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Uber has defined 21 categories of sexual misconduct, from leering to rape

Reuters/Carlo Allegri
Safety first.
  • Alison Griswold
By Alison Griswold

Reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Uber is putting a name to different types of sexual harassment.

The company on Nov. 12 released a taxonomy of sexual harassment and assault, spanning from “staring or leering” to “non-consensual sexual penetration.” Uber said it developed the list in consultation with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and the Urban Institute, a social policy-oriented think tank, to help categorize and catalog incidents of sexual misconduct and assault that are reported by riders, drivers, and other people who interact through its platform.

The definitions weren’t designed to catalog incidents in a workplace context and won’t be applied to incidents reported by Uber employees, company spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. She said the taxonomy was created to categorize incidents “at businesses that connect people in the real world,” such as restaurants and the hospitality industry.

In a public memo about the new list, Uber chief legal officer Tony West and NSVRC spokeswoman Kristen Houser note that because sexual harassment and sexual assault are widely underreported, any statistics are suspect. But, they write, a lack of common definitions and methodology to talk about sexual misconduct compound the problem.

“There is no common definition of criminal sexual assault across the 50 states or in federal crime statistics, and there is no shared understanding of misconduct that may not be criminal in nature,” West and Houser write. “These challenges create a landscape in which the limited information that is reported out provides only an incomplete and fragmented understanding of the true scope and scale of sexual violence.”

The taxonomy and accompanying policy paper (pdf) from Uber, NSVRC, and the Urban Institute reflect the influence West and current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi have had on Uber. West joined Uber a little over a year ago from PepsiCo and after serving as a high-ranking Justice Department official in the Obama administration. And cleaning up Uber’s record and improving its reputation on safety has been one of Khosrowshahi’s priorities since he assumed the CEO post in August 2017.

Allegations of sexism and sexual misconduct engulfed Uber’s workplace in 2017, leading to the ouster of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and an exodus of senior leaders. Sexual misconduct allegations continued to dog Uber this year, after an April CNN investigation of police reports, federal court records, and county court databases for 20 major US cities identified more than 100 Uber drivers accused of sexual abuse or assault.

This past May, West said Uber would no longer force US riders, drivers, or employees to arbitrate claims of sexual misconduct or assault, meaning those claims could now be heard in court. It was a bold change in policy that Google and Facebook recently followed. Also in May, Uber committed to publishing a report on safety in 2019 that will include data on “the most severe incidents” of sexual assault and road safety reported by riders and drivers, but not necessarily statistics on all 21 categories of sexual assault, Anderson said.

Uber said the taxonomy is designed to help it address any instance of sexual misconduct before the behavior escalates. Any reported incident would be classified under one of the 21 categories; reports with multiple alleged behaviors will be classed under the most severe claim. The full Uber taxonomy of sexual misconduct and sexual assault is below:

Sexual misconduct

  • Staring or leering
  • Comments or gestures: asking personal questions
  • Comments or gestures: comments about appearance
  • Comments or gestures: flirting
  • Comments or gestures: explicit gestures
  • Comments or gestures: explicit comments
  • Displaying indecent material
  • Indecent photography without consent
  • Soliciting sexual content
  • Masturbation / indecent exposure
  • Verbal threat of sexual assault

Sexual assault

  • Attempted touching: non-sexual body part
  • Attempted kissing: non-sexual body part
  • Attempted touching: sexual body part
  • Attempted kissing: sexual body part
  • Non-consensual touching: non-sexual body part
  • Non-consensual kissing: non-sexual body part
  • Attempted non-consensual sexual penetration
  • Non-consensual touching: sexual body part
  • Non-consensual kissing: sexual body part
  • Non-consensual sexual penetration

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