The blog of the Urban Institute
December 6, 2019

Three Lessons Businesses Can Learn from Uber’s Collecting and Reporting Sexual Assault Data

December 6, 2019

Uber’s ride-sharing platform has massive reach across the US and the world, connecting more than 1 billion rides in 2017 and even more in 2018. At the same time, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault are ubiquitous social problems in the United States (PDF).

Given the scope of Uber’s reach and the way the platform connects people, it is a matter of reality that incidents of sexual misconduct and violence will occur for users, to some extent. Uber—and similar far-reaching companies—must understand that these issues affect their business, learn about the types and frequency of incidents, and work to address them.

Yesterday, Uber released their first US Safety Report, which includes a focus on sexual assault occurring on their platform. In 2018, Uber’s leadership engaged with RALIANCE, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), and the Urban Institute to develop a research-informed categorization system to classify users’ reports of incidents of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault to better inform them of the nature and scope of these experiences on their platform and how to address them.

We published Helping Industries to Classify Reports of Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Sexual Assault in late 2018 which included a sexual misconduct and violence taxonomy, and Uber began implementing it to categorize all new incidents of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault reported by platform users. They then retrospectively applied the taxonomy to such incidents reported in 2017 and 2018 for their safety report.

This year, the Urban-NSVRC-RALIANCE team was again engaged to assess Uber’s integration of the sexual misconduct and violence taxonomy into its system of receiving and accurately categorizing complaints from platform users and to assess Uber’s approach to developing the US Safety Report.

Through our data collection and analysis, we find Uber has accurately implemented the taxonomy, and the sexual assault data in the taxonomy categories included in the US Safety Report are statistically reliable. In general, we found the processes to develop the US Safety Report focused on accuracy and used rigorously classified and reliable data.

The taxonomy was designed for purposes beyond just Uber’s system. Other businesses in the transportation and hospitality industries can adopt the taxonomy to understand sexual misconduct and assault among their users and can learn from Uber’s experiences implementing the taxonomy and the data resulting from it.

Three important takeaways from the Uber US Safety Report for other businesses to consider

1. The rates of the most serious types of sexual assault reported to Uber are low.

Though Uber did not disclose all categories of information across the taxonomy, the report includes incident rates across five of the most serious categories of the taxonomy:

  • Nonconsensual sexual penetration was reported having happened during about 1 in 5,000,000 US trips.
  • Attempted nonconsensual sexual penetration was reported having happened during about 1 in 4,000,000 US trips.
  • Nonconsensual kissing of a sexual body part (including the mouth) was reported having happened during 1 in every 3,000,000 US trips.
  • Nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part (including the mouth) was reported having happened during about 1 in every 800,000 US trips.
  • Nonconsensual kissing of a nonsexual body part was reported having happened during about 1 in every 2,000,000 US trips.

These rates likely do not fully reflect the total number of experiences of Uber’s users and reflect only those experiences reported by people who are willing to proactively reach out to Uber to file a complaint. We know from national surveys (PDF) that not all sexual assault victims reach out for help, as evidenced by reporting rates to police—in 2016, only 23 percent of rape and sexual assault victims reported their experiences to the police.

Thus, if Uber was to poll all users about such experiences, the rates would likely be higher. This dynamic would be similar for other businesses that begin to track complaints related to sexual assault.

2. Both riders and drivers experience sexual misconduct and assault.

To date, the media narrative on Uber’s challenges related to sexual assault have largely focused on the experiences of riders. But, as the US Safety Report shows, this is an issue for both riders and drivers. Across the five categories reported, riders were the accused party in 45 percent of the reported incidents. If we truly care about preventing sexual assault for users of businesses like Uber, then we must consider all those who use the platform.

We believe that providing rates of reported incidents by each reporting party is critically important and provides a major contribution to the sexual assault prevention and intervention field. With this information, stakeholders from the field and Uber can examine similarities and differences in the experiences of their riders compared with drivers and develop tailored prevention and intervention efforts based on those patterns.

Other businesses that adopt the taxonomy should similarly consider the experiences of all users of their platforms and services.

3. Reports of sexual assault on Uber’s platform may increase as the public learns that Uber is taking these incidents seriously.

Uber’s very public efforts to address sexual misconduct and assault on its platform and the release of their US safety report may lead more people to reach out to report their own experiences. This has been demonstrated in colleges and universities.

Reports of sexual assault on college campuses tend to align with the extent of local engagement with the issue and efforts to prevent and address it. We expect that over time, Uber may see an increase in reports of sexual assault on their platform and, therefore, more opportunity to implement efforts to prevent it.

As other businesses move to address sexual misconduct and sexual assault, they should similarly expect to see initial reports increase commensurate with their focus on the issue.

Uber’s publication of their first US Safety Report is one example of how a business can begin to identify and address sexual assault for users. Businesses across the transportation and hospitality industries can learn from this effort as they consider how to proactively address these unwanted experiences.

Photo by halbergman via Getty Images.

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