lawyer advised us to settle, and we did, over my objection, because companies lose half of such cases even when there is no evidence whatsoever — juries sympathize with the woman involved and assume that there must be some reason she’s suing. There was such a reason, but in her case it was financial greed.

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  • Buttercup says:

    Sexual assault is common in the default. One in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in our society. ONE IN FOUR. Under-reporting is a huge issue. False assault charges, on the other hand, are rare.

    It is in fact, not easy at all to cry sexual assault sir. It likely means you will be victimized again because of the kind of misogynistic BS in your post.

    Burning man is one of the places where i feel most free as a woman. I can run around looking and being however I want without judgement. That’s very different than rest of life.

    It is also a place where people will test your boundaries and BED does a great job of helping us learn how to be clear about what we do or do not want. I love my playa home and my fellow burners and think we should do as others suggest and learn to be an example of how to live safely and freely so we can emulate that out in the default.

    You, Cheetos, are asserting the same thing we women face out in the default every day. And frankly, it’s exhausting and the reason so many stay silent.

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  • Major-D says:

    @ Cheetos, I am a friend of Miss R, as well as her daughter. I am very aware of the specifics of this assault, and I can say that there are some details that have not been mentioned, and which I am not free to divulge. But I can say this, when you say “Accusations are not always true,” that could not be further from the truth in this particular situation. I personally find your comments inappropriate, insensitive and unhelpful.

    And for the record, I am a male who owned a business with 60 employees. I was also falsely accused of sexual harassment and had to make a substantial payment to someone who didn’t deserve it. That changes nothing in terms of my belief you should find a different venue for venting your frustrations with the injustice you suffered and show a bit more sympathy for a woman whose first Burn turned into something horrible, and the sense of abandonment she and her mother felt at the hands of law enforcement.

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  • BQN barb says:

    One evening I was cruising around on my bike with my friends and I saw a guy on a bike pulling a trailer. He was pedaling hard, heading to the 8 o’clock neighborhood. In the back of his trailer was a woman who was passed out and all I could think was that she had been drugged and he was going to assault her. My inclination was to follow him but I didn’t because I didn’t want to ditch my friends. So I watched him petal off into the dark and I was left with a sick feeling to my stomach that still lingers to this day every time I think of that evening.

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  • Miss R says:

    Thank you Major D. We are STILL awaiting any follow up from the Pershing County Sheriff and ADA.
    We are still unable to cover the cost of therapy and medical bills for my daughter who was assaulted either.
    I made a full report to B.E.D. and have never received a follow-up from them.

    I just wanted to thank you for your post, and for the other kind and helpful posts here offering information.

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  • Cheetos says:

    There are many sides of the sexual assault problem. We’ve come a long, long way from the 1950s view that raped women somehow “deserved” it or that husbands can never rape wives. Progress comes in slow steps. It’s not surprising that people who are close to a recent victim can only see one side (and see other points of view as “misogynistic BS” or “insensitive”). If you go back and read the original post, you’ll see that the topic of the discussion isn’t one particular victim — it’s sexual assault on the playa in general. I won’t descend to those commenters’ level by calling them names without even knowing them.

    I’m sorry someone was assaulted. I’m sorry the cops have been useless (so far). Has the victim considered suing their assailant, in civil court, for assault? This does not require any cop or prosecutor or medical facility to agree; it’s completely up to the victim. (And I think working through a court is much better than the sort of vigilante violence advocated by “Batman”).

    I’m curious about how Buttercup learned that false assault charges are rare. Got a source? I find it interesting that two commenters out of eleven in this forum have been victimized by false accusations of sexual harassment. That, plus the company lawyer’s resigned attitude, makes me think this kind of scam is more common than what the average activist would believe. Which is not to demean the experience of people who have actually been harassed or assaulted. It’s just that third parties can’t immediately tell those people from the scammers. So why shoot the messenger (me), rather than shooting the female fraudsters who make it harder to believe the real victims? The fraudster in my company was named Clare LaFond, the former CFO of a Silicon Valley company. I don’t know where she is now (and I’m glad we are not in touch).

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  • Spinflux says:

    Shut the fuck up, Cheetos. This is not about you. We need to have a discussion about women’s bodies being raped at BRC without some dude co-opting the topic to make it all about HIM. This needs to happen, so take your misogyny elsewhere. It, and your griefing, is NOT WELCOME HERE RIGHT NOW.

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