My passengers are always surprised to see me.
I’m almost always first female driver they’ve had.
We are a rarity, at only about 19% at Lyft, 15% at Sidecar, and 8% at Uber.
As a new author and freelance writer, the gig works for me. There’s no schedule, boss, and/or politics. I can turn on my app anytime I want to make money. I can take off for a writing assignment, a workshop, a festival, or an overseas backpacking trip. For the first time in my life, I’m able to fully pursue my dreams, maintain a social life, and have financial stability.
Shuffling strangers around town has been an incredible education on human character. I see subtle, but rude behavior when people make me wait several minutes for them to be ready for the ride, open food and drinks without permission, and leave garbage in my car. Rideshares have a strict rating system that ranges from 1 to 5 stars. It’s imperative that drivers get mostly 5 star ratings because at 4.6, we are at risk for deactivation. We can’t show a glimpse of frustration.
Driving has taught me more about men than any father figure or boyfriend ever could. When they request a ride, they expect their driver to be their typical cabbie demographic. They make comments about their pleasant surprise from the expectation of being chauffeured by a middle aged Nigerian male, as if my millennial, Caucasian blondness is an extra treat. We are alone in my car. Our brief interaction is private and intimate. Though most men are polite, many carry on a sense of entitlement. They make themselves at home, tapping my shoulder, grazing my arm or knee when they feel like it. They help themselves to my vehicle’s temperature settings and reach for my iPhone charger without permission. They divulge details about their wife whose libido died after having their baby and proceed to compliment my legs. They ask me about my romantic status and request descriptions of my sexual fantasies. Every time I reject a man who asks me out or evade threats of one-star ratings if I do not go home with him, I am reminded of the impossibility for an attractive woman to have a perfect review.
During our ride, I am their hostage.
My intuition has sharpened to a level I never thought possible. I can feel people when they get in my car. I immediately sense when they want to chat or play on their phone in solidarity. There have been moments where a stranger has gotten in my car and I was immediately uncomfortable.
But I never felt truly in danger until picking up the perpetrator.
It was around 6:45 pm on a Friday. I had made a personal rule to quit driving after midnight to avoid intoxicated passengers. Apple Cup, a yearly football game between the University of Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars had kicked off at noon, spawning packs of inebriated fans stumbling through the streets like Purple and Red zombies.
When I approached the bar my Rideshare app had summoned me to, I drove past two guys standing on the sidewalk. They waved me down to indicate that they were my passengers. I needed to turn around to get to their side of the road, so I drove onto the next street. I pulled into a neighboring driveway, stopped and paused. I considered canceling the ride and speeding off. I have no idea why. I decided not to. It looked bad in the Rideshare system to cancel a lot of rides. I had driven all the way there, found my passengers, and had no reason to refuse them. So, I ignored my gut and pulled around the bar. Suddenly, a couple more guys appeared, carrying a burly thirty-something with strawberry blonde hair, groomed beard, dressed in Huskies gear. Everything about his appearance emulated the vulnerability of intoxicated handicap except for his eyes. He stared at me with blood-chilling intensity. I looked at his friend and started to tell him to take him back in. He was too drunk for me to drive. But they tossed him in my back seat, slammed my door, and scurried back inside the bar.
We had a 13-mile ride ahead of us.
I was hoping he’d sleep through it, but he sat upright. He didn’t buckle his seatbelt. When I made turns, his entire body, from torso up, rolled from one side to another in my backseat like a punching dummy.
I’d seen it before. Just a month prior, Uber driver, Edward Caban had been attacked by Taco Bell executive, Ben Golden. Golden had been as drunk as my passenger and when Caban told him to get out, Golden reached from the back seat and began beating Caban, yanking him by the hair before getting sprayed with mace.
I did not have mace or a camera.
Slurring, the perpetrator began making comments about how attractive I was. He asked me personal questions like my name and what I did for a living. I gave vague, brief responses, praying he didn’t vomit inside my car. As I pulled on Interstate, I grew relieved by his sudden silence.
About 5 minutes through the I-5 north, we hit a bit of traffic and I slowed to about 50 mph. Suddenly, he lunged from the back seat, grabbed my breast, and began kissing my neck and cheek.
Imagine the bewildering, fearful jolt that shakes you when a figure jumps at you in the dark. Now, imagine that happening while driving a vehicle on the Interstate. I nearly swerved into the median before I could register that I was being sexually assaulted.
“Stop!” I demanded.
He sat back in the seat for a moment and then lunged again, grabbing my breast once more, and continuing to kiss my neck and cheek.
“STOP!” I repeated. “You’re going to make me wreck.”
He finally backed off and curled onto my backseat, mumbling something about how he was “going to fuck me.”
Our destination was his home in Shoreline, the outskirts of Seattle. Most of the area is poorly lit and residential. I thought about what happened to Caban and the way his nearly unconscious passenger snapped. This man flared those same red flags but with a strong sexual undertone.
To my relief, he started snoring. If his friends had to carry him to my car, I didn’t know how I was going to get him out of it. If I tried, how would he react? I realized that was walking into a cliché rape scenario.
I pulled off the first exit and drove until I found a Fred Meyer crowded with shoppers. Rather than the lot, I parked directly in front of the store, got out, locked him inside, and called the police.
I initially tried to downplay the fiasco the way women are brainwashed to do. He was drunk. Perhaps I had somehow led him on by driving my car, trying to avoid conversation, and staring at the road. He hadn’t hit me or held a gun to my head. In hindsight, I saw intention in his actions. Had he buckled his seatbelt, he would not have been able to lunge at me. When police pulled him out of my car, I stood merely feet away to watch his arrest. They asked him his name. He glanced at me and said it was James — not even close to his name. He’d been through this before, making sure to hide his identity from me. As the cops were handcuffing him, he looked at me, snapped his gums, and gave me a saucy wink.
He had no remorse. Why would he?
According to Rape Crisis Center, 1 in every 6 Americans has been victim of rape or attempted rape. Nine out of 10 are women. However, only 6% of rapists serve a day of jail time. Those are just the recorded statistics. This was not the first man to sexually assault me. He is just the first one I’ve reported.
Upon reporting him, I’m under immediate scrutiny. I tell people about the incident. They ask me if he was drunk, as if alcohol smudges predatory intention into careless debauchery. They ask me what I was wearing. They consider a provocative ensemble entrapment.
There is no logic in his defense. There was no reason for me to pick a stranger and falsely accuse him of sexual assault. However, in order to protect that freakishly rare chance of a woman accusing an innocent man, hundreds of thousands of rapists escape deserving reprimand every year.
This isn’t a rideshare problem. This isn’t a driver or a passenger problem. This is a male problem. Not every man has harassed a woman, but every woman has been harassed by a man.
I had my monthly appointment with my therapist a few weeks after my assault.
She wanted to focus on the trauma I was feeling from it.
But truthfully, there is no trauma.
It seems that a man lunging up from the dark backseat of my car uninvited, unsolicited, to grab my breast and kiss my neck against my will while I’m driving on the Interstate would be emotionally detrimental, but I was well prepared for it.
I’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted my entire life.
The subtle perverted innuendo of inebriated blue-collar men was thrown my way from as early as age 12. I was raped at 16. And throughout young adulthood, I have dealt with unsolicited, nonconsensual breast, ass, hair, waist groping, crotch grabbing, pinching, and caressing at bars, parties, or any other substance-infused social gathering that women have learned to accept as the collateral damage of attending. I brace myself for cat-calls when I walk down street alone because it happens every time I do.
I knew that it was a matter of time before their words turned into action, before the verbal assault became physical.
The police told me I did the right thing. They praised me for staying calm. But I was ready. Running into a situation where rape was a serious possibility was inevitable.
The most traumatic aspect of my sexual assault isn’t the action, but the reaction.
What shakes me is that he was arrested and released the following day with a misdemeanor, despite the fact that he’s been arrested twice before. What disturbs me is the disheartened tone of the clerk, receptionist, and detective when they expressed the misfortune in the legal wrist slaps our justice system serves the masses of sexual predators. What haunts me is that he is a bartender, has a serious girlfriend, is a diehard Seattle Seahawks fan and is a groomsman at weddings. He is nothing more than an average member of society.
I am not a uniquely unfortunate woman who has run into horrible luck with men. I am the norm. As a rideshare driver, the gratitude on the faces of my female passengers validate that statement. They get in my car with a sigh of relief and share their own harassment stories. Every single woman has lived a life of sexual assault, so fluent and accepted that we normalize it, shake it off, and remain silent.
But I am done being silent.
This post originally appeared on womenyoushouldknow.net.
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Maggie Young is a Navy veteran, Berkeley graduate, sex-positive feminist, and the author of her gritty memoir, Just Another Number. She describes her writing as "investigative reporting with emotional authenticity." With perpetual wanderlust, Maggie calls herself an emancipated southerner, world traveler, and current Seattle resident. She is 95% vegan and loves to play outside. You can find her at themaggieyoung.com and themaggieyoung.blogspot.com.