We brought this issue to your attention a couple of weeks back, it’s a serious one and needs to be addressed by the community – especially as the event gets bigger and intends to fertilize its seed around the world. Tackling a large social problem like this, that can’t easily be solved by any one institution in
the Default world Meatspace, sounds like a great job for the Burning Man Project. Not sure what else they’re really doing, and it certainly seems to be beyond the capabilities of BMOrg to address it in any meaningful way. Encouraging to see it getting some mainstream media attention, at last; maybe that’s what we need to move this from the “too hard” basket to the “to do” list:
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.
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.
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.
The issue is not as simple as “get rape kits on the Playa”. The kits themselves are only $15 or so. Despite what the unnamed nurse says in this story, our information (now confirmed by BMOrg) is that there are only 3 facilities in the whole state that can process this properly (a medical issue, not LEO) and there’s a massive backlog of unprocessed rape kits delaying prosecutions. The medical side requires specialized training, and there are important issues with data storage and security, preserving the chain of evidence, as well as Doctor/Patient confidentiality through the whole legal process that happens afterwards.
Burner Omgrey shares from her own painful experiences:
this is harder to write than any of you can imagine, even if she had a rape kit done, even if they could find the guy, even if they had enough evidence to move forward with a criminal investigation and it made it to trial (only 14% of reported cases do), then there is a 3% chance he’d be convicted.
That’s right. 97% of rapists walk free.
Every rapist will rape 6 to 10 different women.
I was as naive as some of the comments I see here when it comes to thinking that the police can do anything. They really can’t. It comes down to he said, she said, and with “reasonable doubt,” the rapists walks free 97% of the time.
All he has to say is “it was consensual.” Quick presto, reasonable doubt. Especially at a place like BM.
This is why it’s not a private issue. It’s a cultural one.
Burning Man is a wonderful place to start addressing this seriously and finding ways to identify and prosecute (if possible), ostracize if not.
Burner Kittyrodriguez gets to the crux of the matter:
I think many are misunderstanding the major issue here. It is not a matter of the ability to collect the evidence. It is a matter of the viability of such collection in court. Even in the default world, a rape examination cannot be performed at any medical facility by any medical professional. There are specific, licensed centers that use approved labs. Even in major cities with excellent facilities that have spotless records, evidence collected can, and is, disputed and thrown out. It is unreasonable to think that a facility, no matter how state of the art, that is only operational for one or two weeks a year, in a location that is volatile and misunderstood by the general population, would be accepted as an acceptable forensics laboratory.
We are completely against sexual assault or violence of any kind. However, Burning Man is a unique environment. Like, people whose camp is a bicycle powered dildo unique environment. Or, people who want to be tied up and punished. Not just one or two of them, either! Unfortunately, in a city of 61,000, there are even registered sex offenders – yep, they show up and check in with the LEOs. Think about that next time you want to bring your kids to the middle of nowhere.
This year at Burning Man, a half naked girl got on our art car. She seemed cute and fun and super-friendly, and was talking to one of my buddies. Then she started taking more of her clothes off, and we realized how wasted she was. So we found out where she was camped, then drove her back to the camp and left her with her friends. Lucky for her she got on the right Art Car, with the good guys – you can see how easily these things could go the other way. The victim might not even fully remember what happened. No means no, absolutely, but what if someone is saying “yes” – maybe because they took too many drugs? I’m not saying that it would be that girl’s responsibility if she had been sexually assaulted – quite the opposite – but she and her friends do have a responsibility of radical self-reliance to not get so fucked up that they put themselves in dangerous situations, where they are not fully aware of their words and actions. Education about this is needed in the community too.
The cries of “kill the rapist” are a knee-jerk reaction, and will solve nothing. We need to maintain the system of justice, and not let it devolve into lynch mob anarchy. It’s the 21st Century now, we have evolved past that. This is a community issue which needs awareness, collaboration, as well as technical problem solving and disruptive innovation that is well suited to the diverse experience and skillset of Burners.
The official Burning Man blog mentions the issue…sort of. You have to watch half an hour of Halcyon before he gets into it, describing in a rambling way the story of someone being arrested in handcuffs at his camp as a “beautiful thing”. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the hippy way is going to convince the rapists to change.
[Update 9/23/12] – there’s quite a bit of discussion on this topic over at Free Thought Blog.
BMOrg has now issued a belated and wishy-washy response on this topic. Moderator trilobyte has now shut down the ePlaya thread, perhaps because Burning Man wants to take the ostrich approach; anyone interested should read the excellent response from Jason the Mayor of the accused’s camp. It sets a standard for other camps to follow in how to respond to these types of issues in the community. This is the type of leadership that is needed to pass the mantle of Burning Man on towards younger generations. Other types of crime are less serious, many of the ones the cops are out there busting people for are even victimless; this one is extremely serious. And best dealt with as a community issue, not only a legal and medical one. Also, Anile from the Bureau of Erotic Discourse has highlighted that they are working on building community awareness via their Theme Camp Challenge
The girl’s mother has written a heart-wrenching blog post. Unfortunately, it degenerates into threats of violence in the comments. Violence begetting more violence, is not the solution. Her daughter is managing OK and seeing a counsellor. She asks for us all to send loving thoughts towards her daughter.