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

A repost of a blog from our partners at the Urban Institute, Dr. Janine Zweig and Emily Tiry. Originally posted here on the Urban Institute’s website.


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.

Examining Uber’s Use of the Sexual Misconduct and Violence Taxonomy

Today Uber Technologies released a 2019 U.S. Safety Report that shares data about safety issues faced by users of their platform, including experience of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault. To help Uber and other companies collect better data about these sexually violent experiences, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) partnered with the Urban Institute to develop and publish a Sexual Misconduct and Violence Taxonomy in 2018, which Uber used to build the foundation of today’s report.

In 2019, staff from RALIANCE, NSVRC, and Urban Instituted evaluated the systems Uber has constructed to use the taxonomy and the quality of data about reported incidents of sexual misconduct and violence the taxonomy helped gather. A summary of our report appears in Uber’s Safety Report, and our full report is available on our websites.

Click here to read about our examination of Uber’s work.

Leaning into accountability: Lessons from McDonald’s and Alphabet

This past week, multiple headlines revealed that major organizations are actively investigating the inappropriate behavior and relationships of their top executives and leaders. There are several lessons we can take away from these stories, which demonstrate why corporations and industries must change how they do business to create safer and more respectful workplaces.

Employees learn organizational culture and company tolerance for inappropriate behavior by how reports, investigations, and implications are handled.

McDonald’s fired its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, due to a relationship with an employee. Many news outlets reported that the relationship was consensual, but it’s important to note that while an inappropriate relationship may not be necessarily abusive, it can still be an abuse of power. As the National Sexual Violence Resource Center notes in their Sexual Assault Awareness Month Resources, power exists in formal and informal ways, especially in workplaces, making consent more nuanced.

Easterbrook admits he violated company policy on personal conduct, but McDonald’s is holding Easterbrook accountable with a $42 million exit package – a golden parachute tantamount to a slap on the wrist.

Boards of Directors and companies can hold top executives who violate policy accountable in many important ways.

For instance, Alphabet’s Board announced this week they were investigating how Google executives handled misconduct and inappropriate relationship claims. They formed an independent subcommittee and hired a law firm as an added layer of transparency and accountability.

Further, in September 2018, after twelve individuals came forward about misconduct against CBS executive Les Moonves, the organization and Moonves agreed to donate his $20 million severance agreement to organizations supporting the MeToo Movement.

In our April 2018 Open Letter to CEOs and Board of Directors, RALIANCE and partners provided best practices and organizational survey questions designed to consider ways to foster a harassment-free workplace and to guard a company’s reputation from becoming the next headline. Read the whole Medium series for insights at all levels of an organization – from frontline staff, to HR, and beyond.

Teaming Up: Power of Sport and Public Health

By David S. Lee, Director of Prevention at RALIANCE

This week, RALIANCE attended the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia to share how sport is an important part of the solution to end sexual violence. In a session on Monday entitled “Sport as a platform to advance a culture of prevention,” RALIANCE’s Director of Prevention David Lee discussed the power of sport and athletics to promote well-being and advance a culture of prevention. He also highlighted the roadmap to create change from RALIANCE’s Sport + Prevention Center.

Other session panelists included Dr. Kathleen Basile of the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention, who spoke about how middle school sports involvement contributes to better understanding sexual violence in high school; Jessica Wagner of the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute, who spoke about the role of the NCAA in creating health promotion for college campuses; and Inside Outside Initiative’s Jody Redman, who shared her experience of reclaiming the educational purpose of high school sport for prevention.

The next day ushered in a standing-room only session entitled, “Sport as a platform to advance a culture of health.” The discussion focused on how to build a network that advances prevention and brings together public health best practices to sport. This session was facilitated by RALIANCE’s David Lee, NCAA’s Jessica Wagner, and Jeff Milroy of Institute to Promote Athlete Health & Wellness at the University of North Carolina Greenville. From researchers, athletic trainers, athletes, sports management, coaches, officials, and parents, it was clear from the discussion that there is tremendous interest in building a network dedicated to using the power of sport to foster healthy athletes and communities.

Despite the headlines these days exposing high-profiles cases of unchecked sexual abuse in different in sports, our productive sessions at the APHA annual meeting shine a light on how sport is a powerful and positive force in our society. It has the potential to instill important values in athletes, shape positive attitudes, and build strong communities.

Companies should support employees with adverse childhood experiences

Experiencing childhood traumas puts you at risk for lifelong health consequences, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The study showed 61% of adults experienced one ACE (or, Adverse Childhood Experience), and 16% had four or more types of ACEs, which can be caused by physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; neglect; caregiver mental illness; and household violence. This is troubling because having a high number of ACEs greatly increases your risk for five of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States.

ACEs influence many areas of health and well-being. From physical symptoms like depression, anxiety, chronic pain and substance abuse, ACEs can lead to poor worker performance as well as impact business profitability.

It’s critical that organizations, schools, and corporations implement community-wide strategies to prevent trauma.

How?

Prevention is possible, and it’s happening. A corporate response to ACEs means looking at internal policies, practices, and culture to see how sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse are addressed or tolerated.

Corporate leaders and innovators must move past old models of maintaining a healthy, productive workforce. It’s not enough to offer job training and medical care for injuries — companies should also help employees with unresolved ACEs and support community initiatives that prevent these experiences from happening to the next generation. Corporations can work within their organizations but also within their community to have a lasting impact. They can ensure young people thrive through work with community service providers and youth-serving organizations to expand programs to remove barriers, like the stigma attached to mental illness, by supporting a culture that reduces employee stress and promotes health and well-being for employees as well as family members.

Preventing these experiences in childhood has the potential to reduce heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and positively influence mental health as well as education and employment opportunities.  RALIANCE is your partner in ending sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse. Learn more at https://www.raliance.org/consulting/

Industry spotlight: Runners Alliance and the race to end harassment

Last month, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Garmin, and Hoka One One launched Runners Alliance, a page dedicated to women’s safety and addressing harassment while running. This diverse partnership follows a recent Runners World audience survey that found 84 percent of women have been harassed while running at least once, including being groped, followed, flashed, and cat-called. Many admitted to changing their habits to increase personal safety. Some ran only in daylight, switched to a treadmill or stopped running altogether after their experience with harassment.

RALIANCE understands these results all too well. In our 2019 Measuring #MeToo: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault report, we found that street harassment negatively impacts individuals and forces them to change their behavior.

Far too often society asks women to keep themselves from being victimized. Suggestions like carry mace or a taser, only run in groups, or only run with a dog require women to change their behavior in order to avoid harassment. We commend the Runners Alliance partners for saying harassment is unacceptable and that it’s on the entire runner community to do better and look out for each other.

Runners Alliance’s platform illustrates how organizations can work together to educate all users to be helpful bystanders. We agree with Runners Alliance that “to really make the sport safer, everyone has to do their part.” This movement is just one concrete example of how companies from different industries can come together towards a common goal to make sport and communities safer.

Learn more about how sport is part of the solution and other examples of ways prevention is happening in and through sport at RALIANCE’S Sport + Prevention Center.

Building new definitions of accountability and justice in the #MeToo era

Accountability, justice, and healing look different for every survivor. In many ways, we’re stuck with old paradigms of justice. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, courts, and prisons doesn’t always deliver the justice, power and control that survivors need to move on. 

A recent Wellesley Center for Women study, for instance, looked at 2,887 sexual assault reports by females over the age of 12. Researchers found that when women did report sexual assault to law enforcement, only 19% of cases ever led to arrest. Of those, only 6% returned a guilty finding – and mainly due to a plea bargain agreement. Fewer than 2% of reports ever went to trial.

It’s important to note that about 30% of the study’s cases were “cleared by exceptional means,” meaning in the reports of sexual assaults by females over the age of 12, law enforcement deemed the victim uncooperative or knew the prosecutor would decline to prosecute. It’s important to note the study looked at reports for victims as young as 12 years old, or seventh graders — children in our society.

We can and must do better.

“So many ways that people experience sexual violence don’t rise to the level of crime. And so then what? You’re just out of options? This is part of the re-education and resocialization that has to happen. If you harm somebody, there has to be recourse. You have to be accountable for the harm you cause. That accountability does not have to look like jail all the time, but there has to be a system of accountability. We don’t have great examples of what that accountability can look like, and that’s where the visioning and dreaming has to come in.”

Tarana Burke in Teen Vogue’s On #MeToo Anniversary, Tarana Burke Talks About the Modern Movement’s Impact, Restorative Justice, and Aziz Ansari

We as a society can increase the number of options for survivors to pursue a new concept of justice, one they have a hand in defining for themselves. We cannot, as a society, rely on systems that perpetually fail us. It’s on all of us to fix them, and we can start with passing a bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which calls for stronger protections for survivors and resources to support preventing harm before it happens.

Learn more about RALIANCE’s full policy platform to end sexual violence in one generation.  

Lessons for academic institutions: how to prevent campus sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse

Even with sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse on the national radar, we were disappointed to learn last week that many students still don’t feel confident that their higher education institutions will take a report of sexual misconduct or assault seriously. This was a key finding in the Association of American Universities’ confidential online survey of 180,000 students at 33 major universities, which demonstrated that higher education students today significantly experience sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse.

So how can campuses and workplaces overcome barriers to reporting and make campuses healthier?

First, change the perception that campuses won’t act on the problem. So much has to go right for a survivor to come forward and report, and many considerations include whether the system will take the report seriously, act on the information, and hold the person who caused harm accountable. With Title IX changes hanging in the balance, it’s vital campuses do more, not less, than what the requirements dictate.

Second, address a campus culture that enables harm and blames the victim for their rape. Programming that teaches students to not be victimized with messages like never leave a drink unattended or don’t walk home alone, may reduce risk factors, but more can be done on campuses to teach healthy behaviors and relationships, ways to look out for each other, and how the community can hold the university accountable to its role in the process. In our society, girls are taught to avoid risky situations, but rarely do parents, schools, or programs talk about what consent means — which could help ensure no one pressures someone sexually, or crosses the line into even more serious sexual harm.

Third, deepen understanding of perceptions and attitudes about sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse on campus. For example, conducting climate surveys and establishing processes for sharing procedures and protocols can help school administrators develop tailored prevention solutions and measure its progress.

Fourth, engage students and the campus community through programming that encourages them to learn about this sexual violence and how to be part of the solution. These prevention conversations could take place during classroom electives or campus activities with organizations like campus police, student health centers, and LGBTQ groups.

Thankfully, there are several good organizations that are already leading changes and conversations about sexual assault and respect on campus. It’s On Us is preparing campus leaders to take this issue on with skills and support. RALIANCE impact grantees Strength United or the Power Up! program at Prairie View A&M University are both working with athletic departments and student-athletes to improve how their schools prevent and respond to sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse.   For more ideas, check out RALIANCE’s Sport + Prevention Center and Impact Grant database.

Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg at a campaign event

Buttigieg’s platform addresses gender inequity

Photo by Gary Riggs. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Democratic Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg announced a sweeping $10 Billion Proposal tackling sexual harassment and other issues of inequality for women and girls. After Senator Gillibrand left the primary race, Buttigieg is the only candidate still in the race to release a plan displaying a path toward a world without sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse.

The South Bend mayor’s platform – “Building Power: A Women’s Agenda for the 21st Century” –  addresses gender equality with a specific focus on closing the pay gap, supporting women’s health and reproductive right to choice, securing women’s power and influence through key Cabinet appointments, and building safe and inclusive communities, including for low-income workers. Additionally, Buttigieg’s investment would entail tackling workplace misconduct and discrimination by holding employers accountable for protecting women workers and banning forced arbitration.

It’s encouraging to see that accountability, transparency, and respect are cornerstones of the platform.

In Buttigieg’s plan, public companies would be required to track and share annually the total number of reports and investigations. Industries with the highest risk of harassment would need to assess their workplace climate to inform and drive prevention plans. While it would be wonderful to live in a world where companies operated transparently and implemented prevention methods proactively, few would do this without a mandate.

For many #MeTooVoters, their voices are just starting to be heard. We applaud Buttigieg for stepping up for survivors and offering a concrete plan to address #MeToo comprehensively as an issue of safety and gender inequality. It’s encouraging, and we hope his example will spur other candidates to more proactively be part of the solution.

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