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

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…)

Black Rock City 2013 Population

Black Rock City 2013 (photo credit: Reuters)
Black Rock City 2013 (photo credit: Reuters)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Black Rock City, LLC (BRC) have stated that the 2013 Burning Man event peak population was 69,613. BLM will be reviewing the peak population number in association with the special recreation permit stipulations for the 2013 event.

Prior to reaching the peak population number during the event, BLM and BRC coordinated and implemented contingency plans, which included collaborative managing of the gate entrance, opening additional camping areas and streets within the city, deploying additional porta-potties, pumper trucks and medical vehicles. This coordination and the contingency actions were to further facilitate a safe and healthy event and city.

And Then It All Burned Down

So, did you do anything special Saturday night?

We kinda did.

What if you dreamed up the most impossibly beautiful and perfectly timed thing you could summon your heart and mind to imagine? And what if you labored all year to pull the strings and find the money and overcome the forces who would defeat you? And what if somehow, once again, you persuaded all your friends to help?

And then what if you actually watched it all taking shape, agonizingly slowly and with great effort, rising in the bright white heat of the desert?

And then what if it finally stood there, appearing and disappearing majestically between whiteouts, and in the evenings glowing with a mesmerizing tranquility against the purple of the hills?

And then what if in that moment of triumph of will and sweat, of tears and blood, what if you said, ok, that’s it. That’s enough. We are done with this. We dreamed it and we did it and now it is time to be done with it. So you lit the torch and set fire to the thing, and you watched the flames consume that which had consumed you.

That was our Saturday night, and we wish you were here.

And if you were here, thank you very much, nothing more to see here; time to move on.

Oh yes, there is still a Temple to burn tonight, but the apex of Burning Man has been reached, and just like that, it is time to get back to the present, and to the immediate future, and then maybe, some time later, to think about what will come next. But for now, strike the tent, literally pull up the stakes, sort your trash and get the hell out of Dodge. It is time to get back into the moment.

Weather reports Sunday morning were scaring the general population, and we secretly thought that this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. People being in a hurry to leave was ok with us. We don’t mean to be harsh, and we mean this in the most loving way possible, but we are tired of your face and it’s time for you to go.

This giant Burning Man has almost come to a close, and it is going to take a long time to get everyone out of boomtown Black Rock City, and the sooner some people hit the road, the better for all concerned. So here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

In the daytime, the saucer would come and go with the winds
In the daytime, the saucer would come and go with the winds


Burning Man, BLM Tighten Management of BRC Entry

Black Rock City 2011, Photo by Luke Szczepanski
Black Rock City 2011, Photo by Luke Szczepanski

Burning Man and the Bureau of Land Management have begun tighter management of the entrance gate to the Burning Man event. Measures are being taken to ensure camping is occurring in designated areas and to manage overall population of the event.

The new entrance controls will likely result in increased wait times at the Main Gate, participants who are not part of existing camps will be directed to camp on the outer fringes of Black Rock City between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock. Additional streets have been constructed (the streets of M & N, from 7:00 to 10:00) to assist in these efforts.

The changes were agreed to by Burning Man and BLM to protect the health and safety of participants.

Black Rock City Census 2013 – Moving Online!

census_logoThis comes from our intrepid Black Rock City Census team.

The only thing constant is change …

Over time, the data gathering methods of the Census have progressed from an exclusively paper survey that was distributed on playa and required manual input of responses to the combination of a paper survey, a random sampling of Burners and online surveys. In 2013, the Census team will be gathering data via a random sampling at the Gate during ingress and exodus and a post-event online survey.

The Census is online …

The Census will be available online on Tuesday after the Burn (September 3, 2013) at We would love to receive your responses and welcome your input. The online Census fosters the immediacy principle of Burning Man and enables BRC citizens to access the Census independently of their preferences in terms of Burning Man experiences. It also allows the Census to be more eco-conscious by reducing the need for printed forms. Further, eliminating the paper form means removing the need for data entry and drastically reducing the data errors due to manual entry. (more…)

Guidelines for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles at Burning Man

Dronetastic! (photo via Wired UK)
Dronetastic! (photo via Wired UK)

Participants flying unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones, RC airplanes, etc.) have developed a set of best practices for flying at Black Rock City this year.

The best practices came out of a July 17 “Drone Summit” at Burning Man headquarters that had 40 in attendance and an estimated 100 on a teleconference. Burning Man organizers arranged the summit following participant complaints from BM2012 that included UAVs flying over crowds at the Man burn, one UAV flying at the Temple burn, and a concern that UAVs with cameras were invading peoples’ privacy.

The best practices developed by participants were modeled on safety guidelines adopted by the Academy of Model Aeronautics and updated to address the unique environment of Black Rock City. The entire list of guidelines is here, but the highlights include:

  • All UAVs carrying cameras will register with Media Mecca and each UAV will carry a unique registration number on a small decal on the vehicle.
  • Operators will avoid flying over crowds and populated areas.
  • Operators will avoid flying during the Temple burn.
  • No flying near the Black Rock City airport or helipads.
  • No flying near the Man any time Saturday the day of the burn.

Anyone with a concern or question can report it at Media Mecca in Center Camp. If the concern is regarding a specific vehicle, it will help to get the vehicle’s identification number (UAVs typically have very short flight times). Burning Man organizers will be assessing how well the guidelines were followed and participants’ concerns as part of a post-event review.

Happy flying!

Exodus: Let’s do it again! This time with feeling.

[Kristy Evans is Burning Man’s Gate, Perimeter & Exodus Manager … she knows whereof she speaks, so listen up.]

Exodus. Don’t let this happen to you!

The most common question I received after the 2012 event: what did you guys do to make Exodus so much better? The short answer is that YOU were a major part of the solution. You spread out your departures over enough days and times, and did it in a fairly balanced way. That is the most effective solution to reducing Exodus wait times. Let’s do that again, shall we?

Now, here’s the thing … we can’t get complacent! Because if everybody thinks, “Well 2012 was a breeze, clearly the problem is solved and I can leave anytime!”, we’ll find ourselves right back in long Exodus lines again. What we need to do is make a plan for Exodus. All of us. (more…)