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A Rape In Black Rock City

January 3, 2013

A Guest Post by Clarisse Thorn

This is an article about sexual assault at the Burning Man arts festival, and the issues that surround this topic at Burning Man. It includes accounts of a particular assault.

I am writing this post as a feminist, as someone with extensive experience in the BDSM community, and from the perspective of a 2-year Burner with many many Burner friends. If you’d like to know more about my background, or if you don’t know much about Burning Man, it might help to read my review of Burning Man 2012. You can find my previous work about BDSM and sexual communication at my blog or in my books.

I want to acknowledge up front that there are a number of social justice issues at the festival, some of which I summarized in my review, and some of which were recently highlighted when the “Cargo Cult” theme was announced for Burning Man 2013. You can find a petition to change the theme here. There is also a response to the controversy from one of the Burning Man Volunteer Coordinators on the Burning Man website here (although the Burning Man organization is careful to note that this coordinator does not speak for the organization).

But, with that having been said: I care about Burning Man, and I also want to emphasize that it’s a beautiful, unique event with dedicated organizers and an extraordinary community.

* * *

Recent Events

I’ve heard a lot of longtime Burners say that Burning Man 2012 felt more rapey than previous Burns. I haven’t been around long enough to have an opinion, but while I had plenty of awesome conversations with awesome guys on the playa, I also handled a number of invasive guys. Many folks have pointed out that Black Rock City may be a temporary city, but it’s still a city — over 50,000 people attended in 2012. As with any community, our community will have to deal with both predators and clueless people.

* * *

An Assault

These issues were highlighted in September, right after Burning Man 2012, when a thread popped up on the biggest Burning Man forum called “Serial Rapist On The Playa.” The original post was written by a Burner named Miss R. Here’s an excerpt:

Thursday night my daughter (who is 19) and I went riding our bikes to a few art installations. We were sober. She decided to go see Burn Wall Street but I was tired. She took off on her bike. On the way to the installation it began to rain. She ducked into Want It Camp.

12 hours later she arrived back to our camp hallucinating and having been given an IV at the med tent.

She had been found behind Emerald City, face down and overdosing. The rangers assumed she had gotten drunk or taken drugs. Several hours after returning to our camp bruises appeared on her neck and it was obvious from other signs that she had been sexually attacked.

She IDENTIFIED her attacker -a DJ from Want It- and he had an accomplice.

There are NO rape kits on the playa nor forensic nurses. Because my daughter did not want to be taken to Reno, questioned for a 9th time (she had already given descriptions and a report to the Pershing County officials on the playa) she was told no charges could be filed. When a victim is taken from the playa to Reno they are given a rape kit there, all of their clothing taken for evidence and then they’redischarged; with no way back to the playa, their belongings or place to stay. If the victim is in shock and still under the influence of dosing they are not able to make a rational decision or find help either.

There were two other women reporting the same drugging, strangulation and rape that night.

This was my 7th Burn. Made sure my daughter was 18 before she was allowed to attend, and she is no dummy. She has been going to school and living in San Francisco for a year, I told her BM was safe. So she accepted a glass of water (she thought) from a DJ and bouncer at Want It.

Miss R also wrote a post on her blog. I corresponded with her by email, and she told me:

From my understanding there is more rape on the playa than is reported, and many cases -such as my daughter’s- are kept quiet. … Pershing county District Attorney was still unable to provide a police report after more than a month. The sheriff Dept, after my calls to them first, offered no help, and had no idea which policeman had been working with my daughter.

She was told that no charges would even be FILED as there was no evidence.. No One from the DA or Sherrif’s office offered any type of resources for us; i.e. counselling, STD testing, etc. we never DID get a copy of a police report.

which brings me to the Med Tent. My daughter was brought in by passers by. The med tent hooked her up to an IV for fluids, and immediately diagnosed her as a party girl who had too many drugs. Meanwhile she was covered with bite marks, strangulation marks around her neck and was clearly delusional. She told them she had taken no drugs but was dismissed.

I understand how many cases the med tent gets, and god knows how many idiots go out there and do it to themselves. As a long time Burner I do understand the pressure on all of the people who volunteer to work with 50,000 crazed Burners. My hats are off to them. [But] if the staff at the med tent had taken 5 more minutes to examine my daughter the rape would have been evident and she would have been treated with more than fluids. As it was, she was sick, hallucinating and did not even know she had been raped for 24 hours after the attack.

Please made it known in your article that if it were not for the Black Rock Rangers [the Burning Man safety patrol], we would never have known the identity of the rapist. Even though my daughter identified the man who led her to the rapist DJ, the Rangers were unable to convince the DA to attempt any type of prosecution. Two Rangers took the time to drive my daughter and myself past the camp where the incident took place. From the back seat, which was darkened, my daughter identified the man to the Rangers. These two amazing people pulled around the corner from this camp, called the police to meet them, and questioned the leader of Want It.

Want It was an Esplanade camp that had a good record with Burning Man. My daughter and I belong to a prominent Esplanade camp. She accepted what she believed to be a glass of water, from their DJ. She did not ask for a cocktail or anything else. In fact she did not ask for the water. It does go to show that one should never accept anything from another camp. Defeats the purpose of Burning Man culture in a way doesn’t it? We belong to Spanky’s Wine Bar. we are there TO provide not just a fun experience but serve wine to customers.

* * *

Official Resources

Burning Man has several different official outfits that handle various issues around the playa, one of which is the Black Rock Rangers. I spoke by phone with their Operations Manager, Curtis Kline, whose playa name is Tulsa. He told me:

What the Rangers are really good at is figuring out what’s really going on. If a participant at BM sees something that they are uncomfortable with — if, for example, a vulnerable participant is with someone who is creepy — then the Rangers are really good at interacting with those participants to find out what’s really going on. We have the training, skills, and experience to tell the difference between something unusual or strange, as opposed to something that has the potential to turn into a really bad situation. We also have a direct line to law enforcement or mental health [a branch of the Burning Man organization’s Emergency Services Department], so we can escalate to one of those groups if necessary.

In my very first Ranger shift, 2000, one of the tasks they gave me was — we went into camp after camp on the Esplanade [the main street of Black Rock City] and we would be looking into the shadows for people who we thought might be vulnerable and engaging them in conversation. Whether they were alone or with someone, we’d be engaging them in conversation and trying to figure out what’s going on, reunite them with their friends if necessary. We’d also look for the creep factors in anyone they might be hanging out with.

There’s also a hierarchy within the official Burning Man organization called the Emergency Services Department, and I spoke by phone directly to Joseph Pred, who founded ESD and serves as its Operations Chief. Joseph outlined the procedure for handling sexual assault, which involves liaising with law enforcement and putting survivors in touch with counselors and other supporters in the ESD Mental Health branch. He noted that “in a typical year, the average number of sexual assault cases we see is six, and maybe one case per year falls under stranger rape, which involves gathering evidence like rape kits.”

The Burning Man organization releases yearly Afterburn Reports, and you can read the ESD section from 2011 here. (The 2012 report has not yet been released.)

* * *

Community Resources

One of the interesting things about Black Rock City is the fact that it’s a huge but temporary city that only recently became a city. Burning Man only moved to the desert two decades ago, and it has accrued both official hierarchies and community organizations as part of its swift expansion (the population was 250 in 1991; 1,000 in 1993; and 25,400 in 2000). There’s a lot of emphasis on the various civic responsibilities of Black Rock City citizens. ESD Chief Joseph Pred told me that:

This isn’t just a law enforcement issue. Part of what we’re going to do to highlight Burning Man as an extraordinary place is reaching out to the community. We’re going to reach out to young men, veteran Burners, and the community as a whole about what consent means. We want to really focus on education … one of the things that makes Burning Man great is that the community really cares about the outcomes. It’s not like going to a concert; the community really cares what happens to everyone else.

And Tulsa, of the Black Rock Rangers, said that:

If we encounter a situation where we think the participant is in danger, then we will take some kind of action to protect the participant. Our first resource is always the community. We will try to find someone in the community who can help us to protect that vulnerable person. If a crime has been committed, then we will certainly call in law enforcement and have them talk to the participants. But if it’s just a creep factor, then our first action will be to try and find their friends or someone they know. Failing that, I’ve been in more than one situation where someone nearby is already interested in helping that person — for example, a nearby group of women who might help a vulnerable lone woman.

The root of where safety is going to come from at Burning Man is from the community itself. Of the huge number of participants at Burning Man, we have a very small number of Rangers. I always tell my friends — keep an eye out, keep an eye out for people who are vulnerable and for the creep factor. I think we have the logistical infrastructure in place to provide for our participants.

The Burning Man community is loosely organized into “theme camps,” which are groups of people who camp together and offer something theme-y to Black Rock City. Some camps display art; some offer food; some offer knowledge by hosting classes; some host dance events; some give performances; and so on. While many camps talk about consent, sexual consent is the entire focus of the Bureau of Erotic Discourse (BED), which was founded in 2005.

BED organizes an assortment of events whose documentation can be found here. Their workshops on consent are well-advertised and open to all; they post fliers in all the Port-A-Potties at the festival (which is no small task). One clever handout called Negotiating Beyond The Norm is reminiscent of some BDSM consent discussions. It features an adorable list of ideas for how to communicate unusual sexual desires, including sample statements like: “I can’t believe that we’ve been sleeping together for two months and this is the first time I’ve heard about this fantasy. I would absolutely love to act this one out with you, my little vampire.”

BED also has a handout about sexual assault at Burning Man. I emailed with Dr. Placebo, a core member of BED, and he told me:

One question we get asked a lot at the workshops is “How many rapes happen at Burning Man?” We have wondered about this ourselves, and our best answer is:

1. We don’t know for sure.

2. Rape is underreported.

3. Even one is too many.

* * *

Response to the September event

On the forum thread that followed Miss R’s post, there were responses from ESD Chief Joseph Pred, as well as from members of BED. There were also several other personal testimonials. I asked Joseph about the thread when I spoke to him, and he told me that Miss R had received bad information; “the information was given to her erroneously by law enforcement, not Burning Man staff.” He stated that Burning Man staff would provide a change of clothes when rape survivors go to Reno to report, if necessary (not all rape follow-ups require the survivor’s clothes to be taken for evidence). He further told me that Burning Man staff would provide safe rides both to and from Reno as necessary, and that “we will be training Pershing County law enforcement on the sexual assault practices currently in place so they are aware of all procedures and resources in the days before the event starts. This training is being done at request of law enforcement.”

The Burning Man Public Relations Manager, Megan Miller, told me by email that “a couple of working groups were created to follow up on this issue. There are a couple of cross-departmental ones internally that I’m involved in, which have begun to examine what we learned from this year and what we can do better in the future.” She also wrote a blog post soon after the forum thread went up, in which she reiterated the general call to action towards the community. Furthermore, in the blog post, Megan addressed the question of rape kits:

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.

In various coverage since the discussion started, a lot of people have suggested that rape kits should be offered despite the difficulty. I spoke to a Burner and consent activist named Kitty Stryker by email, and she wrote to me:

I’m frustrated at Burning Man’s reluctance to find radical ways to utilize rape kits on the playa …. Are you really telling me we’re a community that can build an entire city in a couple weeks, with a medical center that can set bones, internet access, recycling, radio stations, and we can make art that blows people’s minds, but we can’t figure out how to take a rape kit sample on playa and get it to Reno for processing? I don’t believe that. If it was a priority, I suspect we could find a solution.

I am not a forensic examiner, but I am a trained advocate for sexual assault survivors, and I’m familiar with the challenges of administering rape kits. Even in a major city with great facilities like Chicago, rape kits are long and complicated processes, and one of the most complicated parts of the process is the “chain of evidence.” There are important laws about, for example, how the kits must be stored and kept under observation by trained professionals at all times. If rape kits are administered in sketchy circumstances, then they become questionable in court, and are worse than useless. It’s also worth noting that Nevada in particular, where the Black Rock Desert is located, has tough certification requirements around administering rape kits; these minutes from a June 2012 State of Nevada Victims’ Rights sub-committee contain a lot of relevant information.

I would, of course, personally feel happier if it were possible for rape survivors to choose to receive rape kits on the playa. It may be possible that there is a radical solution here; I hung out in a sauna one night on the playa in 2012, and if you ask me, a camp-out sauna at night in the Black Rock Desert means that anything’s possible. But it’s obviously crucial that rape kit evidence be valid if it is taken.

Part of the problem is not just the biological viability of the evidence; it’s the social viability. Will a jury — a group of 12 individuals with all the biases that individuals in our culture often have — trust the evidence of a rape kit that was taken in the midst of a legendary arts festival, even if the kit was administered in technically ideal conditions? I would love to believe that they would, but given that we live in a culture where survivors’ stories are questioned in the best of conditions, I believe that getting a Black Rock City rape kit allowed as evidence in court would be an uphill battle at the very least. (I’ll talk about this more in the Analysis section, which is coming up next.)

Of course, difficulty gathering evidence and getting a conviction is old news for consent activists in the “default world,” too — i.e. everywhere outside Black Rock City. Thus, anti-rape activists focus a lot of effort on community response. So I was glad to see the “mayor” of Camp Want It (the camp whose DJ was named by Miss R in her original post) respond on her thread:

My name is Jason. This is not my playa name, but my REAL name – as this is a very REAL situation at hand. I am the head steward (or “mayor”) of Want It. I was just made aware of this thread by fellow camp mates. Myself, along with a few other core planners in camp, were apprised of the situation on Sunday, 9/2 when we were approached by rangers to discuss what happened. We were stunned to hear of what happened and we cooperated with the rangers as much as we could. We even agreed to give the rangers access to search individual personal spaces within camp to see if they could locate any of the victim’s missing personal belongings. None of the girl’s items were recovered during their brief search. However, the rangers told us they would be back later that day, or the following day, to further discuss. We never heard from the rangers again. We have since been trying to piece together information and facts from that night with the intention of approaching the lead investigating ranger (whose information we have). Till now, we had no idea whether our camp was still implicated in, or associated with, this case. We also were never given any indication of the victim’s identity or where she was camped… until this ePLaya thread.

This was my 13th year at Burning Man and my 10th year with Want It. Want It has always striven to provide a safe camp for both our own camp mates as well as for our guests. Please know that we are taking this matter VERY seriously and that we will do whatever we can to help the authorities, the victim, and the victim’s friend’s and family. We also ask that the community please withhold any judgements against our camp, performers or guests until all the facts have been made clear. Such accusations have the ability to destroy the reputations of those who have nothing but the purest and best of intentions. We ask that if anyone in the community has any information that may help us, then please contact us or the victim’s family/friends immediately.

I followed up with Want It through their Facebook page, where there has been a bunch of commentary. I wasn’t able to get in touch with Jason, but I spoke to an organizer named Charles Smith, whose playa name is Princess. He told me that:

one individual accused of the rape is a member of our camp. however, all of his time can be accounted for by multiple people of both sexes. I can respond to all of the claims but it’d be our word vs. her/the mothers word and that’s just not something we can do. no way that we want to drag a victim through that sort of thing

no charges were filed. he wasn’t even asked to leave and we were prepared for that. they asked to search things and we gave them open access to everything, including our personal spaces as we had absolutely nothing to hide. we got all the info back to the rangers and didn’t hear anything definitive back. through others in the org we heard that they caught someone and were prosecuting, hoping he’d turn on his partner. they were not part of our camp. this is technically hearsay of course, but so much on the playa is.

the community as a whole seemed to be outraged that there are no rape kits on the playa. I also heard and saw some people attacking the mother for things like leaving her newbie daughter alone on the playa and not taking her daughter off the playa to get help after it happened, all which i/we felt were inappropriate. there were also more than a few that went after us and as a result there’s a good possibility we may carry this label for awhile. once such a accusation is made it’s really impossible to un-do it. I’m a bit surprised that the forum allowed her post naming a camp, knowing what such a thing can do. Again, what’s been done is done, we can only work harder towards making our camp a safer place.

I asked after plans to make Want It safer, and he responded:

While we have not finalized next years plans we do have a outline with goals in the works to improve safety in and around our camp with basic things like lighting strips around the perimeter of camp, and patrols to make sure we don’t have any unwanted creepers back there, as well as more monitoring of people that are in our lounge as guests.

when I say monitoring guests I mean, watching out for creepy guys, strange behavior, etc… and looking out for guests that may be asleep or passed out and so on to make sure if they need medical care they get it. if they need a safe spot to rest, they’ll have it. not a matter of intruding, but we need to warn people that are acting inappropriately. we chased several people out of camp this year.

and i myself dealt with someone that drifted into the back of the bar one night. i thought that she’d maybe had too much of something and invited her to sit on a stool to the side of the bar so that she could be comfortable and get herself oriented

as some time went on it seemed like maybe she was on a heavy roll or possibly tripping. i’ve been out there 10 years now and seen quite a bit of that type of thing. she got cold so i grabbed a fur of mine and moved her into the lounge where it was warmer and sat her a sofa within my sight. she was a little agitated, but once i went over and sat with her she calmed down. she said she couldn’t figure out where she was or how she got there. she was a newbie, and that sort of thing happens. over the next couple of hours it came out that she’d possibly been drugged.

i asked if she was ok physically and she said yes, but needed some time to get her wits together. she wanted to walk across the playa back to her camp, but it was still dark out so i kept her with us and introduced her to some friends, made sure she had water and a bit of food and a little bit later when it was light out she took off (safely wrapped in my fur). she did come back every day after that and ended up having a good burn despite the rocky start

so, i guess i’m telling you this because i saw something firsthand and we heard about people getting drugged at other camps on the playa. the creeps are out there.

* * *


This is a complicated story, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. The community should keep pressing the Burning Man organization to deal with these situations better in the future, but I do believe that the organization is dedicated to finding solutions to the law enforcement problems. Still, the truth is that — as everyone throughout this event kept saying — the community is going to have to step up for this one.

If we lived in a culture that placed a higher priority on consent at all times, then this would be a different story with a different set of incentives and realities. But we don’t. Furthermore, Burning Man is a subculture with particular social vulnerabilities within the larger culture. Those social vulnerabilities are going to make official organization and law enforcement hard.

* * *


I see a lot of the issues with sexual assault at Burning Man as related to issues of sexual assault within the BDSM community. Both communities contain lots of good-hearted and honorable people, but both communities are also uniquely vulnerable because of how rape culture shapes the context in which our subcultures exist. I mention this because I think that we can share tactics and ideas. I hope that even BDSMers who are unfamiliar with Burners will be willing to look at the similarities, and vice versa.

Here are three big factors making us vulnerable:

Firstly, both the BDSM community and the Burning Man community have a strong emphasis on sexual exploration, on respecting people’s sexual preferences and identities. This is at odds with the larger culture and it means that both communities tend to be leery of judging sexual events negatively, because we’re so accustomed to being ill-judged for consensual acts.

Secondly, and relatedly, both communities feel lots of anxiety about outsiders’ judgments. Like many BDSM groups, the Burning Man community discourages taking pictures of Burners without permission. In fact, every Burner signs a waiver that gives copyright of their photographs partly to Burning Man, and one reason for this is to protect attendees from having their presence at the festival known to the public against their will. A commenter on a recent Facebook thread stated:

Burning Man can be twisted against you, in legal situations. Trust me, I know. Why do you think I’ve had a billion fake profile names. I just recently posted an actual picture of my face. You can’t trust most of the general public to understand what we do.

This means that community members are often leery of reporting crimes. It’s important to note that this anxiety is also often accurate, in that outsiders often have odd reactions to community members; fear of outsiders’ reactions is not “just paranoia,” it’s quite sensible.

Thirdly, there’s heavy drug culture — which is much more strongly present in the Burning Man community than the BDSM community. My impression is that at least 50% (if not more) of BDSM spaces are deliberately free of drugs and alcohol. That kind of thing can still be found among some BDSMers, though.

Perhaps in part because of our particular vulnerabilities, both the BDSM community and the Burning Man community have large contingents pushing for extremely careful consent practices. At Burning Man, this is spearheaded by BED. Among BDSMers, this push has been reflected in the work of BDSM-feminist writers like myself and Thomas MacAulay Millar at this very blog; Tracy Clark-Flory wrote an overview of one larger initiative in early 2012 for Salon.

Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. These vulnerabilities are not our fault. However, they are still vulnerabilities, legally and socially — and predators know that they exist.

* * *

Predators, Clueless People, and Benefit of the Doubt

At one point, in 2012, a friend distributed a stack of red and yellow cards to my group at a dance camp. They were “creeper move” cards, which were originally developed by a journalist named KC to use at the hacker conference DefCon. The yellow cards say:

Creeper Move! If you have received this card, you have done something mildly inappropriate to the person who handed it to you. Your intentions might have been good, but before future engagement make sure that you are being respectful and mindful of people’s boundaries.

The red ones say:

Creeper Move! If you have received this card, you have done something wildly inappropriate or otherwise harassed the person who handed it to you. You should be happy you got the card and not a punch in the face. Check yourself — you might not be this lucky twice!

I am a fan of these cards, as I’ve often wished that there was clearer feedback for people who screw these situations up. My personality often inclines towards giving people — all people — the benefit of the doubt in such situations. The cards certainly are not perfect, though. Indeed, right after I received a stack of them, a dude came up to me and my friends and aggressively started grabbing us, talking over us, etc. I was so entertained by the juxtaposition that I started laughing; one of my friends got flustered trying to explain why I was laughing, and in all the commotion we forgot to give the dude any creeper cards.

The other thing about giving the benefit of the doubt is that an overall problem of sexual violence — in any culture — is the fact that predators thrive within the unclear situations that might legitimately be accidental. There are definitely predators reading this article, and for them, all the painstaking feminist analyses of rape culture are not warnings. To a predator, our analyses are road maps for how to get away with committing rape. So it kind of freaks me out when I write this stuff down publicly. Yet it’s an important step towards dealing with it.

Predators, as a general rule, spend more time thinking about the habits of their prey than prey spends thinking about predators. They are specialists, after all. The prey has to specialize in order to understand them in return. As Thomas MacAulay Millar has noted at this here blog, research supports the argument that:

The major difference between the incarcerated and the non-incarcerated rapists are that the former cannot or do not confine themselves to tactics that are low-risk to them. The undetected rapists overwhelmingly use minimal or no force, rely mostly on alcohol and rape their acquaintances. They create situations where the culture will protect them by making excuses for them and questioning or denying their victims. Incarcerated rapists, I think, are just the ones who use the tactics that society is more willing to recognize as rape and less willing to make excuses for.

* * *


The first social vulnerability of Burning Man — unwillingness to judge sexual events negatively — probably played a role in the medical tent’s failure to notice their patient’s trauma. The second vulnerability — outsiders’ judgments — probably played a role in the fact that charges weren’t pressed. The third vulnerability — heavy drug use — is the biggest one, and its dimensions shape the story from start to finish. (We also have all the normal victim-blamey dynamics, like people who blamed Miss R for leaving her daughter alone on the playa. I presume I don’t have to spell those out.)

I am not sure what it would take to get someone convicted for rape in Black Rock City. It seems possible that the justice systems of the default world simply won’t serve that function for us, no matter how much training we give them. I would like to see more realistic conversation about this in the community; if it’s true that we can’t rely on the legal system, then we have to think carefully about what that implies.

Like BDSMers, Burners who want a safe environment will have to build it among the community, with people who are familiar with our culture. This will indeed involve watching for strange behavior, as the Rangers already do, and as the organizer of Want It described. We’re known for weird behavior, so we’re the best ones to figure out how to look for weird behavior among our weird behavior. Let’s keep that up.

But, as those of us who research rape already know, the majority of these crimes don’t happen with weird strangers; they happen with people the victim already knows. And as I already pointed out, predators are on the lookout for cultural gaps to exploit. So the only real long-term solution is to change the culture.

There are two components to changing the culture. The first is that we call out the people who violate boundaries, even when they’re our friends. It’s relatively easy to watch for outsiders who behave oddly. It’s much harder to talk about community members who hurt people. Maybe Creep Cards will help with this, but sometimes stronger measures will be called for.

To that end, I recognize that what Want It camp has gone through was painful for the whole group. But whether their campmate is guilty or not, this is part of the Burning Man community process of incentivizing good behavior. We as a community are making it clear that no, we’re actually not as vulnerable as we might appear. (Readers will probably be unsurprised to know that similar issues around naming abusers have surfaced in the BDSM community; Tracy Clark-Flory has a good summary of that, too, including quotes from Thomas.)

A sex activist and Burner friend of mine named Pepper Mint, who camps with Poly Asylum, wrote to me by email that:

I can also confirm that the playa felt extra-rapey this year. I got a total of three reports of harassment directly from friends. And it was underscored for me because someone asked my camp (pre-playa) to exclude her rapist who hangs out in poly circles. After being asked to leave our (and the other poly) camp, said rapist dude then proceeded to stalk her all over playa, threaten lawsuits, and try to get law enforcement involved on his side.

Much like with BDSM, I don’t think we can rely on the authorities or even the wider community to help protect people. As you can probably guess from the above, I’m a strong advocate of naming names, and having a culture where doing so is acceptable. That’s the only way I’ve seen actual progress in sexual minority communities around sexual assault. Naming people may in fact sully some reputations incorrectly, but it’s important to remember that the vast majority of accusations are correct — the highest estimates put false accusations at 10%, or 1 in 10. I have yet to see a false accusation, and I’ve thrown a lot of folks out of parties at this point (though admittedly very few for full-on sexual assault). I’m okay with the occasional guy having to explain some inaccurate stuff to his social circle if it means that rape actually carries a social cost in our communities. I’m even willing to be that guy.

Pepper suggested that in such cases, everyone in the community should at least know the identity of the accused. I think it’s worth asking: What are the implications of enabling that information to remain secret? When we recognize that predators exploit gaps in the culture, how can we narrow those gaps? How should the wider Burning Man community handle Want It Camp in the future?

The second part of changing the culture is bigger and more long-term, and that’s moving towards a more constant process of consent during sexual interactions. I thought this comment was good, left by Caleb on one of the many relevant blog posts:

Our tribe loves sex, and we have developed at Burning Man an incredible space where sexual diversity is truly allowed to flourish. But the way we think and talk about it is off point. Whatever your appetites and practices, the only thing that actually matters when it comes to sex is consent. Period. Get consent early and often, because that is what it means to PARTICIPATE. Otherwise you are just a consumer, just like in the default world. This is what our principles demand, and we need to enforce it culturally the same way we enforce LNT or radical self-reliance — namely by COMMUNICATING with and ACCULTURATING people who don’t seem to get it, whether they are our campmates, friends, or strangers on the street.

… I take issue with the idea that the rapists among us aren’t burners, or are somehow “other.” Anyone who doesn’t make consent the most important thing about every single sexual interaction could be a rapist under the right circumstances, and I think that most men and many women among us have at least experienced that disconnect (even if we got lucky and consent was actually present). Getting consent is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced, and if we don’t teach it to our community and remind our citizens to practice it, then people will continue to rape, just like they do everywhere else in our society.

What does learning and practicing consent look like? It can look like safewords or pre-sex conversations or lots of other sex signals, including the BED handout I mentioned about Negotiating Beyond The Norm — but it’s not just about sex, not really.

Learning and practicing consent looks like asking out loud before you take a picture. It looks like asking before you give a hug, whether verbally or non-verbally (for example, by opening your arms and raising your eyebrows). It looks like checking in with friends and partners if they react in a way you didn’t expect. It looks like monitoring your and your friends’ intoxication levels. It looks like apologizing when you screw up. It looks like demanding accountability when other people screw up. It’s having an ongoing conversation that includes active response from the partner (even if those responses are non-verbal).

I’m not going to claim that these issues aren’t complex and difficult. Here, I’ll bold it: these issues can be incredibly complex and difficult. A lot of my previous writing has focused on the complexities and difficulties of consent and community dynamics around it. I know there’s lots of nuance in the world. I know that verbal communication is hard and that non-verbal communication is a big thing. I know that practicing good consent goes against a lot of hardcore cultural expectations and, sometimes, it’s hard for other reasons too. I know. But although consent can be complicated, we’re responsible — all of us — and these questions are too important to walk away from.

[Updated to add:] It may be helpful for us to look at approaches to community justice that have been developed by other communities that feel they can’t rely on law enforcement. Terms of art include “restorative justice” and “transformative justice.”

As a final note, I want to add a heartfelt wish that Miss R and her daughter will be okay. My thoughts are with them.

* * *


Because this is an article about sexual assault at Burning Man, I will note for the sake of completeness that there are many important issues around intoxicants and consent. I think Burners have an opportunity to shed particular light on the question of how to have consensual sex while intoxicated, just as some BDSMers have taken the opportunity to shed particular light on consent during sexual encounters that are calculated to push boundaries. These are important conversations! However, these are not conversations that I feel comfortable having in the context of recent events at Burning Man — because what happened here was a calculated assault by a predator, and I don’t want to distract from that.

Comments will be moderated by Thomas, not Clarisse.

[Ed. note: My mod policy is to only allow discussion that I think moves the ball forward. I will not approve rape apologist comments. I also will not approve comments that use the post as an excuse for open-ended or unrelated bashing of Burning Man. While I’m not a burner and have no loyalty to the event or the organization, people’s attacks on of defense of the event in general or its culture would likely crowd out all other conversation.]

75 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2013 2:41 pm

    This kind of doesn’t surprise me. Not even a little bit. And it’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t seriously consider going to Burning Man. The way I see it, Burning Man is, in great part, about the joy of kicking of societal restrictions. Doing drugs. Having sex. Forgetting about the day-to-day grind of responsibilities. NOT having to self-police, but rather just doing what feels right, making art, living in the moment, acting on impulse. Is this inaccurate?

    Assuming it’s not inaccurate, I see the appeal – but there’s just no way, in the society we live in, for women to have that experience safely while men are there, unless the men have been very carefully screened (which obviously isn’t possible in a semi-open event with 50K attendees). Not self-policing, just doing what feels right, living in the moment, acting on impulse – these are all things that a) if done by women, leave them open to predatory behavior, and b) provide a lot of cover for predation and rape-excuses. It’s lovely to talk about practicing good consent behavior and whatnot, and sure, yes, that might help at the margins. But it assumes good-faith desire to obtain consent, which is not something predators have.

    This is part of why I have a reflexively annoyed reaction to Burning Man. I would love to be able to have that experience, in reasonable safety. But in the society we have today, by its nature, it’s a man’s game. That makes me sad.

    • January 3, 2013 3:33 pm

      BTW, I want to be clear that I’m not rape-apologizing here. I think women SHOULD be able to have this experience and not get raped, or be blamed for rape if they do. I don’t think a woman who chooses not to self-police, who chooses to be in an environment where she acts more impulsively and is open to more drugs and sex, somehow deserves whatever she gets or anything like that. I’m just saying, if one went out to design a circumstance where rape would be harder to prevent and easy to obfuscate or get away with, it would basically look like what BM looks like to me (granted, an outsider) – an environment in which social norms are unclear (making it more difficult for third parties to know when they can/should step in), in which people are encouraged to act impulsively, and in which there are lots of intoxicants around. It’s not clear to me how you change that. I’m always pro-consent education, but I don’t think it’s a primary solution in this case, because I don’t think this is about men just misreading signals. I think it’s about situations like BM being naturally permissive environments (structurally, not culturally – I’m not suggesting this is something the average Burners WANTS) for predators.

      • Josh permalink
        July 21, 2013 2:32 am

        I agree with you wholeheartedly, I can’t believe I just read that entire article. I’m not the type that’s into this sort of thing – I was simply browsing youtube and stumbled upon a burning man video and wanted to learn more – I ended up here.

        I think the only way this sort of thing could be considered safe for woman is if it we’re screened and allowed by the government, have a higher standard of medical and police presence. Also, 50,000 people is too many, there are bound to be many more instances like this with that kind of number.

        Anyways, just my two cents.

        Very interesting, good read.

    • Ian Epperson permalink
      January 3, 2013 11:12 pm

      Unfortunately, too too many people hold views similar to yours and believe that Burningman means “anything goes” – to answer your question, it is not an accurate view. It is a counter-culture where the rules are very different, but there are indeed rules. From an outside perspective, there is often a focus on what is socially acceptable at BM while ignoring the reverse – those items that are verboten at BM but socially acceptable in the larger society.

      Often, when I point out that I’ve taken my kids to BM and camped within a kid-focused village (Kidsville) a nieve listener will think twice about their preconceptions. Sex and drugs and doing-whatever-you-want doesn’t define Burningman for a majority of participants. This misconception plays into the hands of predators – they might mistakenly believe that they’ll be accepted and can do whatever they want. From the outside, those unfamiliar with the culture will be more apt to blame the victim for putting themselves in this (imaginary) environment. For those reasons, I think it’s important that we dispel that misconception whenever possible.

      • January 4, 2013 1:47 pm

        I appreciate your taking the time to educate me. AND, rereading the article, I think my comments are too general anyway relative to what the author was looking for, so I’m not going to comment further. 🙂

    • Elliott permalink
      January 3, 2013 11:42 pm

      >Not self-policing, making art, just doing what feels right, living in the moment, acting on impulse

      Sigh. Honestly, this is a perfect example of why people who haven’t been to Burning Man should kindly refrain from commenting on an issue that pertains exclusively to Burning Man- you really, really don’t understand it.

      Many people (quite obviously, such as yourself) have the impression that BM is a week-long orgy of hedonism, drugs, sex, art, being naked and promicuous, for all or most of its attendees. Reckless abandon to the most extreme degree. If that sounds familiar to your mind, step out of the room and leave the building. You are not welcome in productive discussion, because you are ignorant and we do not have the time, patience, or frankly even ability to educate you.

      Burning Man is a highly intentional event. In fact, I am willing to make the statement that everyone that I spent time talking to on the playa was attending their Burn with more intention than any people I’ve talked to in the default world. Attendees spend literally the entire year, or often multiple years, creating art and experiences for the benefit of others. Similarly, attendees will often think very hard about what sort of Burn experience they wish to have- companionship, art, exploring desert survival or sexual boundaries, exposing oneself to radically different music, or attending with a significant other with the hope of turning over a new leaf.

      Your post gives literally no credit to males OR females at all, and is an example of how modern feminist discourse can alienate those who would be ardent supporters. Shame on you, and please refrain from harshly, rashly, and unfairly lashing out at things that you do not and cannot understand.

      • January 4, 2013 1:31 pm

        So on the one hand, I’m sympathetic to the concept that people from a particular community deserve to be able to talk freely without having to spend all their time educating outsiders. God knows! I tried to qualify my post to make it clear that what I was talking about seemed to me to be a structural issue having to do with an environment of disrupted social norms (50,000 people very well all be being intentional about their experience, but I find it difficult to believe that they’re all being intentional in precisely the same direction or that they fully understand exactly how each of the other 50,000 is experiencing it) and widespread availability and use of intoxicants (which I have no moral problem with whatsoever, note). I’m certainly happy to believe it is not a cultural issue; that the vast majority of Burners take Burning Man seriously, that they are not predators, and that they absolutely don’t want to enable predators. “Reckless abandon to the most extreme degree” was NOT actually what I was trying to describe, though I can see how it sounded like I was, so:

        a) I may well not have communicated well, giving the impression that I just thought BM was bad or full of irresponsible people, or that I wanted to “lash out” at it, in which case I apologize.
        b) I might still be totally wrong about either of the factors I focused on above – BM might have extremely clear shared norms that everyone understands and would be obvious to me if I went, or intoxicants might be quite rare at BM – in which case I would be happy to be educated, although I don’t assume it is anyone’s responsibility to do so.

        However, I’m not so sympathetic to the part where you tried to shame me for speaking up on a public blog post in a relatively general-issues blog, that had no attached warning asking non-Burners not to comment. I’m particularly unsympathetic to it when it comes with a heaping side-helping of “you’re doing feminism wrong in ways that will make people not like you, so shut up!”

      • January 4, 2013 3:27 pm

        New comment shitcanned for multiple reasons. The idea that non-Burners have to shut up about anything that happens within Burner culture on this blog has zero currency. It’s as absurd as suggesting that only Penn State alums can comment on Sandusky, or only Steubenville residents can comment on the Steubenville gang rape. I am not having it. I tightly moderate comments — free speech is a limitation on government power, not on mine –and I usually don’t do warnings, but I’m giving you a warning. If you need to explain something about Burner culture to the non-Burners to make a point you want to make, go ahead. If you want to declare that Burners don’t have to answer to the rest of the world, my banhammer will assist you to fuck off away from my blog.

      • January 4, 2013 7:02 pm

        I’m a burner. I think K actually hit the nail on the head despite being an outsider to burn culture. That tension between letting go and safety DOES exist. Not everyone who goes to a burn cares about burner principles or burn culture. Even those who do don’t all agree on what intentionality means. Drug use and drinking are common (although not as common as people make it out–I’ve always been drug free and generally alcohol free and know many others who also go that route). There are predators who take advantage of the principle of radical inclusivity. My regional burn had a huge problem exiling a sexual predator because it was so easy for his friends to handwave his behavior as misunderstandings and portray him as the persecuted victim.

  2. January 3, 2013 3:15 pm

    I think Celeb’s forum post is excellent in that it puts a finger on exactly why we expect Burning Man to be a rape free place; participation is a central value of the community. It also highlights the importance of preventing and eradicating rape culture within BRC. Rape at BM erodes the spirit of the community and serves as a visible sign that the city is no longer sustaining BM values.

  3. Lauren permalink
    January 3, 2013 6:17 pm

    I have to say as a longish-time burner, these statistics were higher than I expected. Not because I am surprised that bad things happen at Burning Man but because I personally have always felt extremely safe at the event – I always felt a sense of communion and community with those around me, always felt that people nearby were paying attention to my well-being and would step in to help and defend me if necessary.

    I also feel empowered when I am on the playa to be more honest and direct – to state my boundaries and to warn others when I saw behavior that seemed sketchy.

    This article made me realize that maybe not everyone feels as safe or is as safe as I have felt. Maybe I have been lucky in my experiences and associations. I feel motivated to talk more explicitly with my campmates and other burners about boundaries, consent, watching out for creeps, and speaking up. Thanks for this article, Clarisse.

    • Curtis permalink
      January 10, 2013 1:47 pm

      I am glad to hear that this article made a long-time Burner feel this way. I hope that many more Burners will feel as Lauren did when reading this. We need more people at Burning Man to be focused on this issue as the volume and diversity of participants continues to increase. Thank you, Clarisse, for a well-written and thoroughly researched article.

  4. Clarisse Thorn permalink
    January 3, 2013 6:30 pm

    I should have included resources on transformative justice in the original article — Thomas, could you edit that link into the end of the Conclusions section? Thanks.

  5. January 3, 2013 6:37 pm

    Thank you so much for doing the research and background interviews on this story. I appreciate the consideration of the mayor of Want It, and did see his comments on the ePlaya thread before it was closed down.
    It seems that many people are addressing the use of drugs on the playa, but in the case of my daughter’s rape she was ‘dosed.’ The night of her attack I begged her to stay back at camp with me; it was fairly late as we’d spent a great day and earlier evening together, and was beginning to rain as well.
    Neither of us had foreseen something this gruesome as the outcome of a bike ride. This was my 7th Burn. I am a member of a well-known BDSM Esplanade camp and have NEVER known anyone who was physically attacked, raped, strangled, dosed, or left to choke on their own vomit. Not to mention all of the above at once.
    To have it happen to my own daughter is unbearable.

    I continue to applaud the Rangers (especially Blue, Cajun and our special Ranger Angel who camps with us at Spanky’s) for their efforts in educating the police.

    I applaud you for tackling such a prickly subject, fraught with subjects ranging from rape, to police training, society’s views on ‘outsider’ practices, and deep human feelings.
    Dig the Crepper Cards heh.
    We’ve thrown our share out of the bar/camp over the years.

    Thank you again.
    Miss R

  6. hellboundbuddha permalink
    January 3, 2013 8:29 pm

    Interesting read. As a long time burner and it kills me that anyone has to go through this sort of thing. My heart goes out to the victim and her family. Hopefully, this article will help keep the dialog open about what improvements can be made and precautions taken to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.

    I hadn’t heard about the “creeper move” cards and think that they’d be a great thing if they were used by everyone on the playa. Use red and yellow cards the size of a playing card that are visible to others if handed out. If it becomes a universally accepting thing and are thought of as something that are essential (like a canteen or pee funnel for example) then people will use them and hopefully check some of the creeper behavior. It also puts someone on notice in a group so that others are aware of an individual in their midst that needs watching. It’s also an easy way to deal with creepers and unwanted advances by men/women. These would be great in every day normal life if you think about it. Out at a club…. Anyway, I’ll be talking to my camp about printing these up for burners to use this year.

  7. Ari permalink
    January 3, 2013 9:37 pm

    The counter culture of burningman suffers from a common problem of many counter cultures, the slow often unwilling acceptance that it’s not immune to mundane societal problems and that maybe it’s not nearly as enlightened as it thought.

    Burningman as an event has grown significantly over the last 5 years or so, and I think the time that you can go and expect everyone to ‘get it’ is quickly fading. It just means it’s time for us burners to stand up and actively promote our ideals.

    “the fact that predators thrive within the unclear situations that might legitimately be accidental.”
    I think many actively promote the idea and mythos of accidental situations. Providing a veil of fear and mistrust they hide in and justify their actions with.

    “There are definitely predators reading this article, and for them, all the painstaking feminist analyses of rape culture are not warnings.”
    Dear current and future predators. Hi. I am watching. As are many others. Your behavior will not be tolerated.

  8. roissy permalink
    January 5, 2013 6:30 pm

    The sexual assaults are not new to Burning Mam. My late wife attend from 94. Her first year her girlfriend accepted a “tainted” drink from some camp and woke up a day later without any clothes, we NEVER accept drinks from anyone we do not know. There has always been a few creeps on Playa, this year with the greater number of newbies, I suspect the number has increased.
    As for drug use, I split it into thirds. The first third is pretty intoxicated. The second third is slightly intoxicated. And the last third (I feel this number is higher.) like myself is straight.
    (maybe a bit too much Rock Star.)

  9. Venus Jones permalink
    January 6, 2013 3:01 pm

    I haven’t attended Burning Man since 2008, but was very involved in volunteering for the event in communications and media from 1998-2004. We spent a lot of time looking at how the event was portrayed to the world at large.

    Burning Man considers itself an alternative culture/community, but it is still a product of the society that created it. Misogyny and objectification of women is rampant. I have looked at thousands of images of Burning Man from both regular participants and members of the media, and the women are usually portrayed in exactly the same way you would see them in mainstream media: young, thin and stereotypically pretty (though with dreads, piercings and tattoos to delineate them as Burners). I remember several years back, a fashion photographer had submitted a book idea he had for “The Women of Burning Man.” I didn’t see a single woman who was covered in head to toe in dust and holding a welding torch, let alone women who were past 35 or had a BMI of higher than 15. It certainly wasn’t representative of the women I knew who attended the event and helped create it. I would say that this sort of imagery creates an idea in the larger public eye that Burning Man is full of hot chicks who are ripe for picking up. There are definitely men who attend solely for that reason, who suffer the same sort of rejection they do in the default world. If they are lucky, they will have some sort of experience that will change their perspective on something, but sexually I would guess that it reinforces the worldview they arrive with, and most of them don’t get laid. (I sometimes wonder if Radical Entitlement is the 11th tenet of the group?)

    Like most alternative groups, Burning Man culture definitely suffers from an abundance of tolerance for abusers, predators, sociopaths and bullies. I know that in my own group of friends, many of whom have been involved in Burning Man for 15-20 years, there have been a few guys that have gone far beyond creepy and actually assaulted women, who have not been shown the door. The women will talk amongst themselves and share information and generally try to avoid being around these dudes alone, but the guys have often responded with either (a) “I don’t want to hear about that, so-and-so is my friend, he would never do something like that!” or (b) “We have to be inclusive!” Radical Inclusion is a nice tenet, and I love the idea of being welcoming to people, especially those who have often felt like outsiders in society, but when there are often zero consequences for those who break the social contract repeatedly, good people leave and the jerks stay. It’s a big part of the reason I’m no longer involved with the event.

    And lastly, let there be no illusions: rape culture is alive and well in Burner communities. A few years back, there was a guy in the Austin burners who had criminal charges brought against him for sexual assault by three separate women, and much of the conversation was still of the “he said/she said” variety and arguing that the guy shouldn’t be shown the door (ultimately he was). Hell, there was an assault by one of Burning Man’s senior staffers on a woman several years back (there were consequences for his actions, but I know many were not happy about how it was handled). Again, most burners were raised in American culture, and bring the baggage of it along with them when they attend the event.

    A friend recently said to me that the measure of how truly progressive a community is can be seen in how they handle conflict. Over the years, I have seen several examples in the regionals and individual camps/groups/communities of “we just don’t want to deal with this issue.” I hope for the people still involved that this changes (I do feel like BMOrg does a pretty good job for the most part of trying to address the sticky stuff that comes along with growing pains), but in the smaller entities under the umbrella who consider themselves burner groups, there is a very long way to go.

    • January 27, 2013 12:36 pm

      Last year there was another guy named in the Austin Burner Community, and the exact same thing happened. The community protected him. He’s the man mentioned by Pepper Mint in the above article. So, not much has changed in all these years.

  10. Jake permalink
    January 7, 2013 8:34 pm

    I think that it is disingenuous to say that Burning Man as a culture is slow to or does not accept that there are dangers inherent in the event or the culture. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people who spent much of their time at Burning Man looking after the safety and security of others, as well as helping pick up the pieces when something has gone wrong.

    I feel like the last few years have been full of people asking me why Burning Man doesn’t do X. This ignores the fact that Burning Man has always embraced and supported participant-lead efforts, rather than sitting in a room trying to think up new idea for services to provide. I’ve always considered that if it wasn’t porta potties, the Man, or a piece of desert to put my stuff down on, I needed to bring it. Yes, it is a terrible thing that women (and men) are sexually assaulted at Burning Man, who wouldn’t?

    Let me put it this way: Cities with bad neighborhoods don’t have areas that improve without those communities coming forward and committing to those areas improving. Sure, you can send in more cops (because everyone wants more cops at Burning Man, right?), and sure, you can bulldoze a few bad areas that you have decided to write off, but in the end it is community participation that causes areas to turn around. We can no longer rest on our laurels and talk about how great the Burning Man community is/was/has been, we need to take action to make our neighborhoods safer, and that starts at the level of each of us, not with lists of things that we think that someone else should do.

    • Jake permalink
      January 7, 2013 8:44 pm

      Correction to the above line, “Yes, it is a terrible thing that women (and men) are sexually assaulted at Burning Man, who wouldn’t?” should read:

      Yes, it is a terrible thing that women (and men) are sexually assaulted at Burning Man, who wouldn’t think that?

    • January 8, 2013 1:00 pm

      I’ve been going back and forth on responding to this because it’s hard for me to respond without getting into the details of what happened in Austin when Atomic was finally officially banned from Burn events, which I feel is a bit of a derailing. At the same time, our struggles point to how hard it is for any individual to affect structural change, so even though I agree with some of your point about the importance of doing the changes we want to happen, I think the end line places too much importance on individual actions. This is a deep structural, community issue.

      So here’s why the struggle with Atomic are relevant, IMHO. By the time Atomic was finally banned, it was the culmination of literally years of controversy about him. I had been warned about him SIX YEARS before the ban. Individuals DID do things to try and make the community safer–people talked; he’d been banned from a co-op that was a major Burner hub. I am forever grateful that people were willing to name his name and speak out about the issues with him in the private forums available to them, but here’s the problem with individual actions… when you are new in a community, and some people talk about the predator in your midst while others talk about how he’s unfairly persecuted for being more punk rock, more edgy, more boundary pushing than the softer dirty hippy main form of Burner counterculture, people don’t always know who to listen to. Predators refine their behavior to seem sympathetic.

      And I argue that the default culture we carry with us causes communities to be more sympathetic to the predators. There is SUCH stigma against naming names. I believe part of why people felt so defensive of Atomic is precisely because he was being named as a predator. That’s a taboo behavior. You can see it in Want It’s response to Clarisse where even though it’s clear they’re doing their best to respond seriously and with appropriate empathy, they still let it through that they don’t think they should have been publicly named. So it’s a bind. Naming is one of the only tools available for individuals to try to deal with a predator that they have either witnessed or survived, but because it violates a taboo, naming also results in people rallying around the named.

      What we need is a way to move past individual action into institutional action that does not depend on criminal convictions. I don’t know what’s in the big Burn handbook because I haven’t been, but I know the Austin regional survival handbook doesn’t have an explicit section on what to do if you’re being sexually harassed or you’ve been sexually assaulted. There’s are some other sections that kind of get to it (a section on personal boundaries and sections on conforming to law), but nothing explicit. In fact, looking at the sections now, I see a lot of problematic language. In the ramp up to the event, we talk about responsible drug use, leaving no trace, parking… but we don’t talk about what the procedure is in the case of a crime. If there’s a mechanism for reporting an individual to the LLC/Combustion Chamber (for sexual assault or other forms of endangering others), I don’t know of it. Since you’re on this blog, I’m sure you can see how all of these pieces connect to create an environment that’s more advantageous to predators than survivors.

      • Jake permalink
        January 8, 2013 3:10 pm

        Just to be clear, I do not speak for Black Rock City, LLC or any of the departments therein.

        That said, my experience is that the management end of Burning Man and regional Burning Man events for just about every detail are different and are mostly not done by the same people with small amounts of overlap. I get where you are coming from and agree that more needs to be done, but I’d say that one might want not to rush to compare the two. These kinds of events are spiritually the same, as it were, but there is not much to compare.

        I don’t know about Combustion Chamber or how they solicit outside (or inside) input, but if they are an official Burning Man event, then if you can’t get traction with the group running it, you’d go to the regional coordinator who is in charge of certifying the event to Black Rock City, LLC. That person is:

        George Paap –

  11. Gulfie permalink
    January 8, 2013 3:26 am

    Several time Burner, first time poster.

    There seems to be several vectors of forward motion.

    1) ( How can I help / what can I do to get ) the predators to go away, to change their risk reward ratio
    2) ( How can I help / what can I do to get ) the org find the gumption to start turning on the lights on this darker side of the event
    3) ( How can I help / what can I do to get ) the present law enforcement agencies to spend some priority on rape investigations
    4) ( How can I help / what can I do to get ) the mores of our societ(y/ies) to a place where crossing a personal bondry is Poka-yoke?

    In line with the creeper cards I found these both thought provoking and a step forward Posted don’t be a creep! bills from Solidarity Against Patriarchy : or

    • January 8, 2013 9:58 pm

      The creeper cards play into the mythology that rapists ‘just don’t understand’ that what they are doing is rape, which, as this blog and others have covered many times, the studies have shown is patently false. All that creeper cards and these kinds of notices will do is instruct rapists on how to avoid detection in this environment.

      We need to go past saying “don’t be creepy” to “don’t be a rapist” and to having zero tolerance for rapists… even at Burning Man.

      • Gulfie permalink
        January 9, 2013 6:15 am

        A hard core predator is not going to be deterred by a 4 inch by 2 inch piece of card stock.

        But don’t give up hope so quickly

        ( from the article)
        48% of 18-25 year olds in the U.K. did not understand that drunk does not equal consent. There is some room to do better here.

        Cards are also for everyone else. It makes some sense to me that if we can get most of the population doing the right thing(tm) and understanding where the boundaries are then we have more eyes watching and less people crossing the boundaries.

        Using a creeper card draws attention and says No in a very clear way. It even nicely ties into the already known yellow card / red card sports analogy . Everyone should be able to understand that the referee has called a penalty and that the player needs to back off. Specifically the carded players peer group. Extra especially the carded players peer group.

        Maybe this sort of thing will help stop the ~50% or so of rapes that occur between people who know each other or (sliced another way) +%50 or so that happen when both parties are not at their cognitive best (drinking). [ ]. I’m for less rape on the way to no rape.

        I’m all for saying “don’t be a rapist”. The cards are a start, the posted bills are great and apparently the Edmonton ad campaign is great.

        I’m all for the zero tolerance policy for sexual assault or assault in general really, especially at Burning man as well as paying more at the ticket booth to fund taking and processing rape kits.

      • January 10, 2013 10:05 pm

        Gulfie, studies of self-reported rapists have found that most rapists only rape once, that most rapes are caused by a minority of rapists, and that repeat rapists are raping deliberately (though they still don’t use the word ‘rape’ – but they will call it ‘forcing a woman to have sex’), most often doing so by deliberately intoxicating a woman (as per your ‘drinking’ statistic).

        I love the Edmunton campaign and a 10% reduction in rapes is great. That doesn’t mean that additional campaigning will reduce rapes even further. Once you eliminate the one-time ‘accidental’rapes, which, as I mentioned before, are a minority of instances (about that 10%), you are still left with the deliberate rapes, which are harder to end by simply putting up posters.

      • January 13, 2013 4:21 pm

        I would think that the creeper cards and ‘don’t rape’ posters might have the effect of creating an environment where rape is less tolerated in the culture. Of course a rapist isn’t going to change his mind just because he sees a poster (I would guess that even the small percentage of “accidental” rapists would need a bit more education than that), but visible reminders against victim blaming and stating that rape isn’t tolerated might help create an overall social environment where victims are believed and there is less rape apology/enabling happening. It would be a small thing, but to me that’s the value of those sorts of initiatives.

  12. cardman permalink
    January 12, 2013 11:04 am

    What’s clear to a Burning Man outsider is that there is a deeply destructive anti-law enforcement/anti-statist counterculture ethos at work here *plus* a wild idealization of the entire event and its meaning.

    BM sounds to me a bit like Mardi Gras–or Afghanistan. I mean, that guy from Want It camp just said, in effect, “oh yeah, the alleged rapist has an alibi for the whole night. Sorry.” Like you can *believe* this kind of exercise in tribal loyalty. Only forensic evidence can disprove it, a possibility that that reactionary asshole doesn’t even acknowledge. There is also a delusional idealization of the event evident in, for example, the commenter who said “everyone that I spent time talking to on the playa was attending their Burn with more intention than any people I’ve talked to in the default world.” Congrats, dude, you’re part of a self-regarding cult.

    The idea that “participation”, “awareness”, “education”, etc. are going to make a difference when it comes to serial rapists, is just extraordinarily naive. To not see this–to think that ‘education’ and ‘awareness’ and ‘self-policing’ are enough, if we just work hard enough, because, yeah, we’re progressive and stuff–is to buy into the worst, woolliest, soft-headed version of leftist politics.

    To really spell it out: This kind of crime is the very awful price you pay for not letting the state intrude into your intentional space. Only the state delivers justice as we know it; unless you want to usurp the monopoly on violence and start meting out penalties yourselves, the absence of state authority is problematic. BM is *intentionally* creating a space in which crime can flourish. Duh. If you want to not have law enforcement at an event of 50,000 people, you are going to have horrible crimes go entirely unpunished. Don’t kid yourself and act like you can change that. You’re sacrificing a small number of people so you can have a good time in the desert.

    Also, the idea that going to fucking Burning Man means you’re politically active, or a progressive, or ‘engaged’ or something, is also an utter fallacy. You’re the product of historically unprecedented luxury and your response is to ‘express yourself’ and party in the desert. This is nothing special or generous about this, and it’s nothing that will (or could) ever change anything.

    • Jake permalink
      January 13, 2013 1:45 am

      According to the ACLU’s website, “Black Rock City is subject to state and federal laws. Six separate law enforcement agencies police Burning Man: the Bureau of Land Management, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Nevada State Department of Investigations, the Nevada State Health Division, and the Nevada Highway Patrol.”

    • January 14, 2013 2:24 am

      Thomas — I request that cardman’s comment be deleted and the commenter be put on moderation. This is not because I completely disagree with the comment. In fact, parts of it are things I have said myself, so perhaps cardman could do some more reading.

      My problem with the comment is that anything with such an anti-BM tone is both needlessly hostile and a derail.

    • Ian Epperson permalink
      January 14, 2013 4:02 am

      I think I can sum up Cardman’s argument: BM will inevitably see a rise in crime due to it’s rejection of law enforcement. Simple education will not deter the worst of these crimes.

      As a long-time burner, I’ve seen MORE police enforcement at BM than at any other camping trip I’ve ever taken. The organization long ago accepted the need for a police presence and even has it’s own volunteer group (the rangers) to help ensure order is kept and to help interact with law enforcement; it is not lawless. In fact, if you travel to the same spot one month after the event, you’ll find that there are fewer rules and restrictions than during BM (driving, visiting hot springs, using firearms, using fireworks, etc.)

      As I argued previously, I believe Cardman’s type of misinformation can help predators and be damaging to victims. The predator may (falsely) believe that BM is a lawless place and an outsider will tend to blame the victim for putting themselves in what is (again falsely) believed to be a lawless environment.

      Would Cardman continue his rant if the core tenant of his argument is wrong? Unfortunately, I assume he would since he seems to be painting all the attendees with the same idealogical brush – to him, we’re just wide-eyed hippies who don’t know how the real world works.

    • January 14, 2013 8:10 am

      Warned. I’ve deleted comments that are knee-jerk Burning Man defense, but I’m not going to allow knee-jerk BM trashing, either. This isn’t the place.

    • Mark fenderberg permalink
      September 20, 2013 1:44 pm

      cardman, the want it guy said multiple witnesses could account for the accused guys location and what he was doing the entire night. Since there was no probable cause he wasnt arrested. Our system of justice is innocent until proven guilty. I assume should YOU be accused of rape or any crime you would want due process under law? BM is not pro rape culture or tolerant of any crime. Just the opposite. Crime rate is the same as any similarly sized american city.

  13. Cate permalink
    January 13, 2013 3:20 am

    Hello. I feel like I should kind of say something considering im the victim that’s being referred to in this article (Miss R just sent me the article). There’s just two things I want to say:
    1. I really want the attacks towards Want It! to stop. What happened was I identified a man who looked a lot like the guy I had seen the night before. I was not positive, and I let that be known. More importantly I don’t specifically remember the events of the night before (the whole being dosed thing ruined my ability to remember much of that night). I believe in the whole innocent until proven guilty idea. I am not sure they’re the camp. Other people shouldn’t be either, and their entire camp shouldn’t be destroyed for the actions of a few.

    2. I hope this doesn’t dissuade people from going to burning man. This didn’t happen because burning man is a seedy place full of rapists and drug addicts. This happened because BRC is like any other city. There’s good and bad people around. I was a newbie, and I forgot that fact. I’m not saying what happened to me was my fault, but I recognize the fact that I shouldn’t have accepted a drink from a stranger, even if it was at a camp. I’ve learned a lot from last year, and I can say with certainty that burning man was one of the greatest experiences of my life despite what happened. I’m very excited to go back this year and i’m hoping that with what i’ve learned it will turn out better than the last

    • January 14, 2013 1:14 am

      Cate, I am so happy that you replied. As I said, it is important that Clarisse interviewed the Want It camp mayor and did her due diligence.

      I’d like to thank everyone who has commented here.
      I did send this post to Cate (my daughter, the victim of the attack) for her review. She has given such an honest response. I’m so amazingly proud of her strength, pride and objectivity.
      Oh, and we ARE going to Burning Man again this year.
      Fuck the ignorant sociopathic 1% who do their best to ruin what can be a life-affirming experience

      ~Miss R

    • January 14, 2013 2:25 am

      Thank you for commenting, Cate.

    • January 27, 2013 12:31 pm

      I’m so inspired by your strength, Cate. Thank you for commenting. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m glad to see you will be returning to Burning Man in the future.

    • May 12, 2013 5:05 pm

      I stand in awe of your integrity, Cate. It’s easy to profess the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty when you’re not the victim of a crime. To admit that your own memory of a traumatic event may not be reliable, that the man you think assaulted you may not in fact be the man who did, and that that man, and those who may have aided and abetted him, should not be punished unless his guilt can be established beyond reasonable doubt, takes tremendous courage and honesty. It’s so very, very easy for human beings to suppress our doubts, to believe that what we suspect is true must be true, that simply saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” about something as desperately important as the question of who raped you constitutes an act of heroism.

      The rest of this comment is addressed to other readers, as I don’t think I’d be telling Cate anything she doesn’t already know, but I do want to elaborate a bit on what’s already been said: one of the awful things about a case like this is that the victim can’t, as Cate says, know for certain that the man she identified the next day was the same man who drugged her, or, for that matter, that the glass of water she remembers accepting was actually the vehicle by which she was drugged. The nasty thing about hypnotics like rohypnol or zolpidem (Ambien) is that they interrupt the formation of long-term memory, allowing whatever is in the affected person’s short-term memory to fade away. The memories a person dosed with one of those drugs is able to recall the next day may end half an hour or forty-five minutes before the drug was administered, and not include any recollection at all of the actual drugging or the person responsible.

      Because of that, it’s possible that Cate’s memory of the DJ giving her the water, and her identification of him the following day, were both completely accurate — but that she was actually drugged and assaulted by someone else who she encountered subsequent to stopping at Want It camp, who she never even saw until after the point at which her remaining memories stop. As Mike says a few comments downstream, the risk of a false accusation resulting from an actual victim’s honest error in identifying her assailant (the main cause of the small minority of rape accusations that are false, contrary to the paranoid misogynistic nonsense spewed by the “men’s rights” swine) is one reason rape kits are crucially important. Recovering a rapist’s DNA from his victim’s body may or may not convict the rapist, depending upon whether he can even be identified as a suspect and tested, but it will conclusively absolve any suspect who is actually innocent.

  14. Ken permalink
    January 14, 2013 7:29 am

    Cruise ships are another temporal community where predation takes place, as most everyone there is a stranger on vacation for a short time, and prone to a similar mindset as attending Burning Man when it comes to adventure and lowered inhibitions since it is presented as a fun and safely structured environment outside of the norm –

    • January 14, 2013 2:11 pm

      Ken, unlike cruise ships, American law applies to Black Rock City and what happens at Burning Man.

  15. Amii L permalink
    January 14, 2013 4:22 pm

    “I think Burners have an opportunity to shed particular light on the question of how to have consensual sex while intoxicated…”

    This long time Burner (1995 and running) will answer the question: it can’t be done. I remind Burners on this from time to time, but they can have an impervious indifference to the exposure. Burning Man takes place in Nevada where intoxication removes consent:

    NRS200.366 states, 1. A person who subjects another person to sexual penetration, against the will of the victim or under conditions in which the perpetrator knows or should know that the victim is mentally or physically incapable of resisting or understanding the nature of his or her conduct, is guilty of sexual assault.

    NRS200:364 Definitions…
    Penetration means cunnilingus, fellatio, or any intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or any object manipulated or inserted by a person into the genital or anal openings of the body of another including sexual intercourse in its ordinary meaning.

    There are mandatory minimum sentences too: mandatory 25 years in prison when causing “substantial bodily harm” and 10 years where there is no substantial bodily harm.

    This year a friend was a medic volunteer. He was very troubled. He felt like the LLC was really downplaying what was taking place. I know about the After-burn report and refer people to it often, but frankly it’s not enough. It’s hindsight for one thing, and it just seems like damned little in the way of the organization reporting on the risk of sexual assault.

    I didn’t know there were no rape kits; that’s so wrong. Every law agency in 200 miles makes a lot of money off Burning Man and they have a separate temporary jail out there right off site. Though Burning Man takes place in Pershing Co on BLM land, there are six different law enforcement agencies on hand (and making money). This is clearly not a priority to them. I am going to put pressure on BMLLC to pressure the law enforcement that they (we) already pay for to get rape kits out there.

    I just reviewed the 2012 Survival Guide and this was the sole mention of sexual assault that I found: Respecting Personal Boundaries
    Black Rock City can be an erotically charged environment. We want to help prevent sexual harassment and assault while ensuring that sex-positive free expression thrives. It is imperative to know and express your own sexual boundaries and to ask about and respect your partners’ boundaries. As the Bureau of Erotic Discourse (B.E.D.) reminds us: Silence is not consent. Communication is the best lubricant! To find out more, get in B.E.D. at

    I found this under the heading Culture (Being a Good Citizen). There was nothing said under Law Enforcement including under the heading What Is Illegal! I am stymied; there’s really no excuse for this. Given the alcohol/drug exposure, different cultures from all over the world and all the other reasons people have already mentioned here, consent and sexual assault information should be really easy to find. B.E.D. is awesome, just wonderful, but Burning Man LLC seems to have decided to go ahead and rely on B.E.D. entirely to handle the subject. What if B.E.D. should ever decide not to go?

    I’ve run a bar out there since 1998. This year, we invested in a company that is manufacturing stir sticks that will change color if the drink is drugged. Unfortunately, these won’t be ready until right after the burn. We’re looking for temporary alternatives (I’ve heard about cups and coasters that do same thing). We also remind people of the danger and encourage sippy cups that cannot be easily tampered with. But the bar right next to us may be doing nothing. This is the nature of Black Rock City.

  16. Mike permalink
    January 14, 2013 6:29 pm

    I don’t doubt that the victim was raped. However the evidence that the DJ was the perpetrator is sketchy. He handed her a glass of water.

    Incorrect perpetrator identification is the biggest cause of false rape imprisonments, and it leaves the real perpetrator free to rape again. This is why rape kits are so important. Surely some kind of rape crisis centre, staffed by volunteers willing to accompany the survivor to Reno, then bring them back to burning man, is possible. I’d even volunteer.

  17. Simone permalink
    January 15, 2013 12:13 am

    Thank you for posting this, I went to my first burn in 2011 and was roofied at an official bar there that happened to be run by people in my county. Luckily nothing happened and a male friend was with me. I had actually gotten back to camp with him before the drugs started to effect me. I was very safe and prepared (or so I thought), I even went so far as carrying a beer stein with a lid around to prevent myself from being drugged, but whoever was bartending (they don’t even know if he really worked there) quite possibly slipped it in my drink while he was making it. I’m lucky nothing happened to me, and we reported it to the camp (they were horrified and very helpful). Since the incident I’m afraid of going back to Burning Man unless I have male friends with me at all times. It’s a shame that this stuff happens, but I guess there are people with negative intentions everywhere. I wasn’t raped, but this makes me feel like I’m not alone in this. I will go back to Burning Man when I am able though, overall it was an amazing experience with wonderful positive people.

  18. January 27, 2013 12:26 pm

    Thank you for this article.

    The rapist dude Pepper Mint referred to who was asked to leave poly camps, but refused, then started stalking his victim and threatening lawsuits, etc., was my rapist. I am that victim, now a survivor. He and Kitty, both part of PolyAsylum, were a huge support and help both on and off the playa.

    I’ve written extensively about my experience last year not only with the rape in a poly community, but how that community turned against me and embraced my rapist, something that was equally as traumatizing as the sudden change in my lover to rapist.

    That is the norm, like Thomas said, most rapists rape in a way that society will protect them. And society does protect them. Society hands them a social license to continue raping every day, at a tune of 1800 rapes every. single. day. in the USA. These community discussions get derailed onto squabblings of semantics and cliches and fears like “witch hunts” (I always send people to the post here when they say that), “slander,” “false accusations,” etc. No matter what community I speak with/try to help, every one is very much NO RAPE – NO RAPISTS until it comes out that someone in *their* community, possibly one of their friends, is accused, then the rape apology and victim-blaming starts. It’s as if they’re reading from a script, as every one says the exact same things.

    They are reading from a script, one provided by Rape Culture.

    News flash: I guarantee you that someone in your community is a rapist. One in 16 men are. So there is at least one. Do the math. Several women in your community have been victims of sexual assault, attempted rape, or rape. I’ve seen estimates from 1 in 3 to 1 in 6 women. Since I’ve come out publicly as a survivor, every. single. woman. I’ve met or spoken with in the past 8 months is a survivor. Not 1 in 6. Not even 1 in 3.

    Every single one. Since I’ve started writing this long comment 15 minutes ago, 15 women have been raped. One every minute in this country. One every minute.

    Community Responsibility. Yes. This.
    This is where it must start. We as a society must make it impossible for rapists to continue. The law will not do it, not until we make it unacceptable. Not until we care more about women’s safety than we do a good party place (as one community I spoke with was very reluctant to say anything to the accused–and several women had come forward about him–because, well, he threw such great parties.)

    I’m working on a book, a guidebook of sorts, with a new script of how communities can handle rape accusations more compassionately and effectively, supporting the victim and questioning, at the very, very least, the accused. I hope to be working with both Pepper Mint and Kitty Stryker when I’m at the point of compiling it. I heal more every day, so it won’t be long. Then I will dedicate my life to helping protect women from rapists and the society that protects them.

    I love this blog. I reference it often on my blog, and I send as many people here as will listen. Thomas, you are kinda my hero, actually.

    In fact, I’m reblogging this now.


  19. Gertie permalink
    February 2, 2013 10:10 pm

    There are many good ideas here… though in my experience (decade + burner), these have worked the best when it comes to working as a whole to try and stop potentially bad situations:

    1. If you see someone looking really uncomfortable in a conversation, step up that extroverted side and go say hi. Butt in. If you’re wrong about them not wanting to be there, all you’ve done is introduce yourself to a stranger – but if you’re right, you might have just given them an “out” and saved them from a bad experience.

    2. If it’s your camp and a creeper has started hanging out in your lounge area, ask them to leave. It’s your right – Burning Man may be an open place, but no one is required to put up with folks who are making everyone uncomfortable. There are tons of ways to do it that aren’t aggressive or scene-making, and you’ll have a much better vibe in your space when they’re gone.

    3. If you see someone who is not sharing the same reality as someone else who is trying to get in their pants (i.e. passed out with someone groping them), get in the middle of it! If the groper tells you to get lost, stand your ground (“I want to hear it from him/her, sorry man, we take care of each other here”), call the rangers if you have to. I know that seems rude, but if they’re not awake they’re obviously not enjoying it anyway… and you have no way to prove that they’ve consented unless they’re awake/aware. Let them be mad at you for interrupting once they’ve come to again: it’s way better than having them wake up and then you get to be there when their lives fracture because they realize what just happened.

    4. If you see someone who is obviously impaired having trouble navigating home, help them. 9 times out of 10 they won’t encounter anyone who will try to do them harm, but if you’re there helping you’ll make it 10 out of 10 (and hey, bonus, they’ll make it home/to a safe sleeping place faster with your help).

    Staying aware of not only yourself but also the vulnerable people around you will go a long way to solving these problems.

    • Sky permalink
      May 30, 2013 1:22 am

      Unfortunately, it IS young women who do get molested/attempts at molestation as they are, because of their age, naive. Not only are they naive, but they are also such a temptation to rapists (because of their youth and beauty). (I’m thinking now of those 3 women who were taken by force by someone recently ~ and, although they were just feet away from other homes, never thought of screaming their brains out when their kidnapper was not home ~ for ten whole years!.)
      I, in my youth, had ‘attempted rape’ happen to me often. Luckily, I was able to outwit them each time (one even had a knife!) Of course, this is something you cannot do with those new drugs out there so readily available and so easy to dose someone with. Yes, there ARE some cruel/sicko men out at Burning Man who should NOT be there ~ but, how to stop them coming in???
      This will be my 9th year at this event (and I love it so much I want to attend the rest of my life). AND, I have never felt ‘in danger’ there ~ to the contrary, I have always been amazed at how everyone there helped and took care of me when needed. But, I am over 50 years old ~ And these things do happen to young, impressionable, girls who have not yet figured things out (how could they at that young, innocent age?) ~ I personally would NOT consider bringing someone that age with me to Burning Man. Yes, I know that there is a “kid’s village’ and that they are young with a lot of supervision. But, I also know, from personal experience, that young girls out alone get ‘picked on’ the most. (Has anyone heard of Scarlett, an English girl, who was drugged, raped, murdered, drowned in Goa, India, when her mother left her alone ~ she was only 15 ~ there? Goa is a winter party scene ~ has been for decades).
      Since no one mentioned the ‘age card’ here, I though I should. As I said, I have had to fight off ‘rapists’ (physically) from probably the time I was 13 or so (before that, it was old men ‘exhibitionists’ and ‘sex perverts who prey on young girls who don’t even know what sex is yet) ~ and it finally ended when I became a mature adult. Yes, there IS a reason young ladies are not allowed out by themselves at night in most parts of the world ~ and that reason is ‘raging testosterone’ in men and their inability/unwillingness to ‘control’ their urges (or maybe some of them from watching too much ‘bad’ television/movies all their lives actually WANT to rape? Which might explain the marks on the throat?
      The young girls are the most vulnerable, as well as the most intoxicating, to the myriad ‘rapists’ out there ~ men who ‘get the urge for sex’ and see an ‘easy target’ (an innocent, young girl).
      It’s a sad state of affairs ~ but an older/long standing problem than we will ever know.
      Of course, but unfortunately, with 60,000 attendees, there are bound to be a few of these men about. I personally have only felt ‘uncomfortable’ with two men that I can think of in all these nine years (and I spend the maximum amount of time allowed there each year.)

      • May 30, 2013 4:42 pm

        So true. IT will be my 9th year on the playa as well. I have always felt safe there, until this incident with my daughter.
        Your comments about young women being naive and targets is spot on.
        Thank you.

      • August 13, 2013 9:20 am

        Sky, girls and women do not get molested/raped because they are naive. The idea that it is somehow incumbent upon the victim to stop the crime against her is abhorrent.

  20. Tonya permalink
    August 6, 2013 9:57 am

    Help…my daughter plans to spend her 21st b-day there…

    • Amii L permalink
      August 6, 2013 12:01 pm

      I recommend she carry a child’s sippy cup; you can’t sneak drugs into them, especially if she wears it around her neck or on belt. She probably already has read the survival guide, but if not, it can be found at

      My chief fear for myself each year is the ride to and from the event, and that’s where I recommend you persuade caution. It’s a long, two lane road with large slow vehicles, and people often driving sleep deprived.

      Try not to worry.

  21. Mark fenderberg permalink
    September 20, 2013 1:26 pm

    this was a really really long long manuscript. I don’t understand if youre saying burning man is more dangerous then the outside world or the same? I think its the same with the exception that a lot more people are high and drunk. Youre holding BM to a higher standard then the rest of the united states. Its impossible to prevent crime or criminals. We can try but there will always be crime. The official Want It camp response was a girl passed out in a adjacent camp, not in want it, and something happened, and she didnt want to go to reno to have a rape kit done and file a police report. How is that burning man’s fault?

  22. Surly permalink
    January 3, 2014 4:47 am

    I’ve worked for burning man 6 years now. Never again. Specifically because how they deal with rape. Event more specifically how the deal with rape on the work crews….. You would be horrified if you knew how they treated the women of rape. Burning man is a horrible corporation too focused on money and PR.

    • Clink permalink
      January 19, 2014 9:26 am

      So let me get this straight. Catholics don’t like to talk about/can’t figure out how to deal with pedophilia, and burners don’t want to talk about/can’t figure out how to deal with rape. Hmmm. Maybe true love isn’t about singing a song in church or standing next to a 50-foot sculpture of the word love, maybe true love includes the hard work along with the easy work. Maybe real transformation is about doing the IMpossible, not just the possible. I applaud Clarisse for taking a stand….and a very intelligent one, at that.

  23. February 3, 2014 7:54 pm

    Reblogged this on Terry Gotham and commented:
    While this isn’t about music or dance culture, I think this is something the underground needs to grapple with meaningfully if they (as an aggregate & individuals) really want to claim to be better than your average gropefest bar or club.

  24. FDR permalink
    April 9, 2014 6:45 pm

    I understand your plight, my daughter was raped as well, but not at Burning Man. I need to emphasize that young people and especially girls can get raped when they are not in presence of family / friends either on or off the playa.
    We need to educate our children, and yes they way they treated this incident is not correct, but its better to teach people how to prevent then to cry foul at lack of response. In a philosophical manner.

    • April 25, 2014 1:57 pm

      Wow, what a victim-blaming response. Fortunately, you’ve stumbled upon a blog that can enlighten your ignorance, if you take the time to read any of the posts on this blog with a receptive mind.

    • April 25, 2014 3:33 pm

      My daughter had already lived in San Francisco for a year, prior to Burning Man. She lived in an apartment with other college students like herself. In a sketchy neighborhood. She CERTAINLY was ‘educated’ as you say.
      Not only by myself but by living in a large city on her own, and by her friends already there.
      Once again, Burning Man is a microcosm of society in general. We try to do Better, but there will always be psychopaths and twisted human beings that can go undetected by anyone.

    • April 25, 2014 4:43 pm

      FDR, people love to say, “prevention, prevention.” As if women were not already trying to prevent themselves from being raped. Most of the “prevention” advice I see is assinine and victim-blaming, don’t-wear-a-skirt stuff. Much of it is directed at stranger rapes employing overt force, which while they certainly happen are a small subset of rape. All of it is at best applicable to only a narrow subset of circumstances and impractical in all others. And worst, all of it is less likely to prevent any rapes than it is to act as a gotcha checklist that people can use to blame survivors that didn’t do whatever the advice du jour was. It’s like after-the-fact Simon Says. Did you walk to the car with your keys in your hand, look in the back seat, and say, “I’m a virgin” three times? Yell “Fire,” say, “I have my period” and barf? Oops, ha ha, you did the wrong thing, you wore the wrong thing, you were in the wrong neighborhood, you’re the wrong sort of person.

      FDR, you may not understand why me and people like me react so harshly to exhortations to “educate” and “prevent,” but this is why. There’s all kinds of advice, it’s uniformly unrealistic and shitty, and even if well-intentioned, mostly what it does is give people more fodder for coulda woulda shoulda when they need to be offering support.

      That’s as patient an explanation as you’re going to get of what was wrong with what you wrote. I must be getting soft, working with people where they are.

  25. July 19, 2014 2:12 pm

    Rapists have so many ways to avoid prison or getting any punishment at all. Same with incest perps. Drugging someone, raping them, and then leaving them to potentially die- seems to me that qualifies for all sorts of criminal charges. Makes me miss lynch mobs a bit. They sometimes got the wrong guy, alas, but creeps didn’t have as many chances to keep picking new victims. It wasn’t long ago that victims of incest and rape very very rarely broke their silence, because they knew they would be treated with incredulity, contempt, and retribution of all sorts. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed that much.

  26. James permalink
    March 22, 2015 3:20 pm

    I was researching BM and came across this blog by accident. Very informative and mind numbing. It’s very sad that man still preys on society like it does and that a post like what I just read has to exist.

    The author told of the young lady who got assaulted and wound up at one of the med tents. This is my comment in regards to the provided medical facilities and who operates them. Please keep in mind that I lived in the region for ten plus years, so I’ve actually seen what I’m about to say.

    Northern Nevada counties and communities while appearing “friendly”, are for the most part very repressive. If a person shows any kind of individuality aside from the normal, they get ridiculed to the point of leaving the area or changing to fit the status quot. Everybody has a self image. Most care about it, but the cool people don’t.

    The doctors and nurses of Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca as well as the medical “professionals” in Pershing County are very judgmental in the way they look at the culture of BM. It doesn’t fit in the small close minded box of what they think self image should project. They don’t condone it, wouldn’t participate in it and if it wasn’t for the county paying them to attend for medical purposes, wouldn’t be there. Proof is the fact that the girl was looked at and figured to be a “party girl”, and didn’t take five minutes to examine her. Sure that can happen anywhere, but the medical “professionals” showed up without rape kits and a judgmental disposition. 55 plus thousand people at a week long art, drugs, alcoholic and freedom of expression party and the expectation of no sexual assaults? Awfully optimistic!

    The simple fact of the matter is, except for the money, community leaders (as well as the close minded part of the communities) see BM as a nuisance. Something to laugh at. BM brings in tax money, and the medical “professionals” of Humboldt and Pershing counties could care less if a girl gets raped on the playa. Nevada is not the open minded region of places like San Francisco, or even California.

    Keep the man burning!!

    • roissy permalink
      July 5, 2015 5:13 pm

      I disagree, In my experience the medical personal at BM are highly professional, the lack of a rape kit is another matter, involving the chain of evidence and such….


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