Burning Man organizers are stressing the importance of consent at their Nevada festival. Pic: wespoher.com
Organizers are reminding attendees that just because the counter-culture festival in the Nevada desert is known for occasional nudity and kinky landmarks like the “Orgy Dome,”  it doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all when it comes to touching or nonconsensual sex, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

While the festival doesn’t have official guidelines, it does have a set of informal rules.

The festival’s on-site Sexual Assault Services department receives about 20 reports of alleged sexual assault each year, said Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham.

Many of those reports involve leering or grabbing, which aren’t considered sexual assault under Nevada law. A few reports each year require involvement from law enforcement.

Last year, two people were arrested on suspicion of sexual assault without substantial bodily harm. 

Despite the low arrests, Donna Rae Watson, director of the Bureau of Erotic Discourse, a large camp at Burning Man that teaches people about sex, still hears stories of harassment at the festival from dozens of people each year.

“Scandalous costumes and nudity might be considered inviting. (Others) automatically think consent is implied, but implied consent doesn’t exist,” she said.  The organization is doing more to educate participants about consent, what it means and what it applies to.

Watson said her group was founded in 2005 after a woman was sexually assaulted at the festival the previous year.  The camp, which is not a part of the Burning Man organization, tapes posters inside port-a-potties that define consent.

The group also passes out buttons with slogans such as “Consent is sexy” and “However you dress, wherever you go, yes means yes and no means no.”

The camp has begun to visit other camps, especially those that host large dance parties and teach them about consent.  This year, ticketholders received an email reminding them that consent is needed not just for sex but for any kind of touching, gifting (including food and drink) and photography.

In recent years, many Burners have adopted consent as the 11th principle along with their other 10 principles that include self-expression and immediacy.

“Our purpose is to bring consent front and centre and incorporate it into the ethos of the culture, where boundaries are respected and our bodies are respected,” Watson said.