Workplace

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.

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/

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.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Miss Opportunity to Discuss #MeTooVoter

Two years ago, 12 million people responded to the hashtag #MeToo in just 24 hours. During last night’s Democratic presidential primary debate, survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse took to social media with a powerful message to presidential candidates and policymakers: Survivors deserve change now. #MeTooVoter champions survivor voices to inform that change. It’s time candidates listened to this important voting body.

On Tuesday evening, powerhouses like Me Too Movement founder Tarana Burke, National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves, President of Justice for Migrant Women and Gender Justice Campaigns Director for National Domestic Workers Alliance Monica Ramírez, and Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance Aijen Poo posted on social media.

But during Tuesday night’s debate, there wasn’t a single question about how Democratic presidential hopefuls would address sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse nationally.

Despite the debates being held in Ohio, where a case of high school football players in Steubenville raping a young student gained national attention. The case pitted members of the town against each other and was recently featured in the documentary Roll, Red, Roll on Netflix.

Despite the fact that every social issue that impacts the health and wellbeing of communities; the safety of women, girls, and families; and the equity, respect, and resilience of workers is also an issue of sexual violence. The fact is, when you talk about gun violence, for instance, you have to acknowledge that when a domestic abuser has a gun, the chance of homicide increases exponentially.

Despite the Washington Post including a question about Title IX among the most important education topics in a recent survey that asked 2020 Democrats where they stand on key issues. The question — in Title IX investigations, should college students accused of sexual assault have the right to cross examine their accusers – speaks to Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposed new rules for how schools handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

It’s time to use our voices to demand #AskaboutMeToo at the November 20th debates in Atlanta. And candidates: survivors are counting on you and we encourage you to check out our policy platform to end sexual violence in one generation.  

Lessons learned from NBC’s approach to allegations against Matt Lauer

Photo by David Shankbone. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

It’s been almost two years since MeToo became a household phrase globally, and we’ve begun to talk quietly about redemption for high-profile figures whose harmful behavior was spotlighted. Aziz Ansari came back this year with his own Netflix comedy special. Louie CK was back on stage less than a year after his MeToo moment. And news reporter Matt Lauer was predicting his own return to TV. That is, until information from an advanced copy of journalist Ronan Farrow’s much-anticipated book Catch and Kill detailed allegations of Lauer raping a former NBC News employee in his hotel room while covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Lauer moved quickly to the defense, releasing a letter to Variety emphatically saying the allegation is “categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense” while discrediting the survivor by describing a mutual and consensual extramarital affair. Despite the survivor confirming she was too drunk to consent, despite the power differential that meant Lauer could make or break her career in news.

Far too often we hear sexual assault framed as a “he said/she said” scenario – a move that seeks to blur facts and discredit or shame survivors. In fact, those who perpetrate sexual assault use alcohol in three strategic ways: to lower the inhibitions of the other person, to decrease their own inhibitions about carrying out sexual assault, and to ensure the other person won’t be believed. Lauer is banking on society’s ease with blaming victims for their own abuse – and turning the tables to frame himself as the victim worthy of our protection and sympathy. If we are ever to live beyond MeToo, then accountability cannot mean paying lip-service.        

Accountability isn’t only on the individual whose behavior is at best inappropriate or at worst criminal. Institutions, corporations, and communities must face the music and accept how our culture silences survivors and ignores them to the point of condoning these behaviors.  Farrow documents in the book a pervasive culture of complicity at NBC, and articles have come out detailing Lauer’s misconduct and behavior were well known. And central to NBC’s response was a settlement tied to a non-disclosure agreement, tying the survivor’s hands from speaking.

The lesson for companies and organizations? It’s time to step up and create workplaces that are safer, healthier, and more equitable for all employees. This starts by implementing workplace policies that emphasize transparency, clear and confidential reporting processes, and appropriate responses for addressing incidents of sexual assault, misconduct, and abuse. Employees deserve better and our corporate leaders must be part of the solution to end sexual violence once and for all.

#MeTooMedicine – How the medical field needs to change

A recent Washington Post Health Perspective article by a female medical resident brought to light how pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct is in the medical field. The author described inappropriate groping by patients, and the article uplifted the fact that faculty and staff members are the perpetrators of almost half of the sexual violence experienced by female medical students. The unspoken rule is not to report – that these experiences are just part of the job. We know that when harassment and misconduct come from a superior, there are even fewer options for recourse or safety. The MeToo movement has shown that no industry is immune to the dialogue or mirror being held up to what has been long ignored and silenced – and that includes the medical field. 

“It’s ironic, she said, that as a gynecologist she is trained to believe patients’ claims about sexual assault. In the workplace, though, it’s well known that raising such matters can backfire. She added: ‘Physicians should be setting a standard on this.’” –  Christina Jewett,  “Women in medicine shout #MeToo about sexual harassment at work”

It’s important to note the level of trust everyone – survivors and non-survivors – put in their medical providers. That’s why it’s vital the medical industry stop harm before it happens by addressing problematic behaviors in medical settings for survivors and staff members alike and working towards a culture where this isn’t the norm. ­­

From the courageous female athletes who read their victim impact statements, to Larry Nassar’s conviction, to an unprecedented $500 million settlement at Michigan State University, it’s clear that change is possible. However, the medical field is often a hierarchical space where men dominate in positions of power and authority. We must create safe spaces where female medical students and doctors feel comfortable coming forward with complaints of inappropriate behavior. Reporting, transparency, and accountability are all key to making in-roads. Advocates can also apply pressure on medical boards to address sexual assault by doctors and medical staff.

Every step counts when it comes to ending sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse in one generation. We must work toward a world where female residents do not have to write a column in the newspaper to be heard.

AHLA's 5-Star Promise: A continued commitement to put safety first.

Industry Spotlight: Hotel Industry Safety Initiative Leads the Way on Sexual Violence Prevention

Ending sexual violence in one generation requires a significant commitment to changing cultures in workplaces and within industries. We’re encouraged by our partners at the American Hotel and Lodging Association on the one-year anniversary of the 5-Star Promise, the hotel industry’s commitment to advance safety and security for hotel employees and guests.

“The American Hotel & Lodging Association is an example of how all industries can and must step up to champion healthy, safe, and inclusive workplace cultures for their employees. We commend the AHLA for proactively addressing important safety and security issues impacting their workforce. RALIANCE is proud to partner with AHLA and the hotel industry on setting the tone for real leadership on this critical issue. Together, we can end sexual violence in one generation.”

– Monika Johnson Hostler, RALIANCE Managing Partner

So what is AHLA doing? They’re providing industry-wide training and materials on safety and security. AHLA’s resources include education for employees on identifying and reporting sexual harassment and highlight the importance of multilingual mandatory anti-sexual harassment policies. They’re also working with employee safety device companies to help U.S. hotel employees feel safe on the job.

In addition to RALIANCE, AHLA is working with a wide range of national organizations including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA), and Polaris.

AHLA and its 5-Star Promise serve as positive examples for how other industries can offer concrete and effective solutions to help end sexual violence.

[link to press release]

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