How safe is your Uber ride? That question has dogged the company for years, as it has faced complaints from passengers and drivers alleging they have been sexually assaulted in an Uber.
Now Uber is revealing the scale of those complaints for the first time.
The company received 5,981 allegations of serious sexual assault in the U.S. over two years, according to a new report covering 2017 and 2018. The claims range from unwanted touching and kissing to rape.
The U.S.-only report also covers deaths involving Uber rides. During those two years, 107 people died in crashes involving Uber cars, and 19 people were killed in physical assaults during or soon after an Uber ride.
As troubling as those statistics are, the incidents they capture are rare. People in the U.S. took 2.3 billion rides using Uber in those two years. For 99.9% of those trips, no safety incident was reported, while 0.1% had some sort of complaint. But the serious safety problems detailed in the report were even more uncommon.
“At the scale that Uber operates, we’re going to see both the good and the bad that happens in society because we’re operating so many trips every single day,” said Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer.
“One of the unfortunate but sad truths is that sexual assault, sexual violence is far more prevalent in American society than a lot of people recognize,” he said. “That exists in companies, it exists in classrooms, it exists on university campuses and homes. Uber’s not immune to that.”
Data paint a mixed, and limited, picture
The report is a window into a long-standing problem for ride-hailing companies — not just Uber, but competitors around the world, including Lyft in the U.S., Didi in China and Ola in India. The apps have come under intense scrutiny for how they screen drivers, handle complaints and remove offenders from their platforms.
However, Uber’s report doesn’t present a complete picture. When it comes to sexual assaults, Uber includes what it defines as the five most severe categories: nonconsensual kissing of a nonsexual body part, attempted nonconsensual sexual penetration, nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part, nonconsensual kissing of a sexual body part and nonconsensual sexual penetration.
The report does not include other types of sexual misconduct, like masturbation, asking for sex or verbal threats of assault. Uber worked with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and other advocacy groups to develop the report and address safety issues.
The report counts car crashes and physical assaults that resulted in a death, but not those that resulted in injuries — likely far larger numbers. The company says it will release updated figures every two years.
The rate of serious sexual assault incidents per ride went down in every category between 2017 and 2018. For example, the average rate of sexual assault reports across the five categories fell 16% from one year to the next.
“I feel comfortable that Uber is a very safe mode of transportation. And I think the data in this report actually indicates that as well,” West said.
But Uber also warned that rates could go up in the years to come if more people are encouraged to report sexual assault. Reporting rates for sexual violence and misconduct are notoriously low.
The sexual assault numbers in Uber’s report cover a wide range of allegations. Some of the claims ended up being investigated by police and criminally prosecuted. In other cases, Uber was unable to reach the person who reported the assault for more information.
The victims were both riders and drivers. In fact, passengers were accused of sexual assault in nearly half the reports.