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…)

Sexual Assault in Black Rock City

Black Rock City is a community of thousands of well-meaning people. But like any metropolitan area, there will always be a handful of individuals with criminal intent.

Each year there are a few reports of sexual assault on the playa, and this year is no different. In light of the community’s concern regarding public safety, we would like to share our procedure for addressing these situations and outline plans to increase education and prevention efforts for the future.

Specifically, we’ve recently received a few inquiries as to why Burning Man does not conduct sexual assault forensic exams (commonly referred to as “rape kits”) on site. Organizers have examined this several times, each time facing the reality that this type of exam requires specialized training and equipment not designed to operate in desert conditions, and which could produce legally questionable results if not performed in an appropriate facility. There are only three designated facilities in the entire state of Nevada that regularly perform these exams. The closest to Burning Man is the Northern Nevada Medical Center in Reno. (more…)