A young woman’s fears concerning disguised Uber predators

By Samantha Milowitz || Staff Editor

Every time I order an Uber, I check that the license plate matches the one on my phone. I run to the back of the car, holding my phone side by side with the trunk of the car, as I recite the license plate numbers and letters out loud to myself. When I get in the car, I peer at the iPhone, or tablet, placed to the side of the driver. I look for my name. I share my location with my mom. I track the driver with the GPS in my phone. I should not have to do these things. 

When I see that my Uber driver is a woman, I breathe a sigh of relief — and that is all. 

If only: These are the words thought by everyone as they mourned the loss of Samantha Josephon, a 21 year-old senior at the University of South Carolina who was kidnapped and killed by a man she thought was her Uber driver. If only she had checked the license plate, if only she had not ordered an Uber that night, if only someone else was with her. If only.

According to the New York Times, there have been about two-dozen attacks like this one in the past few years. These attacks range from rape, to kidnappings, to murder. These kinds of attackers troll nightclubs and popular hangouts for young women, waiting around in cars waving to girls until they are convinced that they are their driver. Some of have even been known to go to the lengths to attach fake company stickers and signs claiming that they are a part of a company like Uber or Lyft. 

Car companies like Uber have been forced to take precautions in order to help ensure the safety of their clients. In 2018, Uber added a panic button that enabled riders to tap their screen and dial 911 immediately. Others have come up with steps to take when taking an Uber or a Lyft, to make sure you are safe and are getting in the right car. For instance, Lauren Fix, also known as “The Car Coach,” shared eight steps to follow in PEOPLE when using an app with a car company. One step even includes not riding in the front seat, to avoid direct interaction with the driver.  This has become a reality of our society since Uber and Lyft have become the new normal.

Unfortunately, car companies can only go to such lengths to make sure their clients are in safe hands. It has become the responsibility of the person to always be on alert, in case their driver ends up being someone trying to rape, kidnap, or murder them. It is not just worrying about if you get into the right car, but it is always a concern if the person driving has been properly vetted.  According to the New York Times, a CNN report from 2018 stated that 103 Uber drives and 18 Lyft drivers have been accused of sexual assault. Even when we can see that it is the right person, even when we have checked all of the information, we still don’t know what they might be capable of. 

When I first started walking to school by myself, I was taught by my mother what to do if I ever felt a man was following me: she told me to turn into the nearest building and act as if it was one of my own. Little did I know at the time when she gave me this advice, that she was actually taking it from her own experience. A man had followed my mother into her building and tried to sexually assault her. Every woman, I now know has a story, and therefore, teaches others how to have it not happen to them. 

These steps are things women constantly have to think about, not just when they are getting into an Uber, but when they are walking from place to place. It is astounding how a mistake someone makes can turn into the end of their life. Hearing about Samantha Josephson’s story, I was not surprised. That’s crazy. I know that there are men out there that pretend to be drivers, to prey on women at their weakest moments. I have been taught to be constantly afraid of this. It is terrible to me that because Samantha wasn’t afraid enough, she ended up dead.

Uber has become a part of our society now. It is a part of a greater social and technological change that has become our new norm. I use Uber on a regular basis, mostly by myself, when I cannot get a ride to the train station or when none of my friends have their car. Uber and Lyft are excellent tools that have aided us in many ways, but they have also become a new form of social media that predators can hide behind, much like Facebook was when it first came on the scene, and even still now. There will always be people in the world who manipulate systems to their own, sick advantage.

I don’t know the answer to this issue. I don’t know how to make women stop being afraid. I also don’t want to sound delusional and say that women should not be/act afraid if it will end up making them safe in the end. In the meantime, we need to be teaching others that we should not have to learn to take these precautions. I am not a man, but I know that my brother will not have to text his friends when he is older to make sure they got home safe. I know that I may always feel more safe with a stranger that’s a male, than my best friend who is a girl. We can face these facts and also work to change the system so that women can feel safe constantly. 

Sophomore Samantha Milowitz is a Staff Writer. Her email is smilowit@fandm.edu.

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