Over 24 hours, The Spinoff received more than 100 stories from New Zealand women who have been made to feel unsafe in a taxi or Uber. This article contains description of sexual assault and harassment, please take care.
Yesterday, a feeble troll of a petition on Change.org announced that the new women-only ride-sharing app DriveHer was “sexist” and “denying men jobs.” The app, launching in Auckland on December 3, has an all-women roster of drivers. There are also strict rules around male passengers – no travelling without a woman, and no sitting in the front seat. “DriveHer is about giving women options,” founder Joel Rushton told The NZ Herald. “It’s about giving women an option to feel safe, because what we know is that the taxi and ridesharing industry isn’t safe.”
Women are, of course, aware of all of these problems already. Our safety is at the forefront of our minds everytime we leave the house, catch a bus or a train, go to work, socialise and generally breathe. To illustrate just how misguided the petition was, I put a call out on social media for women to share their experiences of travelling in taxis and Ubers. It’s been just over 24 hours and I have had well over 100 responses, ranging from creepy comments, to terrifying reroutes, to life-shattering instances of sexual assault.
So even though the plonkers behind the change.org petition have since announced they will be deleting it due to “backlash” – seriously, my heart goes out to them – here are just some of the stories sent by women to The Spinoff.
THE UNCOMFORTABLE COMMENTS
Hannah: “I had a taxi driver offer to waive the fare in return for ‘hand relief’.”
Catarina: “This happened to me in an Uber today. The man taking me to a meeting was casually asking me questions about my work then jumped into my dating life and got onto more probing questions like where I live, where I like to drink beer and what time I get off work. He knows where I work now. And ended the ride by asking me out.”
Elouise: “When I was at university, a woman in one of my classes told me that the night before when a taxi driver was dropping her home, he had said to her ‘you can pay for the ride another way if you want’ and handed her a tissue. BLERGH! She was getting home from her job at a strip club, and she said that kind of interaction was very common when drivers picked her up from work. I’d imagine it would common for all woman working in the sex industry.”
Kate: “Once I had a taxi driver in Wellington drive me to the airport during the day and he was boasting about his ‘conquests’ with women he had driven home at night. I was super uncomfortable and it was incredibly inappropriate.”
Mei-Ling: “When I was 21, I called a taxi to pick me up from my place to town. He commented the whole way how he loved picking up young hot drunk girls and driving them around but ‘don’t worry i’m not like a perve or anything’. Way to reassure me dude.”
Emma: “In an Uber, the driver asked what I do for a job, I said I am a nurse, he said “why are nurses always so beautiful?”I felt awkward and uncomfortable and changed the subject. A few minutes later he again said “nurses are always so beautiful … you are so beautiful..’ It felt creepy and gross. I haven’t caught an Uber again since.”
Beth: “One time when I was in my early teens a taxi driver offered for us to give him a hand job instead of paying. Needless to say we didn’t oblige.”
Emily: “Me and my friend, both 21, were out for the night and decided to get an Uber home from the club. We live in Wellington, but were house sitting for my parents, about 25 minutes away. We ordered an uber, both hopped in the back and were just talking to ourselves, when the Uber driver started asking us questions. We weren’t black out drunk or anything, but had had a few.
His questions became very personal. He asked where we were staying, if we were alone, was anyone else at home, how long for. I said at my parents, and that yes, my parents were at home despite the fact they weren’t. It got worse: ‘so, what’s the sleeping arrangements like, do you two share a bed, are you together?’
We said we weren’t together, but we are sharing the bed in the spare room. And then we stopped answering, but he didn’t stop talking. We sat, uncomfortable, very alert and sober and slightly scared, as he then proceeded to tell us how he was a virgin, how he would love to have sex, how he thinks we looked like we would be great at it, how the thought of us sharing a bed made him horny, would we kiss for him, right now, in the car?”
BEING CONTACTED AFTERWARDS
Mei-Ling: “I’ve had an Uber driver try and add me on Facebook. Thanks to my first name being so unusual it’s not actually that hard to find me on Facebook. He was reported.”
Rachel: “I used Dial-A-Driver a couple of years ago in Auckland. The guy that drove my car and myself home used my phone number from my booking to repeatedly contact me to ask me out and let me know when he was near my house, and that he would like to come over if I wanted the company. I didn’t. I really, really didn’t.”
Alice: “My Uber driver the other day added me on Instagram like two minutes after dropping me off and then messaged me four times asking to hang out”
WORK TRIP WEIRDNESS
Angelique: “I was working night shifts and would order an Uber around the same time every morning. One morning, a guy picked me up wouldn’t stop hitting on me. Even when I told him I had a boyfriend he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I got out didn’t think much of it until the next day, where he was waiting outside work, and had picked up my fare again. He this about four days in a row until I had to actually contact uber to get him blocked so I wouldn’t get him.”
Kerry: “Years ago, after a work Christmas do and too many drinks, a group of us got a taxi. I was last to be dropped off. I passed out in the back and woke to find him driving in the complete opposite direction of my address. Nothing bad happened, but it still gave me a hell of a fright.”
Cat: “I work at a strip club in Wellington and often have to Zoomy, Uber or taxi home. I don’t ever get in the cab outside my work – always a block down – and I never use my real address. I always get them to drop be off about 1 or 2 blocks away from my house, just incase.
At the end of a night of work, usually between 3.30 – 5am, I occasionally enter into conversations with taxi drivers. Sometimes this involves me saying I work in a strip club and this is always (I mean ALWAYS) is followed by creepy and inappropriate questions.“Which club? Can I come see you sometime? Do you have sex? Would you have sex for (enter amount of money here)? Is the club full of creeps?” No creepier than you are, weird man with no filter.
Taxi drivers need to stop asking personal questions, anytime, and men need to stop assuming they have the right to ask those questions.”
Sarah: “Once I was getting a cab back to work in the evening, after a late-night event. I just needed to pick my car up before I went home – something I made the mistake of saying to my initially friendly cab driver. He then kept asking me if my boyfriend was upset that I was staying out late, if my boyfriend was jealous that I went to evening events all dressed up and if my boyfriend was lonely at home without me.
He dropped me at work and I went inside rather than go straight to my car. There was security inside and people still working so gut was telling me it was a good idea. From inside, I watched the cab turn off his light and linger there for a good 10 minutes, before driving away. I felt sick in the gut and got the security guard to walk me to my car. Now wishing I had taken his ID number, but it’s tough to pinpoint anything he did that was actually an offence. I just felt skin-crawly.”
Jane: “One night I came home at around 4am after finishing work as a sex worker. For me, it is often safer to get taxis over ubers because you don’t have to wait alone outside, you just go to the rank, and then the driver doesn’t have your personal information. The taxi driver who picked me up offered several times to be my ‘personal driver,’ saying that he could give me his number so I could call him whenever I finished work.
I repeatedly refused, but when we got back to my house he asked me on a date. While he didn’t physically harm me, it makes me uneasy that this man knew what time I finished work, I suspected he knew where, and also knew where I lived. If I could choose to be picked up by a woman in a taxi late at night, I would hands-down pick that option every time, because most women know the stress of being alone after dark.”
JUST TRYING TO GET HOME
Lucy: “I once had an Uber driver who spent the whole ride telling me about how he was really an artist… He insisted on showing me his art on his phone while he was driving, despite me telling him not to. It turned out to be exclusively drawings and sketches of nude women. He then proceeded to tell me that ‘if you weren’t my Uber rider I’d ask if I could draw you’.”
At that point I told him to pull over and let me out. As I was leaving he tried to get me to tell him what my last name was so he could look me up on Facebook. I reported him to Uber and they refunded the ride and told me they were investigating him. It still creeps me out because he picked me up from my house.”
Lizzie: “One night I only had $20 cash left, which I knew was just under what it took to get home. I asked the taxi driver to take me as far as it would get me, then I’ll walk. He started asking me about my night, which began real friendly then became progressively more sexual – asking if I had a boyfriend, why I hadn’t picked up a man in town, and how maybe it’s not too late.
In my drunken friendliness I realised I accidentally disclosed that all my friends were still in town and I was going home to an empty house. The meter for to $20 so I asked him to let me out. He laughed and said I could pay him back later. I end up doing the “yup this is my (totally fake) house here thanks” and ran down the driveway and crouch on some poor strangers porch until I see him drive away.
Then, as I’m walking back up the road to my actual house I see him do a U-turn and park up in front of the house he just dropped me at. I don’t know what happened after that coz I gapped it home and locked all my doors.”
Lucy: “The taxi driver wanted to chat, which was fine until he started talking about explicitly about his sex life and saying he wished he had a woman like me around. We got near enough to my house and I lied and said it was my stop. I went to pay with eftpos, and he said there was a connection error and that we needed to go to an ATM to get some money.
At the ATM he stood over me and I saw out of the corner of my eye he was gesturing and mouthing something to another taxi driver nearby. I gave him the money and he insisted I get back in the car so he could drive me to my fake house. As we drove back up the street he locked the door. I freaked out and asked him to let me out. He said no, he’d take me to his house cos I’d paid.
He took me to my fake house and lent over me, grazing his hands against me to unlock the door. I rushed out and he idled next to me as I walked away from my fake house. He yelled something as I snuck up an alley and ran towards my real house. I felt really stupid for not catching his cab number so I never complained.”
TOUCHING, GROPING AND SEXUAL ASSAULT
Erica: “I’ve had a driver put his hand on my knee as I was paying and said my ride would be free if I kissed him.”
Cherie: “A taxi driver implied I didn’t have to pay cash if I was ‘good with my hands’ and then he grinned and put his hand on my thigh and then on my breast. I politely declined, and got out as fast as I could. I never told anyone because I was very drunk and unfortunately my parents had drilled the whole ‘asking for it’ bullshit in my head. I was embarrassed and thought it was my fault because of my drunkenness and outfit.”
Kate: “My mother always taught me to never sit in the front seat of a taxi because, when she was 16, she did exactly that. When the taxi pulled up at her house, the taxi driver turned to her, grabbed her and told her she wasn’t allowed to get out unless she gave him a kiss. She leaned in as if to oblige, then elbowed him hard and used the opportunity to jump out of the taxi. She was always terrified afterwards that he’d come back since he now knew where she lived.”
Melody: “When I was 19 a male taxi driver took me past my house to a dark street, held my hand and told me I was beautiful. After I begged him to take me home he finally did. He was much bigger than me and I was terrified… I still remember his super long fingernails scraping against my hand. I used to sit in the front of taxis and loved chatting with drivers – I never did it again after that”
Sarah: “When I was 19, I got a budget taxi home from the waterfront. The driver agreed to take me to Pt Chevalier for $20, but he said the back door was stuck so told me jump in the front seat, which I did. Everything was fine until we got to Pt Chev shops. He stopped the car and when I turned to ask what was happening, he grabbed by head and pushed it down into his crotch.
I freaked and managed to push him and hit him a couple of times and open the door to exit. There wasn’t anyone around, so I just ran home as fast as I could. I went to the police the next day and they were really great, but as I was quite drunk I couldn’t recall the name of the taxi company or any details that could help them identify the driver.”
Leonie: “I had a driver drop me off at my boyfriend’s house late at night, turn around and put his hand on my knee and slowly slide it up my thigh. I was wearing a skirt and I still remember the feeling of skin-crawling revulsion at his unwanted touch. I managed to get out, but I was drunk and couldn’t remember the company name the next day. And because I was so late home and drunk, my boyfriend was mad at me and didn’t care when I told him what had happened with the taxi driver. Cue a sleepless night of guilt and disgust for bringing it on myself.”
Catherine: “I sat in the front of a taxi when I was 15 and the guy put his hand on my leg and kept it there. Didn’t say anything because I was young and super unconfident.”
Heather: “My good friend was picked up after an event, driven to an isolated area and sexually assaulted. She never went to the police as she’s had other incidents in her life and knew her mental health wouldn’t cope with an investigation.”
Ellen: “I was sexually assaulted after a friend’s birthday party a month ago, when I got out of a cab at the lights because the driver was going down a disgusting line of questioning. The police added it to the ‘long list’ of similar complaints they get every week from women, especially in the inner central suburbs. They recommend Uber as they can trace complaints immediately, I was in one of those no-name, trash cabs unfortunately. They said Uber are amazing to deal with.”
Kay: “In my first year of uni in Palmerston North, one of my friends went home for the night. She was really drunk so we urged her to take a taxi even though we were all broke students. Walking through the Square at night was an assault gauntlet. She did take that taxi, and arrived home hours later after the driver took her elsewhere and raped her. She never pressed charges as she thought they’d never believe her cos she was drunk. She dropped out of uni not long after, a shadow of herself.”
Carla: “I had an Uber driver recently tell me that he refused to pick up women at night because they are worse drunks and will put their legs up on the middle arm rest and that he doesn’t want to risk getting a rape charge. If he sees a woman’s name come up on the app, he will cancel the trip.”
“I said to him that those women are just trying to get home safely and that’s his job to take them home and if they’re that drunk they shouldn’t be left alone on the street.”
“He told me, ‘that’s what taxis are for.’”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.