How Uber Can Take Action Against Sexual Assault

How Uber Can Take Action Against Sexual Assault
According to media reports and court documents, an UberDC driver was arrested Saturday on a sexual abuse charge after a woman reported the assault to police last month.

We were deeply saddened this week to read the news of a sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by a UberDC driver. According to media reports and court documents, an UberDC driver was arrested Saturday on a sexual abuse charge after a woman reported the assault to police last month. We hope this tragedy will help Uber realize the necessity and urgency of providing safety measures to protect its riders — an issue that CASS has raised with the business numerous times in recent years, including as recently as this spring.

We first reached out to Uber after an UberDC driver was charged with sexually assaulting a female client in December 2012 in Cleveland Park. At the time, we urged Uber to consider mandating anti-sexual assault training for its drivers, a measure that we successfully encouraged Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to implement the same year, which is currently being rolled out. We contacted Uber again earlier this year when the company instituted its $1 “safety fee,” again asking the company to give the community what it really wants in order to feel safe and implement sexual harassment and assault prevention training for its employees.

In order to help illustrate the pressing need for increased safety measures from Uber, we surveyed community members about what safety measures they wanted to see from the rideshare service. According to our survey findings, DC community members strongly want Uber to take preventive measures against sexual assault and use greater transparency when speaking about its safety measures and what it’s doing to address sexual assault. Specifically, community members and Uber clients want to see Uber implement anti-sexual assault trainings for drivers and staff. They also want Uber to establish an online portal, similar to WMATA’s, so that patrons can anonymously report sexual harassment, thereby helping Uber gather information and better address the issue. The message is clear: DC community members want more commitment to safety from transportation services like Uber.

Recently, we’ve seen positive action on behalf of DC businesses in recognizing their part in ending sexual violence. Over the past year, a handful of bars and restaurants have participated in our Safe Bars program, which trains and empowers staff at alcohol-serving establishments to recognize and respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault. And in addition to WMATA and its ongoing anti-sexual harassment work, we’ve worked with companies like Pepco and Bare Minerals to address sexual harassment. We hope that Uber will also rise to the occasion.

We know only about this most recent sexual abuse allegation against Uber because the survivor chose to report to authorities, but not everyone makes that choice, for a variety of reasons. With sexual assault being one of the most underreported crimes, many similar incidents may go unreported. Safety measures like staff trainings and a process for reporting sexual harassment and assault would help show Uber’s commitment to keeping its clients safe. In the meantime, we at CASS look forward to launching RightRides DC this fall, a program that will provide free and safe late-night rides home for women and LGBTQ folks. No one should fear sexual violence, and everyone deserves a safe ride home. We hope that Uber makes steps to show the community that they feel the same.

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What Exactly Does Uber’s New “Safe Rides Fee” Do? Not Enough.

Ask a straight, cisgender man what he does when he prepares to leave the house. Odds are, he will be at a loss for how to answer. For those that rarely feel the threat of sexual violence on the street, safety is often not on their radar. Try asking the same question to a woman or an LGBTQ-identifying individual, however, and you’ll likely be treated to an exhausting laundry list of safety measures: double-checking outfits, planning out alternative walking routes, maybe even packing a weapon like mace — and so much more. Folks who don’t regularly experience sexual harassment on the street get to decide where to go and how to get there based on convenience and cost. But for women and LGBTQ folks, these considerations are often in conflict with a need to stay safe — which takes up an incredible amount of energy and can end up unfairly costing them — not only in money, but also in time and energy.

That’s why it really bugged us when we heard the recent news from CASS supporter @mcbyrne that transportation company Uber will start levying a $1 “safe rides fee” for trips on UberX, the company’s rideshare service.

Why would a company — especially one that likely gets ample business from those concerned with their personal safety — put an additional price tag on our freedom from assault? How does it solve the harassment and assault perpetrated by Uber drivers themselves? We reached out to Uber DC, and here’s what they told us about the new “safety” fee —

According to Uber reps, the fee will sustain Uber’s existing safety measures, which include background checks on drivers, insurance on Uber trips and basic driving training. The new fee will also help build a pool of resources for additional safety measures to implement in the future, like a Kitestring-like feature for the Uber app. When we asked about Uber’s policy on harassment by drivers, we were told that anyone accused of harassing behavior is let go. We truly appreciate the time and energy of the Uber DC rep who spoke to CASS and listened to our suggestions, and we’re glad that they’re investing in driver and passenger safety.

This isn’t the first time that CASS has spoken with Uber reps about issues of sexual harassment and assault by drivers.

In December 2012, reports arose that a young DC woman had been raped by her Uber driver (in this case, a black car driver). By the spring, her case had been dropped. During this time period, CASS reached out to Uber to encourage the company to respond to this assault and — most importantly — to implement plans to prevent similar incidents. We had a lengthy conversation with Uber reps, in which we pitched productive community responses like facilitating an informative tweet chat on the company’s safety measures or training Uber drivers and staff on sexual violence prevention.

Ultimately, our call this week with Uber revealed that — despite its new safety fee — not much has changed about how the company trains its staff or deals with sexual harassment complaints.

In our work on transit issues, CASS has emphasized that culture change is the key to ensuring safe transportation for women and LGBTQ individuals. When it comes to Uber, firing individual drivers may cure the symptoms, but not the cause: the unmet need for preventive training regarding sexual harassment and assault. The Uber rep that CASS spoke with said that the company hardly ever receives reports of sexual harassment or assault by drivers. When you’re dealing with the most underreported crime in the country, a low number of reports is not the best indicator of progress. Often, it’s a sign that victims don’t feel empowered to speak up.

Rather than offering a misleading “safety” surcharge, what about actually increasing passenger safety in the present? We think Uber should do more.

Here’s where you come in. Fill out the survey below to tell us what you think Uber should do to prevent sexual harassment by Uber drivers. If you’ve been harassed in an Uber, let us know anonymously by sharing your story.

BREAKING: Arrest made in December 2012 Uber rape case

In December, a Yahoo! Group for DC’s Cleveland Park neighborhood, posted a message detailing a rape allegedly committed by an Uber cabdriver a few days prior. According to the listerv post, a 20-year-old woman who used Uber, an “on-demand” cab service accessed via a smartphone app, was attacked, knocked unconscious and raped by her driver after receiving a ride to her home in Cleveland Park.

We wrote about the case in January, noting the strong need for violence prevention and safer travel options for women.

Today, Prince of Petworth announced that an arrest has been made in the case.  We at CASS send our hearts out to the survivor and wish her the best. We hope that Uber pays close attention to this tragedy to learn how others can be prevented.

Details below, along with a statement from Uber. 


Reposted from Prince of Petworth, 3/15/13:

Back in mid-December there was a report on the Cleveland Park listserv of an Uber driver who had allegedly sexually assaulted a woman on the 3200 block of 36th Street NW. An arrest in that case has now been made.

From MPD:

The Metropolitan Police Department has announced that an arrest has been made in the First Degree Sexual Abuse that occurred in the 3200 block of 36th Street, NW. 

On Saturday, December 8, 2012, at approximately 3:00 am, an adult female who had hired a cab service was sexually assaulted while in the 3200 block of 36th Street, NW. 

After an investigation by members of the Sexual Assault Unit, a warrant was issued for 35 year-old Anouar Habib Trabelsi of Alexandria, VA, charging him with First Degree Sexual Abuse.

On March 13, 2013, Mr. Trabelsi was arrested by members of the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force.

Ed. Note: Representatives from Uber will be releasing a statement shortly at which point I will update here.

Statement from Rachel Holt, Washington, DC General Manager, Uber:

Immediately upon being told that a driver for Capitol Limo, a limo company utilizing Uber technology, was suspected of committing a crime, we deactivated the partner account. He has not done a single ride through Uber since then. We have worked closely with the police and prosecutors investigating this incident, and will continue to help them in any way possible. The safety of our users is absolutely paramount, and we will continue to be vigilant that riders’ safety and security are protected.