Getting In Cars With Strangers -- Is The "Safe" Option Really That Safe?

I decided to take a cab home sometime after midnight, because it felt like the safer option for a drunk girl than staggering home in my little black dress and high heels. It wasn't.

Sep 29, 2011 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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I am scared of being raped. Maybe more so than most people, because I know how quickly it can happen to you, how impossible it is to predict or prevent, and how irrevocably the minutes or hours in which you are assaulted can alter the rest of your life. I have already spent and will spend many more years recovering from being raped.

There have been times, while caught in the current of the overwhelming pain that arises from such an experience, that I have thought that if it ever happens to me again, I will kill the person who tried it, or kill myself rather than spend another decade wrestling with what feels like a bottomless well of hurt.

So I am freaked out about the fact that there is a dude (or multiple dudes) roaming my neighborhood and surrounding areas of Brooklyn, attempting to sexually assault women. Since the almost a dozen attacks that have happened since August of this year, a community organization has formed to offer volunteer escorts for locals who feel unsafe in the neighborhood.

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"BE CAREFUL!" trumpets the news coverage on the case and my own boyfriend before I leave for work in the mornings, but I have never really understood what that means when it comes to preventing rape. Stay alert, surely, by looking around and not wearing headphones on the walk from the train to my front door, which I also don't unlock until I'm sure no one is close enough to me to push me inside. And take cabs at night, the boyfriend adds.

I'm torn on that last one.

It was 2003 or 2004, two equally horrible years for me, when I decided to take a cab home from a BUST event, sometime after midnight. Although I was a poor college student and intern, I decided to splurge on a cab, because it felt like the safer option for a drunk girl than staggering home in my little black dress and high heels. I'd probably done a line of cocaine that night.

The driver was friendly, I am from the Midwest and also was intoxicated, and when he asked me to sit in the front seat so that he could "read my palm," I did. In case this is not already woefully apparent to you, allow me to make it perfectly clear: DO NOT EVER GET INTO THE FRONT SEAT.

Soon his hands were down my shirt and up my skirt. 

He kept up the fortune-telling charade, telling me he could tell I would be “heavy” someday. This is the detail that later allowed me to find others who have had run-ins with him; he used that same line on other women.

I said “No, stop” and pushed his hands away as quickly as he could replace them. He drove down dark alleyways touching me, looking for a lonely place to pull over. I am scared of what might have happened if there were more isolated spots in New York City.

I didn't kick or try to get out -- I am not good at defending myself, but also we were in a moving car, he was driving and I didn't want to crash. I just kept begging him to take me home, and finally he did.

I felt proud of myself for running away without paying. I may have yelled something and given his door a firm kick, or I may have just done that mentally. I collapsed into a sobbing mess on my front stoop, and called my current boyfriend, whom I had only been dating for a few months at the time. He made it from Brooklyn to Manhattan in 20 minutes at two in the morning on a weeknight. He stroked my hair, gave me Nyquil and put me to bed. I can't remember if that was the moment I knew I wanted to be with him forever, but it should have been.

I never reported him to anyone -- I didn't know his name or car number and doubt I could have described him very accurately, plus I was too embarassed to admit I had stupidly climbed into the front seat of the cab. (Should I say it again? DO NOT EVER GET INTO THE FRONT SEAT.) 

But I've since heard stories like this from many other women, women who have been sexually harassed or suffered assault at the hands of cab drivers in New York City. I still think taking a cab and getting dropped off directly in front of your door is a safer option than walking late at night, but I also know that you have to exercise caution any time you get into a car with a stranger, even one who is employed by the city. (Even one who is supposed to be protecting you.)

It's not always so dramatic. I've been touched once, but I've been propositioned and harassed countless times, by drivers like the one who told me hopefully, "You know, sometimes girls show me their boobs. Hasn't happened in a while though..." Or the man who wouldn't stop pestering me to explain why a beautiful young woman like me would possibly not be married already. Alone in that car with a bored, lonely man, you often become the perfect victim -- one who can't get away. 

NYC, at least has programs like RightRides that offer women and LGBTQ individuals free, safe, late-night rides home, but only on Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 3 am.

What are your stay-safe tips for traveling around your city? And have you ever had a bad experience with a cab driver or other hired transportation?