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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Dark Side of Burning Man: Rape on the Playa

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 9:30 AM

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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.

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