While much of the focus around Burning Man is on the awe-inspiring creativity and celebratory nature of the event, it is important to recognize that reprehensible actions, while rare, do happen in our desert community — and that includes sexual misconduct.
If you are going to Black Rock City this year (or any year), we want you to know what happens when a sexual assault is reported, to be aware of the resources we provide, and to have the knowledge and tools you need to help prevent sexual misconduct.
And, we encourage you to take action: we want every person in Black Rock City to pledge to create an environment free from sexual harassment and sexual assault.
This post includes the information you need and the options you have in Black Rock City, including how to report, who to talk to, where to go for help, and what your rights are.
What Is Sexual Misconduct And How Is It Different From Sexual Assault?
Sexual misconduct is a legal term encompassing a range of unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature committed by intimidation, coercion, manipulation, or force. Sexual misconduct includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and any conduct of a sexual nature without consent.
Sexual assault is a criminal act that may be defined differently in different states. You can see Nevada’s statutory definition of sexual assault here.
Supporting Survivors And Getting Help On Playa
The minutes, hours, and days after an assault are particularly vulnerable times for a survivor. Our approach is to support survivors, inform them of their options and provide resources so they may control what happens next.
We encourage anyone who experiences or witnesses sexual misconduct in Black Rock City to report it immediately to law enforcement, our Emergency Services Department staff, or a Black Rock Ranger.
We understand that a survivor may or may not wish to provide their name to our staff or law enforcement, get law enforcement involved, or speak with a trained advocate. A survivor may need a safe, quiet space to be alone with friends or go to the hospital.
We have systems in place, experts on staff, and a wealth of services to help. The rest of this post describes those services.
If you report an incident of sexual assault to a Black Rock Ranger or ESD personnel, you will receive access to our expert advocates and resources. Law enforcement does not always provide these resources to you (or even notify the Burning Man organization about the incident), so if you report an incident directly to law enforcement, we highly encourage you to expressly request support services from them or go to the Survivor Advocacy Center.
Please Note: It can be difficult for survivors to repeat their story multiple times — please help them connect to the resources we have on playa (described below and on our website) without asking them to repeat their story to bystanders unless they wish to do so.
Emergency Services Department (ESD)
ESD personnel are skilled professionals — doctors, nurses, EMTs and paramedics — who have experience assisting in emergency and non-emergency health situations, including sexual assault and domestic violence.
They will know how to help, who to call, and which processes to set in motion. ESD personnel will help keep you safe and stay with you until additional help arrives. The 5:15 & Esplanade station is centrally located in front of Rampart, our Nevada-licensed emergency care facility.
ESD medical station locations (look for the large, illuminated red cross):
- 5:15 & Esplanade
- 3:00 & C
- 9:00 & C
- 4:30 & H
- 7:30 & H
- 11:00 from the Man toward the open playa
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)
Black Rock City’s Crisis Intervention Team consists of highly trained professionals and community-based advocates who work year-round supporting people in emotional distress and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Advocates help survivors understand the legal process afforded to them, and the next steps they can expect should they choose to engage the assistance of law enforcement, now or in the future.
CIT staff are highly trusted, best-in-class professionals who work with regional hospitals, local governments and agencies, and advocacy organizations across the nation. They are not police, and the confidentiality of communications between advocates and survivors is protected by law. Burning Man has been fortunate to have the expertise of these dedicated personnel working in Black Rock City for over 20 years.
CIT personnel are experts at navigating the crisis response process. They work in close partnership with ESD medical professionals and with the Black Rock Rangers to provide survivors of sexual misconduct and domestic abuse with information and guidance, a safe environment to talk, and connection to resources in Black Rock City and Reno.
CIT personnel will arrange transportation to and from Reno for a sexual assault forensic exam, accommodations and meals, and resource contacts in the survivor’s home town.
To reach CIT on playa, go to the Survivor Advocacy Center behind the medical station at 5:15 & Esplanade, find a Black Rock Ranger (or any staff member with a radio), or walk in to one of the ESD medical stations (locations above) and let them know you want to report a sexual assault, domestic violence, or mental health issue.
They will contact the CIT team, who will provide a safe environment for the affected participant and assist them in getting the help they need.
Black Rock Rangers
The khaki-clad Black Rock Rangers patrol the streets and open playa of Black Rock City 24 hours a day in pairs, on foot and bicycle. They are trained volunteers, trusted community members, and equipped with radios so they can quickly call for help from ESD and law enforcement. Rangers will stay with you and/or the survivor until additional help — from ESD, CIT, and/or law enforcement — arrives.
Rangers station locations:
- Ranger Headquarters on Esplanade and 5:45
- 3:00 & C
- 9:00 & C
- The Man
- The Temple
- The Town of Gerlach
New For 2019: Survivor Advocacy Center
We are introducing an additional resource for 2019. The new Survivor Advocacy Center will be located at 5:15 & Esplanade, as part of the ESD medical station. You can go here to get help for cases of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Certificated, experienced survivor advocates will welcome you into a safe, quiet space. You can decide who you want to talk to and when you want to leave. Should you wish to speak with law enforcement, your advocate will make sure they are available when you are ready. The Survivor Advocacy Center will be open 24/7 from Monday, August 26, at 3pm through Monday, September 2, at 3pm.
We would like to hear from you as we launch this new resource. Please contact us through our 2019 participant feedback form after the event.
Sexual Assault Forensic Exams
Sexual assault forensic exams — also known as “rape kits” — are intentionally not available on the playa or in Gerlach, because conducting forensic exams is a highly specialized procedure.
More importantly, medical and legal experts have informed us that due to location and uncontrollable factors associated with the playa environment and chain of custody, an exam done on the playa would face a high probability of being inadmissible in a court of law — essentially making it useless in aiding a conviction.
To ensure the highest likelihood any evidence collected will help identify a perpetrator and secure a conviction, experts recommend survivors travel to Reno for an exam by the Sexual Assault Response Team used by most of Northern Nevada.
The Burning Man organization will offer to transport survivors to and from Reno at no cost, greatly decreasing the examination time and facilitating a speedier reconnection with friends and family. We also have trained advocates to accompany the survivor if the survivor wishes.
We want to state unequivocally that sexual assaults are never tolerated in Black Rock City. If any survivor wishes to report a sexual assault, the Burning Man organization will request the deployment of law enforcement resources to investigate and bring any perpetrator to justice. Law enforcement has shared arrest statistics with us for every event from 2007 through 2018, reporting either zero or one arrest for sexual assault in each of those years, except for 2017, when there were two.
Consent and Prevention
One way to help prevent sexual misconduct is to avoid confusion and misunderstanding by employing clear, consent-based communication. In this context, consent is an agreement between people to engage in sexual activity.
Consent is affirmative and can be withdrawn at any time. Many members of our community work hard to nurture a culture of consent both on and off the playa, and we need you to be part of this effort.
Consent is addressed in the Black Rock City Survival Guide, in videos we produce, in Public Service Announcements broadcast on Burning Man Information Radio, by the Bureau of Erotic Discourse (B.E.D.), by Zendo, by our Emergency Services Department, in the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, in emails about consent, and in a host of participant-led events and workshops.
Additional resources include this video from our friend Halcyon, this podcast from the folks at Accuracy Third, and the 11th Principle: Consent, an initiative put forward by a group of North Carolina Burners who have done a tremendous amount of work on this issue.
We’ve focused resources on this topic for years as we’ve become increasingly aware of the critical role of consent in fostering a healthy, safe and enjoyable experience for all participants. In 2017, the #metoo movement catapulted sexual misconduct and consent into the national spotlight.
Burning Man Project fully supports the ongoing national dialog on these issues, and we want you to know we will remain focused on nurturing consent culture and supporting anyone who experiences unwanted sexual behavior in Black Rock City.
Please take the time to learn about consent-based communication and talk to your campmates. Your efforts will make a better, safer community for everyone.
In it Together
Every year we work to improve our processes and protocols, to level up our support for participants and staff, and to educate our community. We believe that informing participants about the resources available in Black Rock City will help to ensure people know where to go when help is needed, and that we’ll be more successful in our ongoing effort to provide support and resources.
All of this information and more, can be found on this webpage, your go-to place for the most critical information related to sexual misconduct awareness and prevention at Burning Man.
Please take a look and share this resource with your friends and campmates. You can also read this series of Journal posts about sexual misconduct resources in Black Rock City.
Given our commitment to the principles of Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort, it is up to all of us to build a culture of consent, to take action when we see something that doesn’t look or feel right, and to seek help when help is needed.
Thank you for your help fostering an educated, empowered, and safe community.
Top photo: Emergency Services Department is here to help. (Photo by Kate Gonnella)