Defending What Matters

Black Rock City is the greatest city in the world.
But every city has assholes. And thiefs. And rapists.

YES, we should continue to assume that we are dealing with the 99.9% of the city that is AMAZING, but be aware that there are dark spots out there among all the light

You can no longer pretend that there are no bikes stolen at Burning Man – you have to use a lock.
And we can longer pretend that there is no Sexual Assault at Burning Man – you have to use good judgement, look out for one another…AND speak up when somebody crosses the line.

There is an important conversation going on on ePlaya about the challenges and need for Rape Kits & other preparations in Black Rock City. (EDIT: Now locked. Additional conversation happening here & new blog post here.)

In this week’s Hug Nation (“Back From Burning Man”) broadcast, I discussed my own camp’s episode this year which involved a camp mate who crossed the line and ended up leaving in cuffs.

What we create within the Walls of BRC is sacred. We need to acknowledge the darkness as it creeps in and banish it with light. Admitting that Burning Man is not a perfect Shangri La is not a failure…it is a necessary step required to defend our borders and create even safer spaces for expression, creation, and Love.

(The sexual assault discussion starts at 27:34.)

About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at

27 Comments on “Defending What Matters

  • simon of the playa says:

    thanks John.

    Whatever Assistance you need in Defending Black Rock City, just ask, i will try to help you and enlist others as well.

    it IS worth fighting for, even if you dont believe in fighting….

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  • Patrick says:

    Be a lover AND a fighter. One fights because one loves.

    Defend the borders — of your heart, your home, your city, your mind… your body.

    Thanks JHS. What a challenge that must have been for your camp.

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  • Patrick says:

    Predators, man.

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  • Reverend Zed says:

    Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do for our community, John. More importantly, thank you to your campmate for being strong and not accepting “it’s Burning Man” as an excuse for someone’s predatory behavior.

    Big love.

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  • Natalie CalicoPaisley says:

    Awesome. Thank you.

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  • nikolaus heger says:

    Dear John –

    Thank you, that was beautiful. Again.

    My only regret at this year’s burning man is to not hug you when I saw you. I’ll make sure to not do that again.

    Love to you and to the hug nation. Continue to feel the love and bliss as I will over here; and let’s remember also that bliss and awareness are always fresh, they don’t like to be boxed up in beliefs. My own belief in burning man was shattered in 2012 and it was the most beautiful thing, the best thing that could have happened.

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  • Olivia Grey says:

    Beautiful. Thank you so much for this.

    You’re absolutely right, it’s about defending our boundaries and our families.
    That is positive.
    That is love.
    That is freedom.
    That is beautiful.

    As a woman who’s rapist was on the playa this year and tried to confront me during a sexual assault awareness workshop at B.E.D., dealing with police, lawyers, rangers, my assailant starting to stalk me after finding out where I camped, and more…and it was beautiful as my burner community supported me through it. They embraced me. They enveloped me in a bubble of protection and love. They helped me through it, and they helped me find empowerment through my struggle, finding my strength out on the playa because I could fight back with the support of my community.


    I love you. I hope to see you on the playa next year.


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  • Wow, Olivia. Thank you for sharing that. As I hear more and more examples of darkness, I find that I am actually ENcouraged. Darkness simply is. As we build up the tools and traditions to maximize light, the darkness will have no place.

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  • Foxwalker says:

    Psychologists pretty much agree that about 2 – 3% of the general population are sociopaths/psychopaths. So if 100 people were in Center Camp, that’d be 2 or 3 of them. Or 1,000 – 1,500 in a city of 50,000. I would bet that the % at BRC is lower.

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  • mollygolightly says:

    I commend your bravery in mentioning that this happened in your camp . We all need to be safe out there. It is a big city.

    However: This isn’t the first sexual assault in BRC. And why do you start the post dancing? Why is it 38 minutes of you talking?

    If you were really getting to the point, shouldn’t you just start and end with this tragic episode?

    It feels like you are somehow taking credit for educating or talking about sexual assault. Something about the way you tell the story strikes me as patronizing. Perhaps the issue deserves its own post. Perhaps it deserves a record that doesn’t include braggadocio. People have been arrested at Burning Man for sexual assault.

    There are so many women and men who have dealt with sexual assault or issues regarding sexual boundaries…

    I hope the victim is OK and the perpetrator, if guilty, is found guilty. Peace.

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  • @Mollygolightly
    I started my podcast dancing because life is a celebration.
    I don’t mean to take credit for anything. I was asked by many Rangers if I would consider making a video about the topic. It was on my mind and in the flow of that 38 minutes, so I shared it. This is my story and my truth. My communication style doesn’t jive with everyone. My apologies if my flair distracted from the point.

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  • Shellz says:

    I like what you are saying about freedom needing rules. You can only really have freedom and a loving environment if you are not infringing on other peoples ability to also enjoy that freedom and love. Boundaries matter! Being aware of your effect on others is important, and tragically not everyone has an appropriate sense of that.

    There was someone at my own camp lurking around and creeping on ladies there making them feel uncomfortable. He was asked to leave, and thankfully that happened without incident.

    When I try to explain burning man to people sometimes, often they think it is this giant sexual free for all. It doesn’t surprise me that people with mal-intent end up at burning man because of that misconception.

    Thank you for having a camp that supported this woman’s decision to protect herself!

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  • simon of the playa says:

    “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”

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  • Stop The Assaults says:

    I’m disappointed you had to take time to think about, discuss and debate having the clown busted.

    Assault and battery is illegal in our society for very good reasons – even at Burning Man.

    I’m glad your camp mate had the guts to press charges even though you tried to talk her out of it.

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  • @Stop The Assualts – It is interesting (and telling) that you heard me say that. Watch again. It is also a good example of why it is our actions – not our knee-jerk thoughts – that matter.

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  • Thank you for talking about this, we need to keep talking about it until there is no place left in our fair city for perpetrators to hide. Predation happens everywhere, Black Rock City is no different. I’m so glad to hear that when it does people have support, they know where to go to report assault, and it’s taken seriously.

    Keep your eyes open, watch out for each other and if you see something that seems out of whack and your spidey senses are going off say something. Or find a Ranger and let them say something. Don’t ever put yourself in danger, but do something, say something if you can. If you are wrong and it is consensual play then you can all have a good laugh.

    If you are right, even once, it will be worth the effort. Thanks for playing…

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  • Jeff Burdges says:

    There is an interesting history lesson that’s bears repeating when discussing rape.

    We find very high murder rates in primitive societies, both from tribal conflicts and from men murdering men within the same tribe. We’ve massively reduced this murder problem in modern western societies, but many states permitted duals through much of the 19th century. In short, males murdering one another was the natural order, but our society found epidemiological tools to eliminate it, but doing so took centuries.

    Rape should be viewed in this context, a primitive behavior that modern society must eliminate epidemiologically. We’ve much better at societal transformation now though, so it need not take centuries, but we must be clever about it and recognize that the road look curvy, ala dueling.

    I believe an important step here should be eliminating the cultural inequivalences between men and women, note that cultural inequivalences goes way beyond mere inequality. Fight against the cultural norms that distinguish mens behavior from women’s behavior. As a light hearted example, men should wear skits sometimes too, make tutu tuesday an office thing. A more serious example might be creating more emotional training for teenage boys, especially empathy training. Another huge step might be destigmatizing sex, prostitution, hiring prostitutes, etc.

    I believe one of my most powerful realizations about the burner community is how much it erases the differences between men and women. We are an evolution in the right direction on this specific issue.

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  • pinky says:

    Halcyon, thank you for your post and for talking about things that are hard to talk about.

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  • Jeff Burdges says:

    Also, there is a detailed article at wired on various date rape drug testers, including their availability, reliability, limitations, and price.

    It’ll help enormously if several wood-be rapists get apprehended trying to drug burners. And paradoxically such cases might prove much less complex to prosecute.

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  • pinky says:

    Halcyon, just read through the posts on eplaya about the” serial rapist, rape kits”, because i worked for ESD this year in the clinics. Working for ESD was an awesome experience, and really gave me a different view of the city. I’m in awe of what is accomplished by the ESD teams. Reading through the whole thread was very painful and my heart goes out to the people affected by this violence (which is really all of us, the whole community). Thank you again for addressing this topic in your wonderful style.

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  • toona says:

    with all the rape hysteria surrounding this event, and not a single arrest for sexual assault, even. must be pretty sad for those wishing to hang a random male.

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  • some seeing eye says:

    Sexual assault and miscommunication is found at other festivals, gatherings with similar age structures, intoxicants, a focus on freedom/ creativity, and a sexy vibe. Like those events, people are intent on making many new connections quickly. The dance camps can put some participants into the nightclubbing state of mind by association, with nightclubbing behaviors.

    The Burning Man community would do a service to society to create a new attitude along the lines of the Bureau of Erotic Discourse principles. Our goal should be reducing these bad experiences to zero at the event, for participants to anticipate zero and for participants to take that philosophy out into the world.

    I’m not saying it will be easy, but it’s a good challenge for some fresh thinking about the cultural design of the event.

    Concrete suggestion, BMIR PSA’s. A dedicated BED radio station. Just like each camp needs a LNT plan in their application, how about a human-to-human communication plan?

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  • Chicken John says:

    I’m glad to see this topic not as taboo as it’s been in the past. AND IT’S BEEN VERY VERY TABOO IN THE PAST. As a matter of fact, MANY people have quit and been dismissed over this topic.

    the simple fact is the LLC has done so little to mitigate sexual assault that many of us have lost respect for them over this topic.

    And quit.

    I have been an advocate for a membership organization since 1997. But since it’s not Larry or Marions’ idea, well… you know the answer to that.

    Membership would weed out tons of idiots. But it would also cut down the bottom line. So it’ll never happen as long as the greedy cunts that hold the reigns are still in power.

    I can talk more, if anyone is interested.

    chicken john

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  • Leo says:

    “It’s Burning Man” should indeed mean that this is a place where people who get bullied in the world experience life without bullying and oppression. IMO that’s a good goal for this event and others like it.

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  • Reef says:


    Everywhere – RAPE!

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  • mollygolightly says:

    For instance: Sometime during the 1999-2000-2001 era there was a sexual assault arrest during the event. A woman was drugged, taken to the edge of Black Rock City and sexually assaulted. The perpetrator was dumb enough to allow his victim to take a photo before it happened. That’s how he was found. I don’t recall this being made public by BM although arrest records are public records.

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  • soniCinema says:

    @Jeff Burdges, well, the good news is that rape has gone down 70% between 1993-2008 (Atlantic Monthly, Sept 2012)…I’m guessing this is the type of change you are hoping for as we convert from our cave-man ways? Of course, who knows if that is due to people just not reporting rape, because they are scared of making 10 minutes of powerlessness into the rest of their life, afraid to have to defend it, or, as in the case of Halcyon’s camp mate, afraid of bumming everyone out, and thank goodness she wasn’t.

    The part of this issue that really gets me, is that we don’t give (mostly young women) the benefit of the doubt that they can heal and move on from rape or other sexual assault. It is still looked at by our society as a permanent condition from which you can never recover, which is an additional level of violence. It starts with each one of us to remove that stigma, first by refusing to be a victim or refusing to see a victim in our friends. It is a choice not to continue giving up your power for the rest of your life.

    Actions like Halcyon’s camp mate can help to draw that boundary and reestablish control, while sending a clear message to the perpetrator that their behavior is not welcome in our society.

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