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

Vote for Burning Man’s SXSW 2016 Panels!

During our 25+ years of producing Burning Man, we’ve learned a thing or two about collaborative creation, participation-driven cities, inspiring creativity, creating crucibles for innovation, alternative socioeconomic models — things that we’re as eager to share with the broader creative community as they are to hear it. So for us, SXSW is as much about skill sharing as learning and community engagement.

So … that said, we’re happy to once again be proposing a few panels for SXSWi, and if you agree they’d be a valuable addition to this year’s SXSW offering, please vote before September 4, and share with others who might feel similarly!

Creating the Ideal Context for Radical Innovation

We’re witnessing the rapid growth of a culture of making and innovation across a variety of disciplines that, taken together, supply the raw materials of a vibrant and productive ecosystem of radical creativity. This panel will explore the ingredients that go into creating a successful context for innovation, and how they’re being employed in the corporate, government, design and art realms today.

Will Chase, Minister of Propaganda, Burning Man
Smita Satiani, Director of Engagement, White House Presidential Innovation Fellows
Peter Hirshberg, Founder, City Innovate
Bill O’Connor, Founder, Autodesk Innovation Genome

Vote for this panel.

Burning Man: From Free Play To Innovation Science

Playfulness is a refined mechanism of evolution that acts as an engine of engagement and adaptability. The biology of fun is the biology of deep engagement and creative invention. In play, animals (including humans) generate novelty and build strong social relationships. Furthermore, the creativity of play is a precursor to innovation akin to how natural selection generates innovation, as some ideas generated in play’s abundance result in useful, game-changing strategies.

Here we bring together an elite panel that will show how the future of robust social networks, as well as innovation (and social joy), relies on tapping into our evolutionary resource: playfulness.

Jenn Sander, Global Initiatives, Burning Man
Stuart Brown, Founder, National Institute of Play
Brendan Boyle, Partner, IDEO
Isabel Behncke, TED Fellow & Oxford University PHD

Vote for this panel.

Internationalization of Cultural Movements

How does the internationalization and expansion of bottom-up grassroots, cultural movements like Burning Man’s, Maker Faire’s, and Couchsurfing’s occur while maintaining foundational cultural identities? How did the missions and purpose of these organizations play a part in their becoming global networks, and to what extent did it happen organically? What are their unique challenges of expansion, and how are they responding to the needs of their communities? This panel will explore the diverse learnings, tools and future opportunities of global impact networks.

Meghan Rutigliano, Regional Network Associate Director, Burning Man
Sabrina Merlo, Program Director, Maker Faire
Casey Fenton, Couchsurfing

Vote for this panel.

Thank you, and we hope to see you at SXSW 2016!

BRC Receives 2015 Special Recreation Permit from BLM

(Photo by Ron Lussier)

(Photo by Ron Lussier)

The Bureau of Land Management today issued a Special Recreation Permit authorizing Black Rock City LLC to conduct the annual Burning Man event for 2015. The event takes place Aug. 30 through Sept. 7 in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada.

As a result of ongoing negotiations, Burning Man and BLM officials have agreed to eliminate a proposed second BLM facility at Blue Pit, and BLM will use the same catering contractor as Burning Man. Improved operational alignment by both groups has reduced expected BLM fees and costs by several hundred thousand dollars.

“We’ve made tremendous progress over the past six weeks to agree on common sense solutions that meet BLM’s needs and ensure the health and safety of those supporting and participating in the Burning Man event,” said CEO Marian Goodell. “That being said, there’s an important amount of work to do after the 2015 event. We’re all committed to further discussion regarding the permitor – permittee relationship and what is required for BLM to properly administer the permit.”

As part of the Special Recreation Permit, Burning Man agrees to cap the population at 70,000 participants for 2015.

Help Prevent Sexual Assault in Black Rock City

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. (more…)

Wednesday! OMG Sale for Tickets to Burning Man 2015

Burning Man 1996 event ticket

Burning Man 1996 event ticket

The OMG Sale is coming up tomorrow, for those who registered. And just like the Individual Sale, there are lot more registrants than there are tickets available.

Yep, that’s right … the secret’s out about Burning Man, demand is high, and the reality is that most of you aren’t going to be able to get a ticket. But if you don’t get one in the OMG Sale, don’t despair: be patient, get the word out there, stay connected to your Burner community, and one could very well make its way to you.

Some things to consider when purchasing tickets in the open market:

  1. Don’t buy a ticket from someone you don’t know unless you’re certain they aren’t ripping you off (with this much demand, the predators will be out there).
  2. If you purchase a ticket from a stranger, be absolutely sure it’s not a counterfeit before you buy it. (Stay tuned for a post about how to recognize a counterfeit.)
  3. Buying a ticket above face value perpetuates the scalping system. Don’t be part of the problem. Use STEP or buy from people you know, and only pay face value plus fees.

And lastly, keep in mind that Black Rock City is not the only place to get your burn on. There are over 60 Burns happening around the world, including Nowhere in Spain, AfrikaBurn in South Africa, Israel’s Midburn, Flipside in Austin — even one in Korea! And these Burns, like the one in Black Rock City, are just as amazing as you make ’em.

Best of luck in the sale, and we hope to see you on playa.

Start Your Burn Now with BMIR!

BMIR, people!
BMIR, people!

Why wait until the gates open when you can start your Burn now with Burning Man Information Radio? Take a trip down memory lane and tune into BMIR starting Wednesday August 5 at 7p.m. and listen as BMIR plays their archive recordings of the 2014 Burn in their entirety.

After the 2014 re-broadcast, stay tuned to BMIR 24/7 for their eclectic mix of music and theme camp promos for 2015. Hear about all the cool things waiting for you on the playa this year! (Theme Camp Organizers: want to promote your camp’s events on BMIR? You can send in a promo now or record one on the playa.  Details here.)

And we’ve got some special live broadcasts coming your way! On Wednesday August 12 at 7 p.m. PDT, BMIR’s Bobzilla and Josie from the Burning Man Communications Team will host a live program for first-time Burners. They’ll take phone calls and answer questions submitted via text. Listen and get some tips on how to be prepared for the playa and what to expect!

If you want to go to Burning Man you’ll have to go through the Gate. On Thursday August 20 at 7 p.m. PDT, Bobzilla and a member of the Perimeter, Gate & Exodus Department will tell you how to get in and out of Burning Man safely, easily and hassle free. Operations at the Gate change every year, so tune in.

The BMIR crew travels to the playa on Tuesday August 25 and will begin broadcasting live from BRC sometime on Wednesday August 26.  Tune in to hear what’s happening on the playa, get weather and gate info and hear how the city is coming together. You can listen to BMIR on your smartphone as you travel to the playa as long as you have cell coverage (you can begin to tune them in over the air when you hit Gerlach at 94.5 FM. Find out how to listen on your PC/Mac/Smartphone.

See you on the playa and don’t forget to bring a radio!

New Burning Man Drones Policy

(Photo by Mike Muench)

(Photo by Mike Muench)

You’ll likely be seeing fewer drones flying over Black Rock City this year. The new policy (registration opens today) allows for a small number that can be used for media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance.

The decision wasn’t made lightly. We’ve had drones at the event for at least three years and, after they first appeared, we called a Drone Summit to bring together enthusiasts to crowdsource how we’d address what we expected to be growing interest in flying them at BRC.

Our guess proved correct and by 2014 we registered more than 200 pilots (and had a waiting list). Coming out of the Drone Summit, we worked with participants to craft the rules for flying, which included:

  • No flying over the populated sections of BRC
  • No flying close to artwork
  • No flying over crowds
  • And no flying over burns.

Pilots had to pre-register, show up on site, complete their registration, take a brief training course, and then have their drones tagged.

Unfortunately, despite everything done, we still had drones flying over the Embrace and Man burns, drones flew over the city, over large gatherings of people, and drones flew too close to artwork. In one case a video that included several rule violations went viral. Drone pilots who played by the rules felt they were penalized for doing it right.

But of greatest concern were the uncontrolled crashes. We received several reports of drones going out of control and crashing. And we reviewed video of two in particular that went out of control and crashed, both very near groups of people.

Burning Man is an ongoing experiment, and our relationship with drones is one facet of that. Based on our experiences from last year, the Bureau of Land Management proposed banning drones entirely from the event. That was unacceptable to us, and we countered with the scaled back policy that’s being announced today.

You can find the full policy on the Drones page (as well as the application form for 2015). In essence we are taking applications for drones in four categories: media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance. Applications begin today and close August 14. While media coverage and event operations are largely self-explanatory, the other two categories might require more info. Art documentation is reserved for art projects that would benefit from use of a drone, either during construction or more generally for documenting the artwork. Art performance is set aside for individuals using a drone as an integral part of an on -playa performance (we had one of these registered last year).

In essence, this new policy eliminates hobbyist flying at the event this year. We will be revisiting the policy post-event and consider changes for 2016. Personal drones won’t be confiscated at the Gate, but any unregistered drone flown in BRC runs the risk of being confiscated and the pilot cited and possibly fined by the BLM.

Drones permitted to fly during the event will be banded with fluorescent tags on the aircraft, control device, and on the approved operator’s wrist. All three bands will be the same color with their registration number on each band.

As with past years, if anyone sees a drone being flown in an unsafe manner, they should talk to the operator if possible. Failing that, get as many details as possible and report it to a Black Rock Ranger.

Here’s What Burning Man Is Doing to End Turnkey Culture

After the 2014 Burning Man event, turnkey (a.k.a. “plug and play”, a.k.a. concierge) camping in Black Rock City rightfully became a hot-button issue in our community. We share the concerns that turnkey camping, left unchecked, could undermine Burning Man’s principles, and we’ve taken measures to ensure that doesn’t happen.

In her keynote address at the 2015 Burning Man Global Leadership Conference, Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell put it plainly: “We are absolutely committed to ceasing the plug and play culture.”

We are doing this in three ways:

  1. All theme camps must go through the same process and meet the same standard (including being interactive, open to all citizens of Black Rock City, successfully Leaving No Trace, etc.) to be considered for placement.
  2. Our updated Outside Services (OSS) contracts make it extraordinarily difficult for concierge service operators and potential organizers of turnkey camps to order necessary equipment to successfully build a turnkey camp without showing up on our radar.
  3. A new ‘Statement of Values’ on gifting has been developed to guide our actions and relationships with individuals and groups that provide financial and other forms of support to the nonprofit Burning Man Project.

Here’s the letter from the Burning Man Placement team to theme camp organizers:

Hello Theme Camp Organizer,

We’re contacting you because you have requested Placement for 2015 in Black Rock City. We’ve made some changes to our Theme Camp and Placement policies following events in 2014 involving turnkey camps, and we wanted to inform you of them so you can plan accordingly.


Turnkey is a category of camps along a spectrum. At one end of the continuum are camps that depend on supported infrastructure to create on playa projects. At the other end are camps providing vacation type experience packages for campmates with no specific requirement for contribution.

In 2014 Burning Man placed 12 turnkey camps that fell within the continuum as they were camps indicating they would offer an interactive aspect to be enjoyed by the entire Burning Man community.

For 2015, all camps (other than infrastructure support camps) will be held to the same standards in order to receive placement, early arrival passes and access to the Directed Group Sale.

Theme Camp Placement Criteria / Standards:

Other than event infrastructure camps, all camps will be held to the same standards of inclusion and participation regardless of how the camp is structured. All Theme Camps requesting placement will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  1. Camps should be visually stimulating, have an inviting design and a plan for bike parking and crowd management.
  2. Camps must be interactive. They should include activities, events or services within their camps and they must be available to the entire Burning Man community.
  3. Camps must be neighborly. This includes keeping sound within set limits, controlling where camp generators vent exhaust, and easily resolving any boundary disputes that may arise.
  4. Camps must have a good previous MOOP record (for returning camps).
  5. Camps must follow safety protocols designed by the organization (this includes traffic management on the streets, proper handling of fuels, and any other areas defined by the organization’s production team including alternatives to RV lined streets).

Post-event evaluation Theme Camp Standing and access to Directed Group Sales:

Post event, all placed Theme Camps will be reviewed on the criteria above, as well as:

  1. MOOP score
  2. Strain on resources (whether a camp requires extra BRC infrastructure support, which could include undue communication or interactions with Rangers, DPW or the playa restoration team).

If camps meet all of the criteria they remain in “good standing” and may be eligible to receive access to DGS tickets the following year. Exemplary camps are the most likely to be invited to following DGS sales.

Camps that receive negative feedback will lose their good standing and be contacted in the Fall after the event. A loss of good standing will affect access to DGS.

Camps will have to make substantial changes to their submitted camp plans if they are to qualify for placement or the Directed Group Sale for the following year.

Camps found advertising are violating principles and cultural norms and will not be placed or invited to the DGS the following year.

Entering BRC with Early Arrival passes:

Only placed Theme Camps meeting all of the above criteria and receiving Placement will be given Early Arrival Passes from the Placement team for entry to BRC for pre-event set up.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you have regarding these policies.

Here’s the pertinent section of the Outside Services contract:

Specific changes applicable to vendors include but are not limited to:

  1. Burning Man does not contract with concierge camping outfits or tour companies.
  2. Groups of vendor-provided RVs or trailers using shared resources and clustered together, or formerly placed as “turnkey camps”, must now apply as Theme Camps and adhere to all Theme Camp criteria to be considered for placement.
  3. RVs and trailers will not be permitted within the city streets prior to the renter or contact person’s arrival on site without previous approval from the OSS team.
  4. All RV, vehicle, and trailer license plate numbers must be submitted to the OSS team at least 48 hours prior to the vendor’s arrival on site to collect credentials.
  5. Vendors must indicate the contact person, or renter, for each delivered item/trailer/RV, at least 48 hours prior to those credential being distributed.
  6. Vendors found to be non-compliant with the OSS program guidelines or contract may be asked to leave the event site immediately, and may not be considered for the program in future years.

Lastly, here’s our Statement of Values on Gifting:

Burning Man exists solely because of contributions to and from our community. Whether these gifts are made manifest in funds, labor, artwork, or other forms, they are the fuel that powers our work in the world. As a culture we are devoted to acts of giving that are unconditional, and as individual contributors, we acknowledge that all such gifts are given freely, with no expectation of reciprocity or exchange. Each gives according to his or her nature and capabilities, and no one is entitled to special treatment as a result. No contributor, regardless of the magnitude of his or her gift or position, will receive preferential treatment or undue influence over the course of our actions in the world.

We feel that these measures, taken together, will help foster a community and culture in Black Rock City that embodies the values reflected in the Ten Principles. But we’re not going to be able to solve this problem through rules and regulations alone. Ultimately, it takes YOU, the Burning Man community. It’s important that Burners and would-be Burners understand that Radical Self-Reliance, Participation and Communal Effort are fundamental to the Burning Man experience. The value of those principles is eroded when one engages a concierge service on playa. We strongly encourage people to avoid them to get a more meaningful Burning Man experience.

What About Green Tortoise?

Note that Green Tortoise camp is the sole exception to our position on turnkey camping because of its established program for bringing engaged participants to Black Rock City and the valuable service they provide to the community (shuttle buses to and from Gerlach during the event) — their camp is the exception that proves the rule, and we’re actively considering further changes to our arrangement with GT to bring it into alignment with our theme camp policy.

Top photo by Ron Lussier