Sexual assault at Burning Man, while uncommon and unconscionable, does happen. Sexual assault is defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities such as forced sexual intercourse, fondling, and attempted rape. While Black Rock City is a community of thousands of well-meaning people, there are some who look to take advantage of others. In some cases, their intent is criminal.
Nobody wants to think about crime in Black Rock City, but in many ways Black Rock City is a city like any other, and it faces many of the same public safety issues as any other urban area. In 2013, Pershing County Sheriff’s Office received five reports of domestic battery and 14 reports of sexual assault, leading to four arrests. In 2014, Pershing reported six reports of domestic battery and six reports of sexual assault, leading to three arrests.
While sexual assault and domestic battery are unfortunate realities in the world, we believe we should hold Black Rock City to a higher standard. BRC is a city built by its citizens — a community that strives to live by a set of principles. And our principles of Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort demand we all have a stake in the safety and security of our fellow Burners. We need everyone’s help to foster an educated, empowered and safe community.
This is the first in a series of pre-event blog posts addressing assault, survivor support services and resources available in Black Rock City, sexual harassment, and the importance of consent. This post is an update to one written in 2012 and provides some practical advice to help keep you safe in Black Rock City.
In addition to these blog posts, we’ll be sharing information via the Jackrabbit Speaks, social media, public service announcements on BMIR and GARS and via a handout to every vehicle coming through the Gate.
But to be successful, we need your help.
We’ve received reports over the years — including 2014 — of people being “dosed” at dance camps by a person or persons offering water or other beverages in the middle of the dance area. BLM and medical teams are quick to respond to these reports, but we can reduce the risk by encouraging participants to provide their own beverages and not to accept drinks from persons unknown to them. Everyone in BRC should always carry their own water. We’re a gifting society, but that’s not a reason to not practice self-reliance, awareness, and safe hydration.
Everyone needs to know that if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or threatening situation, they can always ask for help. While there are some ‘bad eggs,’ they are far outnumbered by well meaning Burners who are willing and able to lend a helping hand. We can empower one another to yell “HELP!”, “FIRE!” or “I NEED A RANGER!” if you’re experiencing an unintended mental state or if your physical well being is threatened in any way. Black Rock City is not so big or so anonymous that people will ignore a call for help.
We also recommend exploring Black Rock City with a buddy (aka “The Buddy System”), particularly if you are new to the event. If you see suspicious behaviour, immediately report it to a Black Rock Ranger and find help. We must each make every effort to educate one another and to speak up if we see or hear something that doesn’t look, sound or feel right. Report strange behavior to Rangers immediately so they can intervene before a situation gets out of hand or goes away from public view. If someone doesn’t look like they’re able to take care of themselves, check in with them. You just might prevent something terrible from happening.
As you’ll see in the next post in this series, Black Rock City provides support services for assault survivors, but ultimately we believe our focus should be on education and prevention. The best outcome is to stop assault from happening in the first place.
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, there are plenty of rocks you can crawl out from under elsewhere on the internet — this isn’t one of them.
Top photo by Susan Becker