On July 1, 2016, Twitter user Carol Nichols Goulding sent out a tweet destined for internet infamy. The soon-to-go-viral musing read “1998: Don’t get in strangers’ cars, don’t meet [people] from internet. 2016: Literally summon strangers from internet to get in their car.” It was a brilliant observation on how quickly the internet had gone from an environment of carefully protected anonymity and screen names to an avenue for creating real-life interactions between people who were, in most cases until that moment, strangers. From dating and lodging to transportation and pet care, the internet is now critical for allowing our real-life, named identities to reach out and find people who can provide us with whatever we need whenever we need it.
Most of the time, this works out well for both parties. But there will always be outliers, and in some cases, those outliers can have devastating consequences.
Ride-sharing service Uber recently released a highly anticipated report the company promised would detail the number and types of safety incidents that took place last year during U.S.-based rides. Among the key findings were reports of some 3,000 sexual assaults involving either drivers or passengers, including 235 rapes and thousands of other reports involving either unwanted physical contact or the attempted rape of either a driver or a passenger.
The company, which has drawn the ire of not only the public but also federal regulators for everything from its internal culture to its business and legal practices, says the report is part of an ongoing effort to increase transparency. “Confronting sexual violence requires honesty,” says Uber chief legal officer Tony West, “and it’s only by shining a light on these issues that we can begin to provide clarity on something that touches every corner of society.”
Allison Randall, vice president for policy and emerging issues at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, agrees. Randall and her organization have worked extensively with Uber to craft company policies and the organization holds a seat on Uber’s safety advisory board. “The numbers in the report are not surprising because sexual violence permeates all aspects of our society, whether that’s ride-share or Metro or taxi or a workplace,” she says. “This is definitely the start of a conversation.”