I talk about my recent assault incident with an Uber driver, and the importance of being alert + aware of your surroundings (and staying safe), whether you're at home or you're abroad.
A few weeks ago, I was having the worst week ever and decided to let loose with some friends at this live music event uptown. And you know you're having a particularly bad week when you feel so shitty, you can't even bring yourself to drink at said event. But I stayed out dancing anyways to get stuff off of my mind, and was ready to go before everyone else at midnight (because I had work in the morning). So I called an Uber.
This happens all the time. I'm sure thousands of other women have called an Uber alone at midnight because they're tired and just want to go to bed. I can't even imagine what would've happened if I were drunk. But because I was tired, my mind wasn't as alert, and I made a lot of mistakes that could have easily been prevented. I wanted to share them with you so you don't end up in a situation like mine--or in a situation way worse.
1. Never sit in the front when you're alone.
This has actually always been my mantra. Ironically, not for safety reasons though. I can be a pretty awkward person. 8 times out of 10, I probably won't feel like chatting with you. I don't mean to be rude--I can just be pretty introverted (or tired!) at times. I'm okay with a little small talk but I don't want to get sucked into some long conversation about your life story in the front seat, so I avoid it like the plague.
So that night when I reached for the door to get in the backseat (like I always do), and I discovered it was locked--that should've been a red flag. I waited for him to unlock it and he told me it was broken and I should just sit in the front. Red flag. If I could do it over again, I would've told him I wouldn't get in his vehicle unless I could sit in the back.
2. Always confirm identification.
Verify with the information you have on your phone--it should list their name and vehicle (hopefully with photos). Ask them who they are and look at their car--and then ask them to confirm you are the person they were coming to pick up, by having them vocally state your name. This all seems pretty straight-forward, but people get into the wrong Uber all the time--which is where a lot of problems can arise.
The problem I ran into here was there wasn't a picture of my Uber driver's vehicle on my phone--just the name of the car. And to be honest, I could really care less about cars (almost more than I care less about sports), so if there is no picture--I'm just on the lookout for someone on the lookout for me. At the time, I was at a location where there weren't any other cars, so I assumed the car that pulled up (when it said they had arrived on my phone) was my driver. Never assume. Additionally, they looked similar in the driver picture because those things are tiny and it was dark outside. I asked him if he was my Uber driver and he just nodded, not saying anything. So I prompted, "For Madeline?" and he said yes. Don't do this. Make them say your name. He put me in a situation of uncomfortable silence so that I felt compelled to say mine to break the awkwardness. Don't let people make you feel awkward or uncomfortable about safety because that's silly.
3. Pay attention.
I think this was the hardest one for me. When I get in an Uber, the first thing I do is pull up my GPS (to get an ETA but also figure out what the quickest route is). I'm always paying more attention to the road, and not the driver, necessarily. While I think most people do this, I think it's also important to point out that my driver felt like a predator so it was a little different. Listen to your gut. He locked the back door so I had to sit in the front. He knew I wasn't the person he was supposed to pick up but didn't care, "because I was pretty." He told me, "I was lucky because I was getting a free ride because he wasn't making me pay." He made plenty of uncomfortable comments to me throughout the drive, to which I kept shutting him down completely, but he legit wasn't hearing anything that was coming out of my mouth because all I was saying was "no" and all he cared about was a "yes," so he had absolutely no interest in what I had to say. Red flag.
The frustrating part about this was that because he kept staring at me and telling me I was beautiful, I started worrying about my safety in his vehicle (and didn't have time to worry about him yet). He wasn't looking at the road so now, my biggest concern, was making sure I got myself home okay by being a backseat driver and getting him to stop swerving all over the place. When we got to my place, he asked if he could kiss me, "just on the forehead." I yelled no and tried to get out of his car. Locked. Red flag. He got on top of me, pinning my shoulders down, then held my face and kissed me on the mouth. I pushed him off of me, manually unlocked the door, and ran inside while he screamed "I'm sorry" over and over again at me out the window. In fight-or-flight mode, my biggest concern was getting out, getting inside, locking the door, and setting the alarm. Getting his license plate number should've been my first thought, but I can honestly say that when you're in a situation like that, you aren't thinking. So when you feel even remotely in danger, pay attention to your surroundings and think ahead. If I had known my door was locked ahead of time, I could've made a cleaner getaway, avoided a lot, and got his license plate number. I just never expect people to be that shitty.
So I filed a report with Uber and I filed a report with the police. I told my story over and over and over again. It was exhausting. And by the last time I told it, I just broke down in tears. Everything he had done, he had gone out of his way to do to disrespect and violate me. Everything felt planned and creepy, and I felt sick to my stomach about it. For a while, I had panic attacks about him showing up to my house again since he knew where I lived.
"...I can assure you that the appropriate actions were taken with this partner's account. While I can't get into specifics, I can tell you that [partners] have been deactivated for lesser offenses in the past."
Why I Still Use Uber
I truly appreciated everything that Uber did for me, as well as the CMPD. But the fact of the matter is: it's not Uber's fault. Boycotting them doesn't really do anything because what. You're going to use a cab instead? While larger cab companies can be more reputable, reliable, and safe--there are plenty of exceptions, as well as privately-owned cab businesses that are equally at risk. There is, however, a ride-sharing service for women, by women called SafeHer that recently launched in Massachusetts and is looking to hopefully expand. But until they come to Charlotte, what can ya do.
When I lived in Australia, there was an Au Pair Facebook page us Au Pairs in Melbourne would connect with each other with, and I read multiple cab driver assault stories on there. To think this stuff just exists with Uber and cab companies though is completely missing the point. Sexual violence towards women exists globally, some countries worse than others, and this goes far deeper than a ride-sharing business.
Be safe, guys. But if something like this does happen to you: Cry. Get pissed. Share your story. Cry some more. Shit sucks and I'm with ya on that.
I'm thankful and blessed to live in a country where I have a thousand more rights as a woman here, as opposed to some other countries, but that doesn't make the battle nonexistent, nor should it mean you should compromise your rights because your specific situation feels "smaller." Stand up for women's rights and don't put up with this kind of bullshit.