Consent and Sexual Harassment at Burning Man: What You Can Do to Help

[This is the third in a series of blog posts addressing sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the importance of consent in the Burning Man community. It was compiled with the invaluable assistance of Bonnie Ruberg, a six-year Burner, university instructor and a queer community organizer in the Bay Area, and Gigi-D L’Amour, a founding member of and volunteer coordinator for the Bureau of Erotic Discourse.]

(Photo by NK Guy)

(Photo by NK Guy)

Black Rock City is a place where we go to be ourselves. We travel to the playa to feel “at home” in our community, our experiences, and our bodies.

Unfortunately, sometimes the public spaces in BRC don’t feel welcoming or even safe for some Burners because they receive unwanted sexual attention when they walk down the street. Sometimes they get catcalled. Or poked and prodded. People on bullhorns shout at them to take off their tops for bacon and get surly if they refuse. Moments like these are unfortunate but they happen — probably more often than you think.

What is sexual harassment? At its most basic, sexual harassment can be defined as unwanted sexual advances or sexually-charged remarks made toward another person. It can happen to all types of people, and it can occur between friends and acquaintances as well as between strangers. Sexual harassment is harmful because it makes those who are harassed feel targeted and vulnerable. Harassment that doesn’t seem sexual can still make a person feel uncomfortable in their body. Remarks about someone’s gender, race, age, body type, physical ability, etc. also have the potential to be deeply hurtful.

And harassment doesn’t just happen to women. LGBTQ folks and folks who are transgender or genderqueer also often find themselves on the receiving end of hurtful comments and inappropriate behavior. Men can be harassed, too. Everyone deserves to feel welcome and respected in Black Rock City. That’s what Radical Inclusion is about — that’s what Burning Man is about.

Making Black Rock City a more welcoming and respectful environment is a responsibility we all share. Here are some simple guidelines you can follow to help prevent sexual harassment on playa. (more…)

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.]

(Photo: Todd Gardiner)

(Photo: Todd Gardiner)

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)

Help Prevent Sexual Assault in Black Rock City

(Photo by Susan Becker)

(Photo by Susan Becker)

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…)

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

Black Rock City 2011 (photo by Luke Szczepanski)
Black Rock City 2011 (photo by Luke Szczepanski)

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.

Definitions

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.

What’s Actually Going On with Dance Music at Burning Man

(Photo by Darrin Harris Frisby)

(Photo by Darrin Harris Frisby)

News — and supposition — has been flying recently regarding a number of policy announcements and statements coming out of BMHQ related to DJs and amplified music on playa. Dancetronauts being “banned”, Opulent Temple not being placed, the Deep-Playa Music Zone (DMZ), pre-publishing DJ lineups — it’s dizzying. And taken together, it could appear that Burning Man has it out for Electronic Dance Music (EDM)!! Yeah, no.

We wanted to take a moment to clear up the misconceptions so we’re all on the same page. We don’t like to announce a “what” without a “why” so everybody understands what’s behind the decisions. So let’s do it. (more…)

The Dancetronauts Meet Civic Responsibility

We’ve received a number of questions about the Dancetronauts Mutant Vehicle being asked not to come to Black Rock City in 2015. Here’s some background …

Shark car at the DMV, 2011 (Photo by Philippe Glade)
Shark car at the DMV, 2011 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

We strive to create as few rules as possible in Black Rock City to allow Burning Man participants as much freedom of expression as possible. The few rules we enforce on playa (such as on-playa driving restrictions, sound limits for large-scale sound camps, the recent ban on hand-held lasers, etc.) strike a balance between the various competing interests in the community, creating a foundation for civil society. In the spirit of Civic Responsibility, everybody sacrifices something (gives a gift, if you will) for the benefit of the greater community — which is Communal Effort.

Burning Man has had rules in place for several years regarding sound systems on Mutant Vehicles. The sound policy was created to strike a balance between allowing mobile sound vehicles and respecting artists’ requests for quiet space around their installations, participants looking to camp in quiet areas of Black Rock City and to address reports of hearing damage caused by overly loud systems.

We’ve received a number of complaints from participants about the Dancetronauts vehicle since 2013 — in fact more than any other vehicle on the playa. We requested the Dancetronauts draft a plan for dealing with the issues, and they failed to do so. We informed them their vehicle would not receive a license to operate on the playa for 2015. Dancetronauts have not been ‘banned’ from Burning Man. They’ve been asked to take a year off and make plans as to how they’ll address concerns from the community in the future.

Dr. Yes over at Burn.life wrote a good post on this topic, including some more details.

Why Radical Inclusion should make us uncomfortable

I’ve always taken Radical Inclusion very personally because I’m convinced that, if it weren’t for Radical Inclusion, I never would have been let into Burning Man.  You didn’t know me back then:  somebody would have said “I don’t know about this guy.  Is he reaaaaally one of us?”  Instead they said “Welcome Home.”

Done right, Radical Inclusion is the engine that keeps our creative energies going year after year – and is frequently uncomfortable.  If it’s not at least a little uncomfortable from time to time, you’re probably just playing with the people you’d hang out with outside of Burning Man, and what good is that?

Get Your Burning Man Brand LED GlowyFur™ Today!

Participant posing in front of a portapotty. (Photo by Mario Covic)

Participant posing in front of a portapotty. (Photo by Mario Covic)

One of the best things about Burning Man culture is that its participants are also its creators. Burning Man is what its participants do and say and make about it — and that includes creations that reference Burning Man.

Burning Man is unique in the way it encourages participants to incorporate its logo and imagery — including the Man symbol and design, the names Burning Man and Black Rock City, and the shape of Black Rock City — into their creations and offerings to the community. We see these uses most frequently in the season leading up to the event, often as part of fundraising efforts for art projects, theme camps and products offered to Burners.

The challenge comes when those creations conflict with the 10 Principles, and it’s usually an issue related to Decommodification. We don’t support projects that turn Burning Man into a commodified product for sale. We do license the Burning Man identity for certain third-party projects, but we do so very carefully for projects that represent the best of Burning Man culture. An example of this is allowing the use of “Burning Man” in the title of a book of photographs from Black Rock City. But we don’t license Burning Man for use as a commodity. You’ll never see Burning Man Brand LED GlowyFur™ available at your local BoxStore™. When a work crosses that line, we step in to protect the culture from misrepresentation and exploitation.

A recent example is the Burning Man Board Game. The developers reached out to us a year ago, and after extensive review, the developers were told they would not receive permission to use any of Burning Man’s legally protected intellectual property, including the Burning Man and Black Rock City names, the Man logo and the signature shape of the city.

Last month the game appeared as part of a Kickstarter campaign. While our fundraising policy allows the creation of crowd-funded campaigns that directly fund art, theme camps and mutant vehicles, the board game Kickstarter was being used to fund the creation of a product, with only a portion of revenue to be donated to theme camps or playa projects.

There’s an important distinction between using Burning Man’s IP in the appreciation gift one receives for making a donation (which is fine, as long as the guidelines are followed), versus in the product that is being crowdfunded itself. If we were to allow the use of our name and symbols in the product (in this case the board game), then it would open the door for other entrepreneurs to sell Burning Man merchandise under the guise of fundraising. This could set a dangerous precedent in terms of protecting our cultural integrity.

In the case of the board game, the campaign organizer stated the fundraising effort was designed to comport with the 10 Principles in that one portion of the donation would go toward the cost of producing the game and another portion would be donated as a gift to one of several high profile theme camps. However, in keeping with the Decommodification and Gifting Principles, we allow participants to use Burning Man’s intellectual property to fundraise directly for Black Rock City-bound projects, including specific artwork, theme camps, and mutant vehicles. Any other use requires special approval and a licensing agreement from the Burning Man organization.

The Burning Man board game is just one example a project that comes in conflict with the Principles. Others have included an individual selling jewelry with the Man symbol to raise funds for his camp, a high-end concierge service using the Burning Man name and logo to market their services, and companies offering to ship large quantities of their product to Black Rock City to give away for “free on playa” in return for the right to market the experience to the world.

In the vast majority of cases, these kinds of issues are resolved with a phone call. Only very rarely have we been forced to resort to more formal action.

Here’s the thing: We are truly inspired by the creativity of Burners — the range of ideas from our community continues to expand in impressive ways. And on the surface, many of these ideas sound great. But we take the responsibility of protecting Burning Man’s long term cultural integrity seriously, and we have to examine all of the possible outcomes and unintended impacts of a project.

Participants are welcome to gift items that incorporate the Man, the Black Rock City design, etc. to their donors. But that’s different from manufacturing a product at cost and selling it, which is not allowed. For more information about Burning Man’s approach to intellectual property, check out http://burningman.org/network/about-us/press-media/trademarks-images-faq/ on our website.

Remember: It’s not a gift if there’s a price tag attached to it.