Unfortunately, the Boston area has heard of two reports recently of two individuals (at this time, police do not believe the incidents are connected) who raped people attempting to hail cabs in different areas of the city.
Any sexual assault is troubling, but it is particularly alarming to hear that the assailants in these sexual assaults targeted those who were looking for safer options for getting to their destination.
It is important to stress that the problem behavior here is that people are looking to victimize others. To do so, it appears they're trying to both pass their vehicles off as legitimate taxi or livery options and conceal their own identities.
Cab companies, livery companies, and apps or services that connect drivers, riders, and cars should be prioritizing giving you a safe ride. Here are some ways that an individual or company can demonstrate that they're committed to getting you where you need to go safely:
- Vehicles are clearly marked. In all cities in Greater Boston that utilize a medallion system for licensed taxis, the medallion number, along with the name of the company, and a phrase such as "Boston Lic. Taxi" should be clearly displayed in multiple places on the body of the car. (The Boston Police have this photo of the markings on a licensed taxi in Boston. Unfortunately, not all Greater Boston cities and towns conform to the same marking standards, so for example, Cambridge or Brookline cabs might look different.)
Livery companies and car sharing programs should also be able to clearly identify the vehicle that you have called for, either by signage, or by notifying you ahead of time of the make and model and license plate number of the car you're expecting. Any changes should be communicated to you in advance.
- Drivers identify themself and have identification visible in the car. This should be posted clearly for passengers in the vehicle. Some companies will also provide a name and photo of the driver ahead of time. Some drivers for private livery companies may also have business cards. Some companies--though by no means all--do background screenings of their drivers.
- Drivers are respectful and courteous and do not make passengers feel uncomfortable. In our past work on taxi safety, we heard stories from numerous riders--in licensed and unlicensed taxis, and from car services--about drivers who made comments about riders' clothes, bodies, or the fact that they appeared to be going home alone at night. This obviously left riders feeling vulnerable, since in most cases the drivers had the address of their destination.
Essentially, a legitimate taxi or car service with drivers who are behaving safely have set up a system that creates some accountability: it is easy to identify their cars and drivers and to locate them again after the ride is over. The safest ride option is the service or driver willing to demonstrate that to you and to make sure you feel comfortable riding with them. We have a right to safe ride options at all hours, in all neighborhoods.
Friends and community members can talk with those in their lives who are attempting to style their private vehicles in a way that mimics a taxi or car service vehicle, or have spoken about offering unsolicited rides to people they don't know, as this is not safe behavior.
As always, our 24/7 hotline--800.841.8371--is available not just to those who have experienced a sexual asault, but also to those who might be concerned or feeling vulnerable in the wake of assaults in our community. A number of neighborhoods and communities have experienced violence in the past few months that have left individuals feeling unsafe and wanting some tools for themselves. We'd like to recommend our colleagues at IMPACT, a Boston-area organization offering realistic personal safety and self-defense to folks of all genders (including LGBQT-specific classes), people with disabilities, and trauma survivors.