CW: mentions of sexual assault and violence against women.
If you’ve ever needed to get some shopping done in the suburbs, or return from a night out in Boston after the T stopped running, then you’ve most likely relied on one of the most popular rideshare apps on the market: Uber. Around the holidays, Boston College residence halls are buzzing with students looking for someone with a similar departure time to split an Uber with to Logan Airport. Uber is the lifeblood of inter-Boston transportation for the city's college students, but the rideshare service is not as innocuous as it presents itself. Accusation of sexual assault by riders plague the app’s past, present, and in all likelihood, its future.
Uber is currently being sued over sexual assault allegations by San Francisco law firm Slater Slater Shulman in a case that reportedly represents 550 women across the country. The suit alleges that women “‘were kidnapped, sexually assaulted, sexually battered, raped, falsely imprisoned, stalked, harassed, or otherwise attacked by Uber drivers.” Uber insists it is building new safety and increasing transparency about safety, but the numbers speak for themselves.
As previously stated, the women represented in the lawsuit hail from all over the country, and at least one is from Massachusetts. A Boston-area Uber driver was sued in October of last year for the attempted rape of his intoxicated passenger. She filed a lawsuit against the rideshare app in Suffolk County Superior Court. The driver, Michael Squadrito refutes the claims saying the sex was consensual, but if his passenger was indeed intoxicated like she claims to have been, no consensual sex could have taken place. The woman in question remains unidentified, but her story is all too familiar to women everywhere who are survivors of sexual assault themselves.
As aforementioned, college students in the Boston area rely on Uber to get around the city, and the app is considered to generally be safer than taking the T in the late hours of the night, but this lawsuit is throwing that assumption into question. There is more Uber can be doing to make sure its passengers are staying safe like installing cameras in its cars or creating a warning system to alert riders if their driver goes off the suggested route. However, since Uber refuses to make these improvements, the burden of staying safe falls on the passengers and not the company. If you’re getting in an Uber, especially at night or while intoxicated, it’s an excellent idea to share your location with a friend or family member so they can see that you arrive at your destination safely. And if possible, never ride alone.
It’s entirely unjust that Uber has managed to shirk the blame for staying safe onto its customers, but the app maintains it has no guilt in the reprehensible behavior of some of its drivers. Uber insists it can’t be blamed for crimes committed by its drivers because they are independent contractors rather than employees. Only time will tell if this claim holds up in court and whether the swift hammer of justice will be coming for the hundreds of victims of sexual assault at the hands of Uber “contractors.”