Is Uber Doing Enough to Protect Women from Drivers Who Stalk Them?

After an Uber driver used Bridget Bechtel's number and address to harass her, she reported him. Uber’s response was less than comforting.

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Jul 1 2016, 4:00pm

Image by Simone Becchetti via Stocksy

Earlier this month, Bridget Bechtel took an Uber home around 10 PM after an evening of hanging out at a friend's apartment in Brooklyn. The 27-year-old says what started as small talk with her driver about his wife and kids quickly turned aggressive. He asked her if she had a boyfriend, told her to come sit in the front seat, and repeatedly demanded her phone number. She attempted to deflect his advances by telling him that her phone was dead, but when he became combative and asked her to write it on a piece of paper, she complied.

"He was not taking no for an answer, so eventually I wrote my number down thinking that would diffuse the situation," Bechtel says. "I probably should have given him a fake number, but I didn't think he would actually contact me, and figured I would just block his number if he did."

But he did try to contact her. First came several texts and phone calls, which Bechtel did not answer. Then, several days later, he showed up at her apartment.

Read More: India's First Female Uber Driver Has Been Found Dead

He apparently knew the building address from driving Bechtel home previously, and according to her neighbors, rang every buzzer until he found the correct apartment unit. Panicked, she unblocked his number to tell him to leave, and immediately reported the incident to Uber through the app, as well as through its customer service email (Uber does not seem to have a phone line for user complaints).

"It was a huge abuse of his power," says Bechtel. "He has been put in a position where people trust him to get home safe, and he manipulated that to where I felt uncomfortable and couldn't say no to his advances. Then he took it a step further and kept my personal information and came to my home. It's predatory."

The app does not show drivers what passengers label their locations, including what address is "home" or "work," but Bechtel said the driver had asked where she was headed, in what she assumed was a gesture of small talk. Following the incident, Uber says it blocked Bechtel from ever matching with the driver again, but the company, citing its privacy policy, said it cannot disclose whether he is still driving for Uber.

The company "maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding all forms of discrimination, harassment or abuse," according to its community guidelines. Still, a representative from Uber did not say whether an incident involving a driver following a rider home would constitute harassment or abuse.

"Uber is deeply committed to the safety of the riders and partners using our platform and, therefore, we do take great care with reports of this nature," a support email Bechtel received in response to her report read. "I can assure you this is something we take extremely seriously and we will be taking any and all appropriate actions with the partner.

Uber has received a rash of criticism recently over reports of drivers sexually assaulting passengers. In those cases, the driver is suspended from the app while the incident is investigated and Uber collaborates with law enforcement. However, its policies on complaints involving stalking and broader allegations of harassment are less clear. When Broadly spoke to an Uber representative, they did not say following somebody home would be grounds for automatic dismissal from the app. The company has a 24-hour response team for safety complaints, but Bechtel said she did not receive a reply until 10 hours after her driver showed up at her door—one hour after tweeting about the incident publicly.

"I really think if I hadn't gone to Twitter or made a fuss about it, I wouldn't have been noticed," she said. "It would have made me feel better if they responded more quickly. From their response, there was no indication they would do better or make sure drivers are held accountable for their actions in the future."

Since the incident occurred, Bechtel has returned to the app to hail rides, now putting her destination one street away from her actual address and refraining from being friendly towards drivers. She said she felt Uber's response implied the incident was at least partially her fault for giving the driver her number.

"The problem is, he didn't get a response when he texted me, so he showed up to my house," she said. "Even if I had given him a fake number the same thing would have happened because he knew my address and saved it to come back. If he is doing this to one person, he might be taking advantage of a lot of women—he could be using this as a platform to find out where people live."

If he is doing this to one person, he might be taking advantage of a lot of women—he could be using this as a platform to find out where people live.

Other passengers have faced similar incidents with ride-hailing apps. Melissa Howland, a bartender in Los Angeles, told Broadly that she's had to report a handful of drivers in the past year for being inappropriate, including one who made comments about her appearance and then asked what number her apartment was so he could return later. Another woman said she no longer tells drivers she is going home, opting instead to say she is on the way to her boyfriend's house to avoid harassment.

With the lengths women have gone to when using these apps to avoid unwanted advances, many said they would feel more comfortable being able to choose women drivers on Uber or ditching it altogether for a women-only ride-hailing app like SafeHer. After all, one of the main reasons many women use the apps in the first place is to travel safely.

"I use Uber to get home because I would not feel safe walking alone at night in my neighborhood—getting out of the car would have traded one man harassing me for another," Bechtel said. "When you take a car to avoid harassment, you shouldn't get in and find yourself facing it again. It is not all men or all drivers that do this, but even if it is one, it's too many."