The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 14, 2018

How businesses can use data to address sexual violence

November 14, 2018

Earlier this fall, sexual assault again catapulted into the national spotlight with coverage of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings and Bill Cosby’s sentencing—just the latest in a series of high-profile stories following the launch of the #MeToo movement.

The increased national focus on sexual assault appears to have had a substantial impact on public opinion. A survey conducted last month by NORC at the University of Chicago found that nearly two-thirds of Americans now believe sexual assault is a widespread problem, up significantly from just the month before.

This growing outcry has prompted policymakers, businesses, and decisionmakers to think about how to respond to and prevent sexual violence: harassment, misconduct, and assault.

Businesses must responsibly address sexual violence 

Sexual violence takes a toll on those who experience it and can lead to substance use issues, eating disorders, and depression. No organization is immune to the pervasiveness of sexual violence, and it affects employees and customers of businesses across sectors. What can businesses do to address these challenges and keep people safe?

Answering that question begins with understanding the problem’s scope and nature. To confront sexual violence, it’s crucial to first name it and count it.

Gaining useful, actionable information about these complex social problems requires consistent data collection methods, trauma-informed perspectives on these experiences, and structured measurement tools. Without data that show how sexual violence is manifested in business activities, we can’t effectively address the problem.

Uber is confronting sexual violence on its platform for riders and drivers. To better count data on sexual violence and respond to reports, Uber sought out the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and the Urban Institute to update its customer service system to improve the documentation of sexual violence reports.

Consistent, meaningful data collection can be difficult in any context but is especially vexing with reports of sexual violence. Definitions of acts and behaviors and methods of data gathering and reporting vary within and across sectors.

At the same time, for customer-serving mobile app businesses like Uber, it is possible and practical to collect real-time reports of unwanted sexual experiences and to immediately address them.

With funding from Uber, NSVRC and Urban revised an existing system of categorization for reports of sexual violence. It now includes a detailed, behaviorally focused taxonomy of sexual misconduct and sexual assault based on information Uber has received from its riders and drivers.

The resulting report documents the taxonomy and how Uber is using it, the process for developing the taxonomy, and its purpose and potential applications across industries.

Going forward, data collected through this updated taxonomy will help Uber understand the scope and nature of reported sexual violence and identify trends to inform responses, with an eye toward creating a safer environment for all Uber users—both riders and drivers.

Accountability through data collection and transparency

This report aims to foster accountability through consistent data collection and transparent reporting and to encourage similar data collection across businesses and industries.

Acknowledging and consistently measuring sexual violence in any sector of commerce is new and can be beneficial. While this taxonomy is only one step toward that goal, it can move Uber—and other companies and industries—closer to understanding the scope and nature of sexual violence and help name it, count it, and effectively respond.

It is not just Uber users who stand to benefit from this work. Through transparent data sharing, the industry at large and the people it serves can benefit.

Due to a production error, an unedited version of this post was originally published (corrected 11/14/18).

Photo by Gagliardi Images/Shutterstock.

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