Early Thursday morning, a Chapman University student reported awaking in a Lyft car outside the dorms on Grand Street to the driver sexually battering or fondling him or her. It’s not clear whether the student was drunkenly passed out or just fell asleep from exhaustion – but the driver took advantage of the student, and by doing so, confirmed many women’s worst fears.
There’s always a level of risk when using a ride-sharing service – you’re putting a significant amount of trust in a stranger to get you from point A to point B. And if you’re a woman, it can be even more unnerving, especially if it’s late at night. While these ride-sharing services won’t ever be able to completely guarantee safety, since you can’t always predict human behavior, there’s one simple step that would help alleviate much of this anxiety: Allow passengers to choose the gender of their driver.
What happened to this Chapman student was not an isolated incident nationwide. More than a dozen women have filed a joint lawsuit against Uber, accusing drivers of sexual assault. On Thursday, the women wrote an open letter demanding that their stories be heard in court, rather than in private arbitration. In July, a Lyft driver was accused of restraining a passenger with a zip tie and sexually assaulting her.
In essence, these ride-sharing services are meant to increase efficiency and safety. People don’t have to rely on public transportation or taxis, and it’s a much better alternative to drinking and driving. Especially in Southern California where there isn’t much public transportation, and at Chapman, where many students go out and drink every weekend, Ubers and Lyfts are the way to go. But when the safe option becomes unsafe, that’s when problems will arise.
It’s important to note that not all men are rapists, and for the most part, the ride-sharing drivers undergo proper background checks. But if you’re a woman alone in the car with a male driver – and you know the statistic that one in six women in the U.S. has been victim of rape or attempted rape – odds are you won’t feel 100 percent safe. Men are also highly likely to be victims of sexual assault – one out of every 10 rape victims is male. For this reason, all passengers should be able to request the gender of the driver that makes them feel most comfortable.
Although users already have the option to cancel and ride after seeing their driver, it would be much more user-friendly to have the ability to filter the type of driver you want from the get-go. Being able to choose “male,” “female” or “no preference” as a user would make people feel safer, as well as on the driver’s end. Female drivers often report cases of sexual harassment and feeling unsafe because of their passengers.
Some Chapman students told The Panther last week that Uber and Lyft drivers have kicked passengers out of their cars, driven purposefully in the wrong direction and engaged in “creepy” conversations – including a driver saying, “Wow, I’m so glad to get a beautiful girl as my rider.”
Making this one, very simple change to ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber could help prevent incidents like the one that took place April 26. No Chapman student, and no person in general, should have to experience sexual assault and battery while simply trying to get to their destination. If passengers can choose the type of driver they feel safest with, it would improve the experience for everyone.