The Dark Side of Burning Man: Rape on the Playa

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Whenever you hear about Burning Man, it's often about the art, the peace, the spiritual enlightenment, and, most importantly, the freedom. Some burners, as the attendees like to be called, even feel as if that is their home and they can't wait to get back to it every year.

This year, however, in addition to all the posts about how 2012 was the best burn ever, there was also a very different post entitled "Serial Rapist on the Playa." It details the story of a 19-year-old girl who was strangled, drugged, and raped one night. According to the blog, which was written by the victim's mother, who was also at Burning Man, she was found face down behind Emerald City. The people who found her assumed she had overdosed and took her to the medical tent. After being attached to an IV all night, they released her. Upon returning to her tent, the bruises that appeared made it clear she had been strangled and raped.

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Crime is rarely mentioned in conjunction with Burning Man, and neither is rape or assault. When the victim reported the assault on the playa, she was informed that Burning Man is not equipped with rape kits. If you are assaulted while at Burning Man and you want a rape kit, you have to travel to Reno. Joseph Pred, Burning Man's Emergency Services Operations Chief confirmed, "Rape kits do not exist in Black Rock City. Forensic exams are incredibly complex issues that have to do with the court system and are not something that is really easily taken on. In Northern Nevada, there is only one facility that does that type of exam."

I found this curious, so I contacted a hospital in Northern Nevada and asked if rape kits were only done in specific facilities. A charge nurse in the ER said that when a person is brought in for rape, they are instructed by law enforcement to conduct a special exam and it can be done in any hospital in Northern Nevada.

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This is not the first, nor will this be the last sexual assault that occurs on the playa. Burning Man is a city, and in keeping with that belief, it has a responsibility to provide rape kits for its attendees, as well as a better way of handling a situation like this.

Megan Miller, Burning Man's Public Relations Manager, explained that if an attendee is sexually assaulted and they want to go to the hospital, then they drive the person to the facility and bring them back to the burn, if they so choose. So, they do offer transportation, but how much evidence do they lose along that drive? As equipped as Black Rock City claims to be, clearly this a situation that calls for better planning and sensitivity. Burning Man needs to find a better way to keep victims from being further traumatized after something like this occurs, in the form of rape crisis counseling, better medical aid, increased awareness, and support.

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Vanessa L. Pinto (aka Fleur De Lis SF) documented a year of her sex life on her blog Whatever You Desire. She also blogs for the Huffington Post and is a contributing writer with Whore! Magazine. She has a degree in political science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.


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45 comments
fatheringmayhem
fatheringmayhem

It is interesting to me how many burners will talk so glowingly about how different Burning Man is from the "default world." And by extension, how special and meaningful the experience is to them. But the moment you bring up something like rape or deaths, they often compare it to that very same world they claim to be different from. "Well the number of rapes in any city of similar size ..." The speed and intensity they bring to bear in defending their sacred cow is so strong that it immediately peaks my bulls*#t meter. beware of sacred cows.

 

One might think that Mr. Pred, a board member of the company, would have said "We need to figure out a way to have rape kits and qualified personnel on hand to address any situation of this nature that arises, because that should never happen in our fair city." But instead we only hear excuses and explaining it away. Black Rock City LLC. management seems to prefer not to be bothered by the situation

sdowney2002
sdowney2002

I'm bewildered by this article. Focusing on rape kits is like discussing the china pattern in the main dining room of the Titanic - interesting but mostly irrelevant. A violent, criminal act took place, one that reminds us of the continued objectification of women. The question that needs to be asked is: can we maintain our community (and the safety it implies) while adhering to the principle of radical inclusion?  Radical inclusion means that assholes will be part of our community - assholes that will commit violent crimes.

 

Rather than focusing on whether the BM org is prepared with rape kits, I'd like to see more emphasis on what it means to be a radical community - a community that IS safe for everyone.

missaprillofgren
missaprillofgren

This is horrible yet not surprising that this happened.  Large events of any sort are notorious for people being taken advantage of, whether it is an easy grab on the ass or as drastic as this girl's story.   I don't feel however that Burning Man should be held responsible to have "rape kits" present.  If the state of Nevada only has that service available in Reno then  that seems to be Nevada's fault, not Burning Man's.  Services like these should be available at multiple medical clinics. Not just the ones located by the damn casinos.

John LaForgia
John LaForgia

I'm actually surprised this doesn't happen more often. Free flowing drugs, alcohol...naked woman, hornet men. Not to mention the nieveness of the promoters and organizers (no tape kits or facilities or faculty *when* it does occur?!). Also, obviously it's not the victims fault, but remember woman (and men, to be honest), never walk alone, or go off with strange men! It's a city and should be treated as such...especially when you're a teenager!

abrazamec
abrazamec

I read this article and my heart goes out to all women. How can you expect women not to get raped in a society, both at burning man and out in the other world, where women are not respected and are treated as nothing more than mere sex objects put here for a mans pleasure. How about teaching the respect women deserve for the beauty of creating life instead of treating and displaying them like a piece of meat. BM is no better than the rest of the world in this area and I find it disgraceful. The radical self expresion BM brags of seems to be for the benefit of men above all else.

tessastrain
tessastrain

@iamcaroline Valuing the illusion of a safe/perfect community over the actual wellbeing of participants is shameful & sadly unsurprising.

SleepawayChamp
SleepawayChamp

@iamcaroline I think she referenced an incident I heard about while I was there this year.

clandest
clandest

you have to keep in mind that there is a massive amount of rape hysteria at burning man.  half of the women walking around think they've been drugged and the other half are paranoid that it's bound to happen to them.  the environment plays tricks on your mind and it often feels like you're tripping when haven't had any drugs.  people don't understand this and freak out and that freaks everyone out.

 

women drinking heavily and hooking up with guys while they're blacked-out or just very drunk is not uncommon.  but too often when this happens (even without blacking-out) and the woman cannot offer an excuse to a boyfriend or parent - she will claim she was raped.  and then all hell breaks loose.

 

 

 

 

ChristaGiles
ChristaGiles

@freaksexual @vanessalpinto @literatepervert I saw a friend get counseling care, support w/ police, and the rapist was arrested and removed.

carolinekert
carolinekert

This breaks my heart. Noone should have to endure that, in any city. I certainly hope that this survivor is going to get crisis counseling now that she is home. On the topic of Burning Man's responsibility to provide rape kits, I do want to point out that this is not just a simple matter of having a "rape kit" on hand. Rape examinations are not just medical in nature, but also have legal and psychological ramifications. Therr is only one shot at competently gathering evidence and doing so in a manner that will hold up in court. And, it is critical that the personnel that conduct the test be aware of not retraumatizing the victim. Due to these extra sensitive factors, special training is necessary. In Colorado, we have specially trained and certified SANE nurses. I live in a large suburban area and only one hospital near me has SANE exam capabilities. And this is for a population much larger than that of Black Rock City. I think it.would be in poor judgment to make rape kits available without the proper personnel to administer them. This opens the survivor to potential retraumatization twice--once during.the actual physical exam and again if the evidence is not admissible in court. I hope that the Burner community, through communication around this need, can attract TRAINED rape examination nurses. It's a shame that there is a need for them in any city, but just purchasing some raw materials and storing them in a corner, while making us all feel like patting outselves on the back, will really be doing a disservice to victims.

llamahunter
llamahunter

The spirit of Burning Man is collective responsibility, not that the BM.org needs to provide services for the 'attendees'.  If services are needed, the burner community should find a way to provide them for itself.  First of all, doing a better job of looking out for our friends out there to protect them from harm, and doing better job holding our fellow burners to a high moral standard (I'm sure this guy knew someone out there... where were they to keep him in check?).  Second, if supplies and/or expertise are missing in the med tents, perhaps we should fundraise and recruit from the community to fill the gaps?

ihadashowertoday
ihadashowertoday

I am stunned and outraged. How could something like this happen? Burning Man is supposed to be a safe place where we all willingly exchange gifts- often drinks- without the fear that we may be risking our safety. My heart goes out to these women. I can think of no reason why this did not happen to me instead of someone else. We have police who are not there to ruin our fun but protect us from harm. Where were they? Searching through "suspicious" bags for an ounce of weed when a drugged girl was getting dumped in the dirt? WHY have rape victims of BRC never had access to rape kits? Most importantly, what can we do to stop this?! I sincerely hope I speak for the entire BRC community when I say that we will all do anything to help prevent this from happening. Every person has the right to attend Burning Man in a safe, secure environment, let alone the right to his or her own body and safety. 

VanessaLPinto
VanessaLPinto

@freaksexual @LiteratePervert Thanks for the RT

KittyAlot
KittyAlot

@TheMamaSutra oh that's terrible. Breaks my heart.

maraleia
maraleia

@TheMamaSutra wow sad story #burningman

igman3k
igman3k

The rapist should be indentified and and  then subsequently Burned.

clandest
clandest

 @abrazamec "How about teaching the respect women deserve"

 

respect is earned.  not given by virtue of one's gender.

roymeo1
roymeo1

 @clandest  How does someone get consent from someone drinking heavily?

sdowney2002
sdowney2002

 @clandest It sounds to me as if you're transferring blame - a very dangerous and misogynist way of looking at the problem. To claim that women call rape" after hooking-up is a myth. This is an issue of - pure and simple - of men who don't know how to (or don't care to) control themselves.

freaksexual
freaksexual

@ChristaGiles From what I understand, BM Org and police response is inconsistent around rape. Also, rape kits are still needed.

llamahunter
llamahunter

 @carolinekert Yeah, it's surely more complex than just having rape kits on hand.  I would really rather there not be the need to have them at all by having more collective responsibility for each other out there.  I really don't want more reasons to change the participatory dynamic of what BM has been in the past to being a staged party for spectators with responsibility foisted off on law enforcement rather than on the individuals present in BRC.

fatheringmayhem
fatheringmayhem

 @llamahunter the event is run by a for profit company. People are making a living working for them. They provide Ice, Coffee, and portOpotties as well as detailed post event clean up. I think rape kits and the infrastructure to facilitate them surely is as important as those other things.

LiteratePervert
LiteratePervert

.@VanessaLPinto Thanks for the article. Having similar issues in #atheist communities confronting harassment & misogyny.

abrazamec
abrazamec

 @clandest

 this takes my comment one step further. women need to be taught to respect themselves; today's society does not teach that. men and women, both, need to be taught to respect themselves and each other.

Chimin
Chimin

The right to be treated with basic decency and to not be subjected to violence is a right that accrues upon birth, and it is not something anyone has to earn.

 

Rape is deviant criminal behavior, and not something that can ever be justified or excused.

 

 

 

andi_sunrider
andi_sunrider

@freaksexual @ChristaGiles I was shocked that they can dispense IV antibiotics if sick enough to need, but can't/won't do a rape kit.

clandest
clandest

 @abrazamec we don't all live in your world where you get to make up meaning in your own personal land of oz.  the rest of us are bound by logic and reason.  but don't let that stop you from being your own special princess on a magical sprit quest where that other stuff doesn't matter. 

abrazamec
abrazamec

 oh my, clandest. what any angry closed mined person you are... just as small as the rest of the self centered folks i met at BM 

clandest
clandest

 @abrazamec 

"what we have here is the age old banter of which came first, the chicken or the egg. "

 

no.  what we have here is that despite having access to a dictionary, you choose to make up your own meanings for words.  that is all.  move along.  

abrazamec
abrazamec

 @clandestI am having no trouble, what we have here is the age old banter of which came first, the chicken or the egg. the selfrespect that comes from within, came from somewhere. a person who grows up in a society that does not demonstrate respect, has no idea what it is or that they deserve it. just for the record, I do not see our exchange as an argument, but a stimulating exchange of differing views....I enjoy the opportunity to stimulate my ability to stand for my position and views...

 

clandest
clandest

 @abrazamec self-respect is not something that can be taught.  self-respect comes from within.  either you have it, or you don't.  if you don't, it's because you don't feel you deserve it because you haven't earned it.  and your mind knows that. 

clandest
clandest

 @abrazamec again, you're having trouble with the definition of respect.

abrazamec
abrazamec

 @clandest

 P.S. BM is an example of how this self respect has not been taught.

 

clandest
clandest

 @Chimin basic decency is entirely different than respect.

 

 

roymeo1
roymeo1

 @jennifer.landry  Exactly.  I was trying to show that the legal responsibility is on the "initiator" of sexual activity.  It's fairly easy to protect yourself from misunderstandings or accusations of the type @clandest discusses in the second parapgraph--don't engage in sexual activity with someone you are unable to get adequate consent from.

freaksexual
freaksexual

@ChristaGiles @andi_sunrider I'm not attached to any particular solution, but it's clear things need to improve.

ChristaGiles
ChristaGiles

@andi_sunrider @freaksexual still in Nevada when the trial goes to court than local Reno staff. Better support to/from Reno hosp looks good.

ChristaGiles
ChristaGiles

@andi_sunrider @freaksexual on-site: even with trained users, evidence has higher risk of being in admissible, exam-givers less likely to be

ChristaGiles
ChristaGiles

@andi_sunrider @freaksexual The ePlaya discussion from the Serial link has comments from BMOrg staff and docs w reasoning to NOT have kits

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