I was watching a news story on SBS a few years ago with my then teenage daughter. A reporter was speaking to camera and announcing that a strict curfew was being imposed on a town in South Africa due to the horrific number of rapes and sexual assaults.
My daughter turned to me and said “that’s not very fair, some of the men who will be put under curfew wouldn’t have done anything wrong or raped anyone but they’re being locked up after dark”.
I had to blow her rational mind by explaining it was the women and girls being placed under curfew. Her jaw dropped and I realised I had allowed my critical thinking to slip.
Recently, not for the first time, Chinese rideshare DiDi tried to impose a curfew on women using their services. Women could travel between 5 am and 10 pm. Their social, sporting and working lives would be curtailed for their own safety.
At every meeting of stakeholders in the transport sector, platforms are genuinely trying to improve safety for women.
But often, being the only woman at the table, I find it hard to convey the impact of sexual misconduct. I look at the men in the room. Some of the cab drivers lobbying hard to advocate for their industry tell stories.
As I listen I learn of friends held at knife point. They’ve had drivers murdered. They’ve been robbed, bashed, delivered babies, performed CPR, taken drunks to hospital and seen just about everything a person can see about humanity.
But it seems lots of regulators draw a blank when trying to understand how it feels as a woman passenger, or a driver to be asked for sex while in a car. They don’t seem to have questioned why only 6% of taxi drivers are women. And around 10% of rideshare drivers are women.
They haven’t experienced the same world. It’s as though we are talking about a different planet despite knowing all the same streets and buildings. I wish I could point to a scar on my body showing the wounds of street harassment, from comments hurled at me from cars by groups of men when I was 10 years old and waiting for a tram.
But I can’t show it. I can’t explain it.
We all want safer drivers. We all want a safer industry. But we have a major legal problem. There is nothing unlawful about asking a passenger for sex. If he grabs a passenger, it’s assault. If he forces himself on her? It’s assault. But if he asks her for sex 15 times in a 20 minute drive? It’s sexual harassment. A civil matter. No criminal conviction recorded. Clean record.
A driver might get kicked off one platform but if he or she has all the required paperwork in order, the new platform will run a police check and it’ll come up clean. He’s on the road. He’s at it again. He’s ruining the night, the confidence, the sense of safety for a woman, and he’s also ruining the brand he is driving for and damaging the reputation of all his fellow drivers.
If a basketball coach can be told it’s not appropriate to ask a team member for sex, can’t we teach commercial drivers the same thing?
A school teacher can’t, a GP can’t, anyone in a position of trust cannot ask a person they’re briefly responsible for, to have sex. We need to do better and we can.
We need to know who these drivers are so they can’t keep going around on the merry go round. There are 22 operators in Australia right now. We want to stop seeing these stories in the paper.
Yes I run an all-women’s rideshare service. But I too rely on these National Police Checks. And a Working With Children Check. What keeps us most reassured however is the fact that people can reach us on the phone, contact us on Twitter and social media. I am a driver and most of the support staff are.
My daughter’s curfew conversation started a whole train of thought which lead to a business. As a driver I have collected mountains of anecdotes. But stories are never enough. We need data.
You can’t fix what you don’t measure. And you don’t measure what you don’t value. I have seen acts of great generosity by men and women, as drivers and riders, determined to keep each other safe.
We need transport, and into the future we will need more commercial options to ditch private vehicles to reduce congestion and emissions.
We must form a transparent code of conduct for all stakeholders. As an operator I need to be able to search a driver’s name on a national data base and see if that person has been removed for sexual misconduct.
No one should be told that her experience of being hounded for sex on her way home from hospital (one of my passengers) is not a criminal offence. It is not a perk of the job. A 17 year old life guard can be taught that he’s in breach of his code of conduct if he asks a girl out while he’s at work. Women deserve to be safe. And when that doesn’t happen we deserve to have our experiences heard and documented.
This is a service industry. Surely all the great drivers who take excellent care of every passenger in every Taxi or Uber or Didi or Ola or Shebah, deserves to know that there are no rats in the ranks.