When Ashley Cleveland has gotten into an Uber on a Friday night, it sometimes turns into an uncomfortable ride.
“I’ve had a few times where I’ve been dressed up to go to a party and when I get in the front seat, they look me up and down and start hitting on me,” the sophomore communication studies major said.
SafeHer, a ride-sharing app of women driving women, is looking to change this unsafe feeling. An idea started by Michael Pelletz, a former Uber driver, SafeHer, formerly named Chariot for Women, hopes to become an app exclusively for women to use for transportation purposes. Pelletz came up with the idea after taking home a very drunk man one night and feeling unsafe. Pelletz began to wonder how female Uber drivers would feel in that situation, according to SafeHer’s website. Currently, SafeHer is still in development.
Recently, in both Boston and South Carolina, a federal judge ruled that women can sue Uber for cases of sexual assault, a problem that is becoming more exposed in the ride-sharing industry. In March, Uber claimed that there were reports of only five rapes and 175 reports of sexual assault, essentially one sexual assault in every 3.3 million rides. However, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, rape is the most underreported crime, with 63 percent of all rapes never reported to police.
“Sexual assault happens to everybody. It’s a crime of power and opportunity,” said Dani Smith, Chapman’s rape crisis counselor. “It doesn’t matter who’s driving the car, we live in a world where we’re always at risk.”
Cleveland thinks SafeHer could be a good idea, but doesn’t think it will make a large difference.
“I don’t think I’d feel more comfortable,” Cleveland said. “Women are just as likely to be kidnappers or rapists. We just see men as more aggressive in our society, so we assume they are more likely (to commit these crimes).”
Currently, around 14 percent of Uber’s drivers are women, with a promise to hire 1 million women by 2020.
For SafeHer, there is a different obstacle, legality. Limiting an employee to one gender can cause a dispute over civil rights law, as it is illegal to hire only one gender unless the employee works in a place where there is constant contact with women, according to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws.
Freshman creative producing major Casey Donovan thinks it’s a good idea if it makes women feel safe.
“I think it’s good for especially college campuses,” Donovan said. “I’m sure male Uber drivers are going to feel alienated and that people are taking away business, but I think it’s a good idea to create it.”
Smith said the app may create a false sense of security for women, as anyone can commit sexual assault.
“Yes we need to create safer environments, but we also need to take personal responsibility,” Smith said. “Should something happen, it’s still never going to be the survivor’s fault, no matter what choices they’ve made. But, we can take cautionary measures, such as getting the driver’s name and license plate number, and texting it to a friend to let them know where you are and when you’ll get to your destination.”
Cleveland agrees and thinks there could be other options to improve safety for all ride-sharing apps.
“I think that separating binary genders isn’t the answer, but maybe instead having drivers not only go through a screening, but also a safe space training so that they know how to treat people with respect,” Cleveland said.