After ten years in business, Uber has finally conducted its first-ever safety report, compiling data from 2017 and 2018 with a primary emphasis on traffic fatalities, fatal physical assaults, and sexual assaults of both passengers and drivers in the United States.
The San Francisco-based ride-sharing platform has long been scrutinized for its safety practices and its treatment of victims. It was the subject of an in-depth investigation by CNN who found over a hundred reports of sexual abuse by drivers, many of which raped their intoxicated female passengers on the way home from a bar or a club.
With roughly 1 billion rides given in the United States year, the reports of sexual assault and murder among Uber drivers and passengers may seem statistically insignificant, having occurred in just a minute fraction of trips.
To the 5,981 people who were sexually assaulted and the families of the 19 people who were murdered during those years, however, there is nothing insignificant whatsoever about their experience.
“After an evening of cocktails in San Diego, a woman got into the back of an Uber for a ride home. She was so intoxicated she had to ask the driver to stop so she could vomit. She says she then passed out in the backseat,” a CNN Business report says of one of the many Uber passengers who became a victim of rape at the hands of their driver. “When she regained consciousness, the Uber driver was on top of her, raping her, a block from her home, according to the police report and two sources familiar with the investigation.”
The woman was able to escape and dial 911. Police later arrested the Uber driver, 54-year-old John David Sanchez. When they searched Sanchez’ computer, they found several videos of Sanchez raping women and abusing young teenagers, dating back at least five years.
This is just one of the thousands of cases of women who were abused while using Uber as a “safer alternative” to drunk driving.
The safety report repeatedly contrasted numbers of incidents with national averages, especially citing the statistic that up to 44% of American women will become the victims of sexual abuse in their lifetime. Rates of sexual assault this high, however, have often been called into question.
Do they expect us to ignore this highly disturbing trend because rape culture? Good grief!
“The numbers are jarring and hard to digest,” Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, said in an interview with the New York Times. “What it says is that Uber is a reflection of the society it serves.”
What a cop-out!
“We don’t believe corporate secrecy will make anyone safer,” the report’s executive summary adds.
CNN Business breaks down the report, with unsurprising sensitivity toward “gender minorities”:
The report included information on the reporting party and the accused party and claimed riders account for 45% of the accused parties of sexual assault incidents. The report said “drivers have a right to have their experiences told, and we have a responsibility to stand with them.”
The report showed that about 92% of the victims of rape were riders and about 7% of the victims were drivers. Women and female-identifying individuals made up 89% of the victims with men and male-identifying individuals comprising about 8% of victims. Fewer than 1% of victims identified as gender minorities.
The other four categories of sexual assault defined by Uber — including non-consensual kissing, non-consensual touching and attempted rape — did not detail whether the reporting parties were victims.
The new 84-page report contained data that Uber had from 2017 and 2018, and included incident reports resolved on or before October 31, 2019.
As for 2019 data, Uber released “early estimates” for the first six months of the year. It estimated that one out of every 6 million trips may result in an incident report concerning non-consensual sexual penetration, and one in every 900,000 trips may result in an incident report concerning non-consensual touching of a sexual body part. Based on these estimates, and Uber’s own estimate that it has 45 rides every second in the US alone, there were more than 100 reports of rape, and nearly 800 reports of non-consensual touching of a sexual body part, in the first half of 2019. The first half numbers are subject to change, due to factors such as auditing and late reporting.
Uber now plans to release a safety report every two years.
In a recent statement sent to CNN, an Uber spokesperson said that safety has been the company’s top concern this year, pointing to several recent protocol updates such as rerunning driver background checks on an annual basis moving forward. Uber has also added several safety features within the app including a rapid 911-dialer that automatically gives first responders your exact location, a sensor- and GPS-enabled feature that detects if a trip goes unusually off-course or if a possible crash has occurred, and the ability to designate contacts who receive details of events during the trip.
“This is just a start and we are committed to doing more,” the spokesperson told CNN. “Sexual assault is a horrible crime that has no place anywhere. While Uber is not immune to this societal issue, we want to be part of the solution to end this violence forever.”
“The public responses to this transparency report or similar public reporting of safety incidents claimed to have occurred on our platform … may result in negative media coverage and increased regulatory scrutiny and could adversely affect our reputation with platform users,” the company warned investors in its IPO filings when it went public in May.
“But we know that published reports only go so far. We can only make society safer if we all work together. And that requires implementing best practices based on expertise, as well as sharing data that benefits everyone,” the report’s executive summary concludes. “Moving forward, we encourage all organizations—airline, taxi, ridesharing, home-sharing, and hotel companies, as well as others—to share their safety records with their customers and exceed this report.”
While Uber may very well be statistically safer than driving home drunk from a bar, it’s clear they still have a long way to go to maximize safety for their users.
Ultimately, all the safety features and sexual harassment training in the world is not going to stop a rapist from assaulting a woman who passes out drunk in the back of his vehicle.
The burden is on men not to harm women, on women to remain on their guard (and armed, preferably) when they participate in what amounts to 21st-century hitchhiking, and Uber to pull out no stops in ensuring the safety of everyone who uses the platform.
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