That Ever Growing Fear

downloadIt is getting late. The sky is turning that beautiful pink as the sun sets. And I’m nowhere near where I need to be. So what do I do? I call Uber—a taxi company.

The Uber driver arrives, and I get into the large, black SUV. The driver takes little notice of me, except to ask the question as to where I’m going. There’s a slight smell of Taco Bell—his dinner I’m assuming. I’m thinking should I strike up a conversation or just sit here awkwardly? If I start a conversation, then I can find out more about this guy, incase anything bad happens and I can tell the police. Hmm…

Being a young woman, in my early twenties, and alone, there’s that one thing on my mind, which is on most people’s minds that take a cab: am I going to make it home safely? As in, am I going to be murdered, assaulted, or any number of horrible things?

I know this was going through this young woman’s mind when she got into Patrick Aiello’s Uber cab that night. Now, Aiello is a six-grade teacher for social studies (who is now on paid leave) during the day and also works as an Uber driver during the night; however, don’t let that fool you.

This 23- year old woman called Uber to drive her home after being intoxicated, which was only a few blocks away. Instead of driving her home, Aiello drove around enough until the female passenger realized they were nowhere near her neighborhood. Aiello then told her she needed to pay him in sexual favors; she denied and offered money. However, Aiello became aggressive, parked the car, and then sexually assaulted her. He then forced her out of the car and she ran for help, getting hit by a car in the process. Police responded, and Aiello was arrested the next day. He then proceeded to tell police that they kissed and he performed oral sex on her but nothing more.

After being arrested, Aiello was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping. In bond court, he was denied a lower bail by the judge seeing as this is a serious crime. Uber has remained cooperative with authorities and has removed Aiello from the company.

Another Uber driver, Abdellah Elkaddi, was also rejected for a lower bond after he was arrested for raping a young woman in early June.

One big caveat to this company is that the drivers find ways of getting around the company’s background check system, which is through Hirease. This screening company is fully accredited and provides clients with accurate criminal and verification services throughout the nation. Although this company has done an excellent job providing background checks for clients, there are still ways around acquiring this check.

Although Uber uses Hirease as their screening company, they only require the driver to fill out their name, address, driver’s license number, and their social security number online. While on the other hand, other taxi companies require a drug screening, fingerprinting at a police station, and a much more extensive background check. The problem with Uber’s requirements is one person could fill out all the information and simply hand it off to another person. There is no real proof that this person is who they say they are. Thus, how can you really know, as the passenger, that you are in safe hands?

Because of this “loophole” in receiving the background checks there have been numerous cases involving Uber drivers and sexual assaults of female passengers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and in other countries, such as New Delhi, India.

And because of the failure to run the correct background checks, Uber let a felon, Talal Ali Chammount, be a driver in Dallas. Chammount, who had a criminal record, raped a young woman who had called for an Uber ride. Chammount had a fake license and never underwent the City’s of Uber’s background checks. This proves the point of you never truly know who is driving you or what is going to happen during that ride.

Alejandro Done, another Uber driver, has been linked to five sexual assault cases (through DNA evidence) in South Boston between 2006 and 2010; police believe there is more than five sexual assaults committed by Done and they are looking into other cases. Done would drive the streets looking for any lone women walking and offer them a ‘ride’. This is a scary thought. Most of us wouldn’t think twice if a taxi pulled up next to us and offered us a ride. However, Done wouldn’t give them a ride to their destination, he would sexually assault them instead.

Uber has continued to grow amongst the popular taxi companies. One would think with all this growth the company would put tighter regulations on having background checks on their drivers, and ensuring their passengers are in safe hands. However, this is not the case. Uber even admitted that they failed to follow procedures when hiring a few new drivers—they even mentioned Chammount as one of those drivers.

Although we only hear of incidents in which women were raped, there are an abundant amount of cases in which women were groped, harassed, held hostage, and physically assaulted in other ways, by Uber drivers.

Along with Uber admitting they failed, they also mentioned that women are not the only passengers being targeted. In Chicago, a male passenger stated that the driver choked and sexually assaulted him.

Each time a crime such as this occurs with Uber, they state they will take the necessary precautions and ensure that this will not happen again. However, this crime continues to happen by Uber drivers. This is unacceptable. As a fellow Uber user, and as a young woman, I expect to arrive home safely, no questions asked. I expect that my driver does not have a criminal record or that my driver knows the difference between right and wrong. I don’t, however, expect to be sexually assaulted or worse.

Because of the ever-so-growing amount of assault crimes through Uber, Uber has decided to implement a “panic button” on the mobile app for passengers to ensure their safety.

Now, you might be thinking well great! That will solve a ton of problems! You’re right in thinking this way; however, think about where the “panic button” signal goes to: Uber. How long does it take for Uber to actually receive this panic signal? Then it is up to Uber to relay this information to the police. How long does that take? How long will it take the police to respond? What if Uber never relays the panic signal? Then what? Then you are assaulted with no help on the way. Now you’re thinking well crap, now what? And that is an excellent question. What will Uber do to unsure its passengers are safe and in good hands?

One option to ensure safety is to install security cameras in the taxis themselves. The National Transport Authority is working on making this a mandatory feature in taxis. Although this could be violating the right to privacy, isn’t the passenger’s safety more important?

Granted there are crimes that occur in all taxi companies; however, there has been an excessive amount of coverage on Uber. With the growing amount of assault cases through Uber, and little being done to prevent them, it begs the questions: Will you continue to use Uber? Will you continue to use any taxi company with this fear in the back of your mind?

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