According to CNN, at least 103 drivers have assaulted women during the past four years in the United States. Only 31 of the men have been found guilty of charges such as forcible touching, false imprisonment and rape.
The lack of coverage of these incidents is partly due to an Uber requirement in its Terms of Service that seeks to compel its users to go through an arbitration process rather than go to court.
In an open letter to Uber at the end of April, 14 women involved in a class action lawsuit against the company spoke out against the policy:
“Board Directors, we, as women, think that forcing female riders that have suffered rape, sexual assault and gender-motivated violence to pursue their claims in arbitration rather than in court serves to facilitate more incidents of such crimes and victimizes women a second time. Silencing our stories and the stories of countless other female victims emboldens predators by failing to hold them accountable. This vicious cycle perpetuates senseless violence. Uber’s condition of forced arbitration makes future suffering by women like us a near certainty unless Uber decides to ‘do the right thing’ and change.”
Government officials, such as Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, are also now demanding changes.
In a letter to Uber officials, the lawmaker wrote: “I challenge you to finally demonstrate how seriously you take the issue of sexual harassment and assault. Your company must lead by example and show that it values transparency and your users' safety more than your company's bottom line. I respectfully request that you immediately stop enforcing arbitration agreements against individuals who bring claims of sexual harassment or assault. More broadly, I urge you to end your use of these dangerous agreements against your customers.”
Blumenthal agrees with the women speaking out against Uber that forced arbitration is a tactic to prevent victims from participating in class-action lawsuits. They are also less likely to take any action, he said. “A company that is focused on its customers should be working to protect their rights, not to eliminate them,” Blumenthal wrote.
In one case, a female passenger in San Diego was so drunk that she asked the driver to stop the car so she could step outside and vomit. The woman alleged that after she passed out in the back seat, she woke up to find the driver raping her. She got away from the man and called for help.
The 54-year-old driver, John David Sanchez, reportedly had videos on his computer showing him sexually assaulting multiple women and abusing underage girls. He was convicted of raping one Uber passenger, along with 33 other criminal counts, and received an 80-year prison sentence. Prosecutors said the man used drugs to subdue a number of the women.
Another incident similarly involved a passenger who had been drinking in a bar. A Miami woman told authorities she lost consciousness in an Uber vehicle, and that she later awoke in her bedroom with her pants and underwear on the floor.
The driver was accused of carrying the woman into her apartment and attacking her on her bed. The victim, who is among those in the class-action lawsuit against Uber, told CNN: “You are pretty much hitchhiking with strangers. How many people is it going to take to get assaulted before something is done?”
A similar story featured a California woman who also said she passed out in the back seat during an Uber ride and woke up when the driver began assaulting her. After the man insisted that the sex was consensual, a district attorney decided not to pursue the case.
The victim responded by filing a suit against Uber. “You don't think it will happen to you,” she said. “I still feel ashamed. ... I want a voice. (I'm) tired of being quiet.”
CNN's analysis of police documents and court records in 20 large U.S. cities uncovered these 103 cases. There is no telling how many women have been assaulted in other cities.
The report calls into question Uber's promise that it provides customers a “safe ride home.” While the company advises riders not to use its services while intoxicated, it does not warn them that Uber employees might attack them.
According to five drivers in different cities, the company does not require them to undergo any training concerning sexual assault or harassment. The employees are told they must comply with certain “community guidelines,” which include a ban on sexual contact.
Uber recently added a video about sexual assault prevention on its website, which urges drivers to “create a safer community.” In response to the CNN story, the company scheduled 50 “community forums” to discuss the scandal.
Though Uber officials have been reluctant to do interviews about the matter, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CNN that stopping sexual attacks has become a “new priority for us.” The official added: “It is a priority that I expect to remain a priority for the foreseeable future.”
The company claims it is dealing with the crisis by updating protocols involving background checks for drivers and other issues. A new “safety center” on the Uber app enables passengers to more easily call 911.
“This is just a start and we are committed to doing more,” a company spokesperson said. “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.”