Will Burning Man Face Its Demons?

Image: Julie Lucus

Salon follows up their recent investigations into sexual assaults and worker abuse at Burning Man.

From Salon.com [emphasis ours]:

…the renowned gathering is not as utopian as it might appear. Two Salon investigations in the past two years have revealed that the supposedly liberating environment has also provided cover for predators of all kinds, including some who work for and even run the event. It has also fostered exploitation of its most vulnerable workers, in a manner that rivals any corporate machine in the “default world.”

Now that these harrowing stories of exploitation and abuse on the playa have been made public, we were curious if the organization had sought to reform itself or merely doubled-down on denying and protecting its abusers.

Back in August 2018… published the results of a year-long investigation into claims of labor abuse within the Burning Man organization. We spoke to former and current employees and volunteers for the festival who painted a picture of a dangerous and stressful work environment. Some shared stories about a toxic management culture which they claimed was ignoring and creating a serious mental health crisis among workers within Burning Man’s Department of Public Works (DPW), seasonal workers who build the bulk of the infrastructure that allows the desert festival to function

Between 2009 and 2015, seven DPW workers died by suicide. That number is statistically significant enough to be alarming, according to Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, a psychologist and the lead of the Workplace Task Force for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. “To give you a benchmark, in a community of 1,000 people we would expect one suicide death in one decade,” she told Salon in 2018…

From hundreds of documents reviewed, and dozens of rangers and victims spoken to, it became clear that, contrary to Burners’ perceptions of the playa as a safe, welcoming space, women are at considerable risk of being sexually assaulted there. Moreover, their false sense of security is due in part to the disorganized way that Burning Man discloses sexual assaults— and the improper instructions and training that the all-volunteer internal security force known as the Black Rock Rangers and their supervisors, called Khakis, receive…

The inadequate self-policing system has the effect, intended or otherwise, of silencing and dismissing victims of sexual assault and other forms of abuse before they have an opportunity to report the crime to law enforcement.

Read the full story at salon.com

[Read Salon’s exclusive investigation into how Burning Man minimized reports of sexual assault on the playa]

5 comments on “Will Burning Man Face Its Demons?

  1. SAR Nurse in Gerlach to do Rape Kits over Burning Man’s Objection

    Arrangements were made to have a Sexual Assault Response (SAR) Nurse in Gerlach with the appropriate facilities to provide Rape Kits during the Burning Man event.
    The Burning Man Project (BMP) objected. Taking their objections to the Pershing County Sheriff who had made those arrangements. Then to the Washoe County Management who were receptive and agreed with BMP in trying to derail having immediate access to a SAR Nurse in Gerlach. Thus the SAR Nurse was relocated from the Gerlach Volunteer Fire elsewhere.

    One year ago, Burning Man’s sex assault and labor issues were exposed. Has anything changed? NICOLE KARLIS AUGUST 20, 2019 11:30PM (UTC)
    (Excerpts) The Center will be open 24/7 from Monday, August 26, through Monday, September 2. However, forensic exams for victims of rape are still not available. Kristen Houser, a spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), there are creative ways in which festivals like Burning Man can provide this service.
    “I would be curious to know if there are other ways to provide it on site, again looking at how different cities do it in different ways. So, is there a mobile unit?” she said. “Could you have people who are trained in forensics and proper collection who can preserve the chain of command, who have refrigeration?”
    As a matter of policy, Burning Man does not provide forensic exams for rapes on the playa. “Conducting forensic exams is a highly specialized service,” Burning Man intones on its website. Burning Man only began offering to pay for air transportation for rape victims to and from Reno in 2015. The goal, said Burning Man, was to provide “a speedier reconnection with friends and family” on the playa.

    Pershing County Sheriff’s Report Tuesday, August 27, 2019 1:00 AM On Aug. 22, Oleg Gennadievich Ivanov, 36, of Russia, was booked for sexual assault with no substantial bodily harm and false imprisonment.

    Sexual Misconduct Awareness, Education and Prevention burningman.org
    Sexual Assault Forensic Exams
    Sexual assault forensic exams — also known as “rape kits” — are intentionally not available on the playa or in Gerlach, because conducting forensic exams is a highly specialized procedure.
    More importantly, medical and legal experts have informed us that due to location and uncontrollable factors associated with the playa environment and chain of custody, an exam done on the playa would face a high probability of being inadmissible in a court of law — essentially making it useless in aiding a conviction.
    To ensure the highest likelihood any evidence collected will help identify a perpetrator and secure a conviction, experts recommend survivors travel to Reno for an exam by the Sexual Assault Response Team used by most of Northern Nevada.
    The Burning Man organization will offer to transport survivors to and from Reno at no cost, greatly decreasing the examination time and facilitating a speedier reconnection with friends and family. We also have trained advocates to accompany the survivor if the survivor wishes.

    (2018) Burning Man after the fact interceded correcting the Billing Error that caused two of the Sexually Assaulted transported to Reno to be billed $50,000 each for Air Transport.

  2. Sexual assault is a huge problem on the playa. Last year someone I didn’t know and had never seen before grabbed my ass and then ran their hand between my legs. I was in shock and then they grabbed my testicles. That’s when I elbowed her to the face and knocked out one of here teeth. Luckily a LEO witnessed the whole thing and she was taken into custody. My civil case against her is still pending, but she did spend 3 months in jail for the assault and battery against me.

  3. I get eye-raped about 500 times a year at BM. Some guy in a suit made out of small teddy bears gave me a hug outside the portapotties and I had his perverted ass arrested by BLM. Who wears a suit like that?! It’s sick. I still don’t have my proper BM Rape Card yet, but there’s always next year. Fingers crossed!

  4. It’s a fact that 1 in 4 women at Burning Man this year will be raped. Half of the children will be abducted and put into cages. Most of DPW will die in car crashes between the playa and Reno and the rest will die from untreated herpes and pinkeye.

    Something needs to be done to stop this madness. So many lives destroyed.

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