Uber sexual assault survivors share their stories in hopes company will change safety protocols

Melanie Woodrow Image
Wednesday, November 22, 2023
Uber sexual assault survivors share their stories
Uber sexual assault survivors are sharing their stories with ABC7 News in hopes that the company will change its safety practices.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Billions of Uber rides are taken and given every day and according to Uber's own 2019-2020 U.S. Safety Report, 3,824 sexual assaults across five categories were reported on the company's app.

"These are predator drivers," said Peiffer Wolf attorney Rachel Abrams.

"I thought it would be safer to take an Uber and it was not," said Jennifer, an Uber sexual assault survivor.

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"It almost felt like the driver was just waiting for someone to get in the car and like a young girl to take advantage of," said Alex, an Uber sexual assault survivor.

Jennifer and Alex are sharing their experience in the hopes that Uber will change its safety practices around screening, hiring and removing drivers from its platform.

On her way to cat sit in the Mission this summer, Jennifer says she took an Uber to avoid walking through the Tenderloin, thinking she'd be safer. Immediately she says her Uber driver began asking her inappropriate questions.

"Oh, do you like to party? Oh, are you having fun? And I'm getting off of work," recounted Jennifer.

At her destination, he offered to help with her bags.

"I was taking my backpack off and then hands were touching me," explained Jennifer.

"I just kept thinking I can't believe this is happening," she continued.

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"And I said no that's very inappropriate, this is not, no I don't want this, no," said Jennifer.

Jennifer says he eventually left, but returned the next day with her cell phone that she had left in his car. A neighbor took the phone for her.

She filed a police report. SFPD tells the I-Team that the investigation remains open.

At the time, it was unclear to Jennifer whether the driver was removed from Uber's platform. Attorney Rachel Abrams says Uber doesn't tell the passenger if a driver is removed from the platform unless they are in litigation and discovery. In its 2019-2020 Safety Report, Uber says the core tenets of its approach are to remove requirements of conclusivity, corroboration, and survivor "credibility" when determining whether to ban the accused party from Uber's app.

In a response to a media request, the rideshare company tells the I-Team, Jennifer's driver was deactivated from the platform. Uber refunded Jennifer's ride and sent her information on an Uber resources hotline and the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

"I didn't imagine that that would happen to me because of a 10-minute Uber drive," said Jennifer.

Abrams says Uber doesn't properly screen drivers. "We do know that they want to do the bare minimum because they want to get drivers. Without drivers, they don't make money."

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According to Uber's most recent 2019-2020 U.S. Safety Report, sexual assault is defined as any physical or attempted physical contact that is reported to be sexual in nature and without consent.

The sexual misconduct and violence taxonomy ranges from staring and asking personal questions. to non-consensual penetration. But Abrams says Uber's self-reported assault numbers only include five categories: non-consensual sexual penetration, non-consensual kissing of a sexual body part, non-consensual touching of a sexual body part, attempted non-consensual sexual penetration and non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part.

"They're not reporting things that the community would want to know about," said Abrams.

In its 2019-2020 safety report, Uber writes, that no rider or driver is deactivated from Uber for a safety report without a human review. Uber also says, "Limiting the categories of incidents to the most severe helps us maintain a higher level of classification accuracy, reliability, and consistency with our previous report."

In 2017, Alex says she was visiting San Francisco by herself when she took an Uber. Immediately she says her driver began asking her if she had a boyfriend and if she would be his girlfriend. She says he insisted he show her around the city.

"I felt like I needed to be agreeable because he seemed kind of impulsive," said Alex.

Eventually driving her to Treasure Island.

"It was out of the way. It wasn't on the way," said Alex.

As she took a picture of the view, she said he took her phone to get a selfie.

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"He actually took a picture with me and I have that picture still," said Alex.

Then persisted that she sit in the front of the car.

"Then he reached over, grabbed me, tried to kiss me, touch my breasts and that's when I pushed him away and was like take me back right now, no, got really angry, making me feel like I had done something really, really wrong and I think at that point I was just in fight or flight," said Alex.

Alex did not report what happened. She also later realized her driver had 'canceled' the ride.

"Felt really shameful about the whole thing just like ugh why did this happen to me is this my fault," said Alex.

And only years later began to openly discuss it.

"It felt like such a big weight off my chest," said Alex.

Uber tells the I-Team, that Alex's driver was deactivated from the platform, though it's not clear why or when because she didn't report the driver. Uber told the I-Team there are many different reasons why a driver can lose access to the platform and for privacy reasons, couldn't go into details about this driver.

Alex says she had at least two other incidents with Uber Drivers talking sexually during the ride, which she has reported to Uber.

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"I got a statement like thank you for submitting this. I think maybe one of them was refunded. and the other one they were like we take this really seriously thank you for letting us know and that was really it," said Alex.

"Even to this day if I'm riding in an Uber alone I am dreading like who is going to show up in this car," said Alex.

In an emailed statement on Nov. 1 for an ABC7 News report about related litigation, an Uber spokesperson wrote, "Sexual assault is a horrific crime, and we take every report of this nature very seriously. While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we are deeply committed to the safety of all users on the Uber platform."

During a recent hearing ABC7 News attended, Uber's attorney said assaults being litigated in a multi-district litigation were "not preventable from Uber's point of view."

A point that will be central to ongoing litigation.

"It attracts predators like these rapists to their platform because they can get away with it," said Abrams.

Jennifer and Alex say they're speaking out to protect others.

"There needs to be more safety or at the very least the types of people they're hiring," said Alex.

"I don't want this kind of thing to happen to so many people and for it to just get swept under the rug," said Jennifer.

Uber says it's constantly working to identify patterns of potentially risky behavior.

Take a look at more stories and videos by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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