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Uber discloses almost 6,000 incidents of sexual assaults in US

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Via Financial Times

An average of eight people reported sexual assaults while using Uber’s service each day in the US, according to a first-of-its-kind safety report released by the car-booking app on Thursday.

While the numbers are difficult to contextualise for a service that offers more than 3m trips a day, the raw figures are jarring: in 2018 Uber reported 3,045 incidents of sexual assault in the US, ranging from non-consensual kissing to non-consensual sexual penetration. Sexual assault of the most serious kind occurred 235 times last year — more than four times a week. There were 2,936 incidents reported in 2017.

The report’s publication comes just two weeks after Uber was stripped of its licence to operate in London, for the second time, after local regulators found regulatory breaches that had put “passenger safety and security at risk”.

The 84-page document covering 2017 and 2018 has little precedent, making it difficult to compare to taxi services or other forms of transport. Uber noted, for instance, that the most serious sexual assaults occurred once in every 5m trips in the US.

In a series of tweets Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said: “Many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they’re still too common. Some people will appreciate how much we’ve done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right.”

He added Uber was trying to do the right thing by “counting, confronting and taking action to end sexual assault”, adding that its “work will never be done”.

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The report said 99.9 per cent of Uber trips in America “end without any safety-related issue at all”, while just 0.1 per cent of US journeys “had a support request for a safety-related concern” and only “0.0003 per cent of trips had a report of a critical safety incident”.

Uber highlighted various safety features, saying that in the two-year period it rejected “more than 1m prospective drivers” from the service through a “rigorous” screening process. A continuous screening process has removed another 40,000 drivers. Moreover, sexual assaults declined 16 per cent from 2017 to 2018, perhaps suggesting that its work is having an impact.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the US’s largest anti-sexual violence organisation, called the study “an important step” and encouraged other companies and institutions to make similar efforts.

Jane Doe Inc, a victim advocacy group, applauded the effort, calling it “the type of forward-thinking and responsible behaviour needed by all companies to help ensure the safety of their employees and customers”.

A lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in a Californian court against Uber’s rival Lyft. In the suit 19 women claimed to have been raped or sexually assaulted while using the car-booking app, with the victims saying Lyft has not done enough to screen drivers or protect vulnerable passengers.

Uber and Lyft have been repeatedly sued by sexual assault victims for allegedly failing to screen drivers and not taking enough action to protect vulnerable passengers. The most infamous case occurred in 2014, when a female passenger was raped in India and an Uber executive unlawfully obtained her medical records to assess the assault.

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Regarding the release on Thursday’s safety report, Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West said: “Most companies don’t talk about issues like sexual violence because doing so risks inviting negative headlines and public criticism. But we feel it’s time for a new approach.”

In addition to sexual assault the report details that over the two-year period Uber rides resulted in 107 deaths from 97 car crashes. Uber calculated that to be less than 0.6 fatalities per 100m vehicle miles travelled — about half the national rate.

The report also documented 10 physical attacks resulting in homicide in 2017, plus nine last year.

Mr West said these numbers reflected that Uber was “not immune to society’s most serious safety challenges”, noting that about 20,000 people were murdered n the US in 2017.

The study was compiled over 21 months. Uber said it planned to release a follow-up study every two years.

A Lyft spokeswoman said the rival service was “committed” to releasing its own safety report and was taking it own steps to enhance the safety of ride-sharing.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence called Uber’s report “a groundbreaking step in raising awareness and encouraging survivors to share their stories”.

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