Uber Safety Study Finds More Than 3,000 Reports Of Sexual Assaults In U.S. Rides Last Year

Photo: Alastair Pike, Getty

In addition to recent news of its bizarre issue with segregating bathrooms, Uber has long struggled with keeping its passengers safe, though we only now know the extent of the problem (in the U.S., at least) courtesy of the company’s first study on unsafe incidents involving the ridesharing service.

According to Thursday’s report, which only covered U.S. rides between 2017 and 2018, last year alone Uber received 3,045 reports of sexual assaults during trips with another nine people murdered and 58 killed in crashes. The numbers from 2017 tell a nearly identical story. Uber said it used an intentionally broad definition of sexual assault that ranges from nonconsensual kissing of any “nonsexual body part” to attempted rape and rape, with the majority of documented incidents involving unwanted touching of a “sexual body part,” i.e. a person’s mouth or genitalia.

Though previous investigations have already shed plenty of light on how pervasive reports of sexual assault and other violent acts involving the service are, Uber’s transparency marks some of the first official numbers on the subject, as no police department or government body currently tracks crimes specifically related to ridesharing services. Competitors like Lyft haven’t shared comparable figures either.

“We don’t believe corporate secrecy will make anyone safer,” Uber states in the report’s executive summary.

In reminders diligently peppered throughout the study, the company reiterates that these incidents represent a small fraction of the total 2.3 billion Uber rides completed in the U.S. during that same period, and that of the nearly 4 million trips taken every day using the service, 99.9 per cent end with no reported safety incidents.

Even still, Uber’s chief legal officer and a leading force behind the report, Tony West, called the findings “jarring and hard to digest” in an interview with the New York Times. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also expressed his sentiments on Twitter for the victims of these thousands of documented incidents.

“My heart is with every survivor of this all-too-pervasive crime. Our work will never be done, but we take an important step forward today,” he tweeted Thursday.

And apparently people booking a ride aren’t the only ones at risk. “Drivers are victims, too,” the company wrote in its executive summary. While 92 per cent of reported rape victims were passengers, drivers and riders both reported other types of sexual assaults such as unwanted kissing and touching at similar rates, Uber said. And of the 19 murders Uber documented during that two-year period, seven of the victims were drivers while eight were passengers (the company refers to the remaining four as “third-parties” such as nearby bystanders).

With this report, Uber appears to be making good on last year’s promise that the company’s “getting serious about safety”. Since then, Uber’s implemented several new security features such as an in-app emergency button that silently shares your location and trip details with 911, an option to share your ride information with a trusted third-party so they can know you’ve arrived safely, and an ID check feature that makes drivers prove with a selfie that they are who their account says they are. The company’s also purportedly tripled the size of its safety team to 300 employees since 2017, which I can assume was in part made possible by its several recent rounds of lay-offs that gutted other departments such as marketing and engineering.

Uber’s also apparently been beefing up its screening requirements for who’s allowed to drive for the company in the first place. According to Uber, more than 40,000 drivers have been kicked from the service after it implemented a system that continuously screens drivers for any possible recent criminal offences. Uber’s background checks disqualify anyone with a felony conviction in the last seven years, though in the case of certain violent felonies like sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder, there’s no such time period limit. During the two-year period studied in Uber’s safety report, the company said its screening process filtered out more than a million prospective drivers who failed to pass these checks.

Along with today’s report, the company noted its currently researching ways to create a black-list of banned drivers in addition to several other new safety measures planned for 2020. According to the Times’ report, West also said Uber plans to share information with competing ridesharing companies about possibly dangerous drivers that passengers have reported, though he didn’t go into detail.

Admittedly, the bar is ridiculously low for any safety features Uber comes up with. After all, this is the company that marketed a phony “Safe Rides Fee” to scam passengers out of billions. All Uber has to do is avoid shamelessly profiting off its shady reputation.

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