The Dangers of Rideshare Services. For more than 100 years, taxis have been a valuable mode of transportation, and in more recent years, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have arrived. With many useful services comes a darker side. In this blog, I want to look at some startling statistics and some safety tips to avoid falling victim to violence. In my 25 years of teaching violence prevention and self-defense, the one topic I have received more about is about taxis. Using a cab goes against many of the safety standards we teach people. And while there are risks involved with a taxi, there are even more if you use a rideshare service. A post can also be done on the attacks on rideshare drivers, but this blog will focus on the users of these services concerning sexual violence.
Before we get to the safety tips, consider these statistics.
According to an article in wired.com, there were More than 3,000 people reported sexual assaults related to Uber rides in the US last year. This equates to an average of eight per day.
Uber is working with advocacy groups to create classifications of sexual assault. Concerning the overall topic of rape, we know most rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, so in the case of Rideshare drivers, this would fit into the category of “stranger rape.” In the article, it states that regarding “stranger rape,” Just 27,000 incidents occurred last year, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, fewer than 20 percent of the total rape incidents reported to the FBI. The one word that really jumps out at me is “JUST!”. Have we come to a point where 27,000 is a small, even acceptable number? If so, wow! Yes, concerning the total number of rapes reported, it may be small, but that is why we should even be more shocked!
What gets lost most often in statistics are the real people who are experiencing this trauma that they will carry for a lifetime. Many use this service as a safe method to get home only to find it is the complete opposite.
So, why do I consider the use of rideshare services and taxis risky compared to most forms of transportation?
- You are in a vehicle with a stranger
- You are trapped in a car that may be moving at high speed
- You have no control over the car
- Being alone makes you a more vulnerable target
- Many use the service after a night of drinking so one may pass out or be of a deficient mindset in making decisions
You hear a few things in that video that should be brought up.
Many who work in the industry are quick to bring up how many lives are saved because the service provides transportation to those who have been consuming alcohol so they can get home safely. Yes, true, but also an increased opportunity for the rapist seeking victims. Rapists and criminals, in general, seek those they consider vulnerable. Being alone, isolated in a vehicle and under the influence of any substances magnifies this vulnerability. It creates the perfect environment for any type of assault.
We teach how often an attacker wants to isolate their victims so they can proceed with their sexual assault or rape with less chance of being caught. Being alone in a taxi or car as in Rideshare services may be the ultimate in isolation. First, they have control over the vehicles, doors, windows, where the car may end up. Depending on whether it is a taxi or Rideshare car may determine if there is a barrier between you and the driver. Again, these are often put in for the driver’s safety, but also provide more opportunities to control the scenario if they have evil plans.
Often people who get into these vehicles may find themselves engaged in small talk, which may be sincere, but also used to distract the person until it may be too late to act.
Also, the seemingly insignificant conversation may be used for fact gathering on the part of the driver. Many find themselves answering personal questions, not realizing they may have told the driver things such as if you live alone, how long you will be away from home on vacation, who may or may not be expecting you. Some people will suddenly stop realizing how much personal information they are giving out.
The small talk might buy the driver enough time to place you where you can’t attract attention to the car, or even use your cellphone effectively to get help if it is not on or you have passed out. Most times, you can trust the driver them to wake you up when you arrive at your destination, but I think we people put far too much trust into these “strangers.”
Here are some violence prevention and self-defense tips to increase your safety when using a taxi or rideshare service. While you may not be able to adopt them all, the more you can, the safer you will be.
One of the first safety tips always brought up is dialing 911, and rideshare services are integrating them into their apps. That is all fine and dandy, but as I often say, having the ability to use 911 does not necessarily prevent the attack, which should be the primary focus. Then do you have it ready to access when need be because if already in an escalating scenario, dialing 911 or pressing a single button can become a complex motor skill, not easily performed? My worry as it has been for many years is people thinking they can call 911, and the police will be there in seconds, or the rapist will immediately flee. So, yes, having the ability to dial 911 is one measure, but not one that prevents the attack or necessarily stops it. It may be more valuable after the fact. Remember, the criminal knows you can use 911, so they make their plan around your ability to use it or access it.
One of the simplest and most effective safety tips I can offer is to never use a taxi or rideshare service by yourself if possible. The moment you have two or more people, you are less attractive to the driver. There are more obstacles and challenges for the driver to potentially overcome, so high chance they will just wait for a better victim to select. If one person is more aware mentally than the other, they should not exit the vehicle first. Ideally, both get out of the car at your destination. Never leave a friend alone if they are limited physically or mentally in any way.
This may not be a tip you think of with safety in a taxi or rideshare vehicle but trust your intuition. If you get in and the person says, acts or behaves in any way that triggers a feeling of discomfort, politely say you want out. Now, if they do have bad intentions, there is a high chance they will not, but this still might give you earlier warning signs to take some action like calling 911 or attempting to draw attention to the car before you are too isolated. The sooner you can address any trouble, the better. Also, because the aggressor most often does not want to get caught, if you say you want out, it may trigger their intuition that you are not the best choice victim if they suspect you are on to their possible intentions.
My preference is you sit in the backseat while using your cellphone, which I will mention soon. Sitting in the backseat does remove the immediate accessibility to you. I have had several women tell me when sitting in the front seat, the driver has reached over and touched them. It may merely stop there, which is terrible enough and sexual assault, but may be used to test your limits in their decision to further the attack.
Before getting in, make sure to match the driver’s license plate, make and model of car, and driver photo. Do not attempt to do any of this in the vehicle, but before you get in. Too many people have just jumped into the car, assuming it was the correct one. This has resulted in some tragic results. Or the supposed driver waves you over, you get in without checking the credentials.
Another smart strategy before getting in the car is to ask the driver who they are supposed to be picking up. While it does not guarantee they will not do anything, it is one more step in verifying, they are the driver. The driver may also ask you for their name for their safety. Again, many drivers have been attacked, but that is not the focus of this blog post.
The use of cellphones can be precious here. While they can be a negative device in distracting yourself, if you are in a taxi or rideshare vehicle, be on your cellphone and tell the person on the end of the line, the name of the driver, where you are, what time you should arrive and even stay on the phone with them. Make sure the driver can hear you providing all this information to the other person. This again makes you a less attractive target. And if the driver takes issue that should trigger your intuition that something is not right. Also, chatting with your friend out of strategy while being aware also prevents the driver from making small talk in which you might give out personal information. Do not feel pressure to engage in conversation.
If you sense something is not right, hesitate to be rude or aggressive towards the driver. This might escalate their plan in speed and violence. Easy to say, remain calm, but do your best. We have a full program on verbal de-escalation strategies, including my upcoming book titled, “DISARM DAILY CONFLICT – Your Life Depends on It,” but for now view how one woman dealt with her attacker.
This blog is not going into the physical aspects of an attack, but if you want more information on violence prevention and self-defense strategies we teach, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Managing Director, SAFE International