Uber releases safety report revealing 5,981 reports of sexual assault

A sign marks a pickup point for the Uber car service at La Guardia Airport in New York

A sign marks a pickup point for the Uber car service at La Guardia Airport in New York

While the total number of reported assaults went up from 2017 to 2018 in three of five categories, including rape, the ride-sharing service said the frequency of attacks had actually fallen due to the number of trips increasing.

The report from Uber focused exclusively on rides in the U.S. and not the 65 other countries where Uber operates, including India, where a driver was sued in 2017 for allegedly raping a passenger. Despite the increase in raw numbers, Uber saw a 16% decrease in the average incident rate, which it suggests may correlate with the company's increased focus on safety as of late.

The report comes almost a year after CNN exposed that at least 103 Uber drivers had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the previous four years, according to the outlet.

The report delineates Uber's efforts to address the issues presented by the numbers, including the company's partnership with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the Urban Institute to create a data platform for counting and categorizing incidents such as sexual assaults available for other companies to use.

On Wednesday, 20 women filed lawsuits in San Francisco against Uber's rival Lyft for sexual assault or rape that occurred in vehicles affiliated with the California company.

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Besides using data from 2017 and 2018, Uber said incidents resolved on or before October 31, 2019, were also included in the report.

The next safety report will be published in two years' time.

The number of sexual assault cases numbered 2,936 in 2017 and 3,045 in 2018 or 5981 over the two years. Over the two-year period of the study, a sexual assault was reported on one in every 5 million trips.

The company also said Uber rides were involved in nine murders during 2018, and 10 during 2017. For instance, Thomson Reuters Foundation 2018 survey says India is the most risky country for sexual violence against women.

Throughout the report, the ride-sharing giant also emphasised that it would continue to invest more into protection for riders and drivers, noting that 99.9% of trips ended without any safety-related issue. By publishing the data, Uber is taking an unusual step for a company by drawing attention to the dangers of its product.

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Both Baker and Uber's legal chief say the company may see an increase in reports of sexual misconduct in the future.

The company also said that reports of assaults on passengers overlooked the risks for drivers. In May 2018, Uber added an in-app 911 calling feature.

"Most companies don't talk about these hard issues, and they don't share data about serious safety incidents".

Since 2017 the company has tripled the size of its safety team, and has added a new "In-App Emergency Button" safety feature. The company is working on a way to share the names of drivers it has deactivated from the platform with other ride-hailing companies to make sure they are aware of past incidents.

The firm, which operates in 70 countries, said the report showed its commitment to transparency to improve accountability and safety industry-wide.

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