I Was Sexually Assaulted By My Uber Passenger

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The passengers I work with as a driver for a rideshare company are always surprised to see me, because I’m almost always the first female driver they’ve had. We are a rarity — according to a survey conducted in 2015 by SherpaShare, an app for drivers, only about 19 percent of the drivers at Lyft, 15 percent of the drivers at Sidecar, and eight percent of the drivers at Uber are women. I may be considered an anomaly, but as a new author and freelance writer, the gig works for me. There’s no schedule, boss, or politics; I just turn on my app any time I want to make money. Because of this arrangement, for the first time in my life, I’m able to fully pursue my dreams, maintain a social life, and have financial stability.

But that doesn't mean that it's a perfect job. Shuttling strangers around town has been an incredible education for me on human character — I see lots of subtly rude behavior on a regular basis. But since rideshares have a strict rating system that ranges from one to five stars, and since it’s imperative that drivers get extremely high ratings or be at risk for deactivation, we can’t show a glimpse of frustration.

My interactions with male passengers in particular often involve behavior that, while not always outright aggressive, is entitled. When people request a driver, no one seems to expect a blonde, Caucasian millennial, and many men make comments about it, as if it is an extra treat. Though most men are polite, they make themselves at home, tapping my shoulder, grazing my arm or knee when they feel like it. They help themselves to my vehicle’s temperature settings and reach for my iPhone charger without permission. We are alone in my car. Our brief interaction is private and intimate, and on occasion, they cross clearer lines. They divulge details about their wife whose libido died after having their baby, and proceed to compliment my legs. They ask me about my romantic status and request descriptions of my sexual fantasies. Every time I reject a man who asks me out, or deal with threats of one-star ratings if I do not go home with him, I am reminded that it feels impossible for an attractive woman to have a perfect review. During our ride, I am their hostage.

During our ride, I am their hostage.

Due to my experiences as a driver, my intuition has sharpened to a level I never thought possible. I can feel people when they get in my car. I immediately sense whether they want to chat or play on their phone. There have been moments where a stranger has gotten in my car and I was immediately uncomfortable.

But I never felt truly in danger until I picked up one particular passenger.

It was around 6:45 p.m. on a Friday. I had made a personal rule to quit driving after midnight every night, to avoid intoxicated passengers. But that day, Apple Cup, a yearly football game between the University of Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars, had kicked off at noon, spawning packs of inebriated fans stumbling through the streets like Purple and Red zombies even though it was still early in the evening.

When I approached the bar my app had summoned me to, I drove past two guys standing on the sidewalk. They waved me down to indicate that they were my passengers. I needed to turn around to get to their side of the road, so I drove onto the next street. I pulled into a neighboring driveway, stopped and paused. I considered canceling the ride and speeding off. I have no idea why. I decided not to. It looked bad in the system to cancel a lot of rides. I had driven all the way there, found my passengers, and had no reason to refuse them.

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So, I ignored my gut and pulled around the bar. Suddenly, a couple more guys appeared, carrying a burly thirty-something dressed in Huskies gear. Everything about his appearance looked like someone who was handicapped by intoxication, except for his eyes. He stared at me with blood-chilling intensity. I looked at his friend and started to tell him to take him back in. He was too drunk for me to drive. But they tossed him in my back seat, slammed my door, and scurried back inside the bar.

We had a 13 mile ride ahead of us.

I was hoping he’d sleep through it, but he sat upright. He didn’t buckle his seatbelt. When I made turns, his entire body, from torso up, rolled from one side to another in my backseat like a punching dummy.

Just a month prior, Uber driver Edward Caban had been attacked by former Taco Bell executive, Ben Golden. Golden had been as drunk as my passenger and when Caban told him to get out, Golden reached from the back seat and began assaulting Caban, yanking him by the hair before getting sprayed with mace. Golden's attack on Caban played through my mind as I watched my passenger.

I did not have mace or a camera.

Slurring, the passenger began making comments about how attractive I was. He asked me personal questions like my name and what I did for a living. I gave vague, brief responses, praying he didn’t vomit inside my car. As I pulled on the Interstate, I grew relieved by his sudden silence.

About five minutes through the I-5 north, we hit a bit of traffic and I slowed to about 50 mph. Suddenly, he lunged from the back seat, grabbed my breast, and began kissing my neck and cheek.

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Imagine the bewildering, fearful jolt that shakes you when a figure jumps at you in the dark. Now, imagine that happening while driving a vehicle on the Interstate. I nearly swerved into the median before I could register that I was being sexually assaulted.

“Stop!” I demanded.

He sat back in the seat for a moment and then lunged again, grabbing my breast once more, and continuing to kiss my neck and cheek.

“STOP!” I repeated. “You’re going to make me wreck.”

He finally backed off and curled onto my backseat, mumbling something about how he was “going to fuck me.”

Our destination was his home, which was located in a poorly lit and residential part of the suburbs. I thought about what happened to Caban and the way his nearly unconscious passenger snapped. This passenger flared those same red flags, but with a strong sexual undertone.

To my relief, he started snoring. If his friends had to carry him to my car, I didn’t know how I was going to get him out of it. If I tried, how would he react? I realized that was walking into a cliché rape scenario.

I pulled off the first exit and drove until I found a grocery store crowded with shoppers. Rather than the lot, I parked directly in front of the store, got out, locked him inside, and called the police.

I initially tried to downplay the fiasco, the way women are brainwashed to do. He was drunk. Perhaps I had somehow led him on by driving my car, trying to avoid conversation, and staring at the road. He hadn’t hit me or held a gun to my head.

In hindsight, I saw intention in his actions. Had he buckled his seatbelt, he would not have been able to lunge at me. When police pulled him out of my car, I stood merely feet away to watch his arrest. They asked him his name. He glanced at me and said a name that was not even close to the one he had given me. He’d been through this before, making sure to hide his identity from me. As the cops were handcuffing him, he looked at me, snapped his gums, and gave me a saucy wink.

He had no remorse. Why would he?

Bustle has reached out to Uber, the company I was driving for, but has not heard back. However, in a statement at the time, Uber released a statement through spokeswoman Kayla Whaling after my attacker was arrested:

"We are committed to the safety and security of both drivers and riders. We don't tolerate this type of behavior and will not hesitate to permanently remove someone's access to Uber. We reached out to Maggie as soon as we were made aware of this incident and pulled information from the trip so we could take the appropriate actions as well as provide any information to Seattle Police for investigative purposes."

According to the RapeCrisis Center, one in every six Americans has been victim of rape or attempted rape. Nine out of 10 are women. However, only six percent of rapists serve a day of jail time. Those are just the recorded statistics. That passenger was not the first man to sexually assault me. He is just the first one I’ve reported (I am pressing charges, and a trial date has yet to be set).

After reporting him, I found that I’m under immediate scrutiny. I tell people about the incident. They ask me if he was drunk, as if alcohol smudges predatory intention into careless debauchery. They ask me what I was wearing. They consider a provocative ensemble entrapment.

After reporting him, I found that I’m under immediate scrutiny. I tell people about the incident. They ask me if he was drunk, as if alcohol smudges predatory intention into careless debauchery. They ask me what I was wearing. They consider a provocative ensemble entrapment.

There was no logic in my attacker's defense that I was lying about the attack. There was no reason for me to pick a stranger and falsely accuse him of sexual assault. However, in order to protect that freakishly rare chance of a woman accusing an innocent man, hundreds of thousands of rapists escape deserving reprimand every year.

This isn’t a problem for people who use specific cab apps. This isn’t a driver or a passenger problem. This is a male problem. Not every man has harassed a woman, but every woman has been harassed by a man.

I had my monthly appointment with my therapist a few weeks after my assault. She wanted to focus on the trauma I was feeling from it.

But truthfully, there is no trauma. It seems that a man lunging up from the dark backseat of my car uninvited, unsolicited, to grab my breast and kiss my neck against my will while I’m driving on the Interstate would be emotionally detrimental, but I was well prepared for it. Like most women, I’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted my entire life. I started dealing with sexual harassment as early as age 12. I was raped at 16. And throughout young adulthood, I have dealt with unsolicited, nonconsensual breast, ass, hair, waist groping, crotch grabbing, pinching, and caressing at bars, parties, or any other alcohol-infused social gathering that women have learned to accept as the collateral damage of attending. I brace myself for cat-calls when I walk down street alone because it happens every time I do.

I knew that it was a matter of time before their words turned into action, before the verbal assaults of men who felt entitled to my attention and my body became physical.

The police told me I did the right thing. They praised me for staying calm. But I was ready. Running into a situation where rape was a serious possibility was inevitable.

The most traumatic aspect of my sexual assault wasn’t the action, but the aftermath. What disturbs me is the disheartened tone of the clerk, receptionist, and detective when they expressed the misfortune in the legal wrist slaps our Justice System serves the masses of sexual predators. What haunts me is that my attacker has a job and a serious girlfriend, and acts a groomsman at weddings. My attacker is nothing more than an average member of society. And I am not a uniquely unfortunate woman who has run into horrible luck with men. I am the norm.

As a rideshare driver, the gratitude on the faces of my female passengers when they see me validates that statement. They get in my car with a sigh of relief and share their own harassment stories. Every single woman in our society has lived a life of sexual assault, so fluent and accepted that we normalize it, shake it off, and remain silent.

But I am done being silent.