Don’t Praise Uber for Releasing Its Safety Report
Earlier this month, I was one of the countless Americans that got a push notification from their news source about Uber’s awaited safety report. The headlines were sensational, mentioning the thousands of sexual assault allegations made to the app in the past two years. The stories that followed pointed out the stark numbers of people hurt using the app, but then heaped praise about how brave Uber was to release such a damning report. Instead of patting the company on the back, I think we should all be focused on how the company still refuses to accept much responsibility for its sexual assault problem.
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The raw numbers
In case you managed to miss the original story on December 5, Uber released a U.S. safety report that detailed, among other figures, exactly how many people reported sexual assault to the app. In 2017 and 2018 it processed 5,981 reports of “physical or attempted physical contact that is reported to be sexual in nature and without the consent of the user.”* That includes 229 incidents in 2017 and 235 in 2018 of “non-consensual sexual penetration,” or rape. As NBC News reported, that’s about four victims a week.
But Uber’s not the bad guy
The report’s release sparked outrage online, but the document’s forward by the CEO of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and supporting quotations from the executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence in praise of Uber revealing such painful statistics seemed to temper some of the condemnation from the media. At the bare minimum, it turned the conversation away from the sheer number of victims to how awesome it was that Uber was being transparent.
Uber itself was quick to point out in the document and in its comments to the press that it processes over a billion rides a year, so the assaults occur in a very small percentage of rides. For example, rape was in 0.00002 percent of rides in both 2017 and 2018, and the non-consensual touching of a sexual body part was only in .0001 percent of total trips in both years.
When Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, spoke to NBC News, he didn’t try to say the numbers weren’t difficult. However, his words steered the conversation towards the problem with society as a whole instead of any failure on Uber’s part.
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Take some responsibility
Look, I get it, Uber doesn’t want to clearly claim responsibility for their app’s shortcomings contributing to the assault or rape of thousands of people in the United States. That would open them up to costly lawsuits from victims and survivors. However, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch Uber bask in the glow people are offering them for working with organizations to cut down on the violence they exposed people to in the first place.
When it comes to any form of assault, sexual or otherwise, Uber has always been reacting to problems as they pop up instead of preventing them before they start. It’s quite telling that the app launched in 2011, yet it didn’t think to add a panic button until mid-2018. According to the report’s data, by that point, at least 229 people had been raped and almost 3,000 reports of general sexual assault had been reported to the company in the previous year alone. I’m sure it was an issue before 2017 too, but there was more pressure on the app to act in the wake of publicity around the #MeToo movement.
If Uber really wants to show it cares about preventing sexual assault and harassment, it should focus more on bringing in more diverse voices to ensure they start getting ahead of problems and loopholes, like the ones that recently got its license to operate in London revoked. I consider myself a fairly tech-savvy person but forgive me if I continue to be wary of this technology until I see more than platitudes coming from the Uber offices.
*The report kept sexual assault as a term to describe physical violence, while “sexual misconduct” referred to both unwanted contact and non-physical harassment, like unsolicited comments.
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