“I wanted to share my experience with reporting harassment to the DC Taxi Commission”

by Prince Of Petworth December 10, 2015 at 1:10 pm 53 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joe Flood

“Dear PoPville,

I wanted to share my experience with reporting harassment to the DC Taxi Commission. I’m hoping it’ll encourage more people to report poor behavior to the commission, rather than write it off as commonplace, as I almost did.

A couple weeks ago, late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, I caught a taxi home. Once we were parked in front of my house, the driver propositioned me and there was some inappropriate, unwanted sexual contact. I escaped the situation unharmed.

At first, I wasn’t going to report it because this sort of incident seems fairly common, plus I didn’t think the commission would do anything. But some friends encouraged me to file a complaint, so I did.

Two weeks later, someone from the commission reached out to me and let me know they would be handling my case. They called me and very patiently walked me through everything I would need to know. They answered all of my questions and addressed all of my concerns, as well as very transparently laying out all of my options. They said they take these things seriously, especially now with the competition from Uber and Lyft.

A week later, I received a letter informing me that disciplinary action was taken against the driver. Because the complaint was about sexual harassment, I was told he’d be fined the highest amount they can fine a driver. They gave me the option of trying for a harsher punishment, which I declined to pursue.

So basically, if you’re ever in an unfortunately similar situation, please report it. Especially since previous complaints against the driver are considered when determining disciplinary actions. Customers and the commission both want riders to feel safe in taxis, so this is one way of working towards that.”

  • Derek

    That’s terrible that this happened, but shouldn’t you have notified the police first if there was unwanted contact? This is a criminal act and the police would be able to arrest this driver where he could face much more punishment than a fine and disciplinary actions.

    • CAssie

      This is my question too. Although, there seems to be a very high bar for assault in DC. So maybe the DA wouldn’t consider non-violent contact to be assault.

      • FridayGirl

        Not all women want to press criminal charges.

        • FridayGirl

          *Let me change that sentence to not all victims. I should have included other genders, too.

          • G

            I believe you meant “not all survivors”

          • FridayGirl

            Well, my intention was good. Oi.

        • Anon Spock

          Are reports to the commission done so anonymously? I’m assuming the wish to remain anonymous is the biggest reason someone would forego criminal charges.

          • FridayGirl

            I’ll admit I know very little about this, but assuming one presses criminal charges, wouldn’t the victim then also have to have some kind of representation, and make appearances at the police station and possibly court that they might not want to make? Especially if OP was not harmed.
            My main point was that while victims shouldn’t be afraid to notify the police of unwanted sexual contact, we shouldn’t make OP feel like they did something wrong by not contacting them when she is far more informed about the situation and her needs than we are.

      • FunYun

        obviously you know nothing about the law regarding assault and/or battery.

        • FridayGirl

          It would be great if you elaborated on your knowledge for us then……

          • Funky

            Sure. If she was touched – that’s assault and battery. High bar here in DC.

      • Anon

        Unwanted sexual acts or contacts are absolutely a crime, with or without violence. Without knowing the exact details, it seems likely that this would be a misdemeanor sex abuse, which prohibits engaging in a sexual act or contact with another person if the person should have knowledge or reason to know that the act was committed without the other person’s permission. (DC Code 22-3006). The penalty is up to 180 days in jail. I would recommend that the OP report this to MPD.

      • anon

        is there a high bar for assault in DC? unhelpful and snarky responses to CAssie’s comment aside (e.g. Funky and FunYun), i don’t know if that’s true, although i’m sure that reporting abuse/assault isn’t easy, not to mention the legal aspects of the process. ultimately the OP/victim should decide whether or not to report; regardless, hopefully she gets support from whomever can offer it! glad her experience with filing a report to the commission was positive!

        • Funky/FunYun

          and your ‘comment’ IS helpful? my point to the uniformed/you is that NO there isn’t a ‘high bar’ for assault/battery nor is it difficult to report.

    • anon

      That’s what I was going to say. Could the OP still report it to the police at this point? It’s obviously the OP’s choice but it sucks for him to get away with it with only a fine, especially since he’s in a position to similarly assault others.

      • Caroline

        I’m also thinking it would be good for this to be on a more accessible record. Would Taxi Commission complaints show up if someone runs a background check on this guy for another job, rental application, etc?

    • Anonymous

      You are right that a sexual assault is a criminal act. But it’s also her word against his. In the absence of some kind of physical injury and/or really good evidence than a physical assault occurred, I don’t see an arrest or a prosecution here. Luckily, the bar for the Taxicab Commission to take action is lower.

  • VV

    Glad you got a satisfactory outcome, OP…but they’re letting a taxi driver who has been disciplined for unwanted sexual contact KEEP DRIVING? How many unwanted sexual contacts have to happen before someone loses their job?

  • A

    “They said they take these things seriously, especially now with the competition from Uber and Lyft.” …really that is why? Glad to hear they do now but please don’t say that is the reason ever again!

    • asg

      Well, that probably is the reason. Before uber/lyft, cabs almost made it a point to deliver the worst customer service possible (refused credit cards, dirty cars, rude drivers, meandering routes, etc.), and the cab commission was pretty well known for NOT being responsive to complaints. The only thing that’s changed since then is uber/lyft taking market share away from traditional cabbies.

      • U Streeter

        And now…credit cards + 45% less rape. Capitalism!

    • VV

      “We’re concerned about competition from Uber and Lyft…but not enough to actually fire the guy and protect future riders.”

      • Anonymous

        lol :(

    • Anon Steak

      Yes really that’s why.

    • kittycatbob

      You mean the DC Taxicab Commission, right? OP has no control over what they tell her.

    • Bitter Elitist

      I’ve noticed that the competition has cut down on the racist remarks and sexual comments that I’ve received from cabbies.

      Cabs are cleaner and drivers are friendlier too.

    • anon

      the OP reported what the commission said to her — it didn’t sound like she was editorializing. your comment seems to blame her thinking/feeling a way while she was just informing us what she was told.

  • Caroline

    Good for you. The first time I was sexually assaulted by a cab driver I was young and scared and didn’t report it. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have any information to identify the driver with, so I didn’t think it would accomplish anything.
    After that I started using my phone to take pictures of the ID and license plate whenever I got in a cab. But when it happened the second time I had to leave my purse behind in order to escape, and my phone with that information was never recovered.
    I think these guys usually get away with it because it’s rare for the victim to have identifying information. You just see the back of a head, and don’t even get a good look at the driver until they’re already grabbing at you in a dark parking lot.
    I’m happy the Taxi Commission is finally taking these cases seriously and even managed to locate and discipline the driver.

    • anonymous

      So I didn’t have any information at all on the driver, but there are definitely other ways you can find identifying information after the fact if you need to get out quickly and didn’t get a name or anything.

      My friends told me to look at what my credit card bill says, but all it had was the company that made the machine. So I called that company and told them the date of the ride and the amount I paid (they may have confirmed using last 4 digits of my credit card, I can’t remember), and they found the info. They told me his name, cab company, medallion number, and trip number.

      • Caroline

        This was in the dark ages before credit card readers (and both times it happened before I paid anyway) but that’s a good tip.

  • CrashNBurn

    After being in 3 cab accidents (one at 4am, at Florida and 2nd NW and the driver told me I was on my own, wouldn’t call dispatch) and kicked out of a cab at 4am at the intersection of Florida and Sherman (single female) for asking the cab to put on the radio after a shift bar tending (my ears were ringing and noise soothes that), I never once got a response from the Commission. And I suppose that Lyft and Uber have made quite an impact on the DC Taxi Commission. They’ve certainly upgraded my rides.

  • phl2dc

    I totally thought this was going to detail a poor experience reporting to the commission, but I’m glad it worked out.

  • dat

    Good for you for reporting it and following up.
    As a broader point, however, he shouldn’t have been fined — he should have had his medallion revoked. Is there any situation where an employee of any other company wouldn’t be summarily terminated for this type of behavior?

    • Anon Spock

      Sadly, yes.

      • Caroline

        Yes, but most employees in other jobs don’t regularly have the opportunity to be alone with a woman in a moving vehicle that they have complete control over.

        • Anon Spock

          I’m not seeing your point….
          You never have to take a cab again. You do have to work somewhere (in theory). We could do the what’s worse all day, but my intention was just to answer the question.

          • Caroline

            I’m not sure I understand your response, but I meant that it’s more dangerous for a cab driver with a history of sexual assault to keep his job than, say, an architect. There are way more people that are put at risk with the cab driver. Just like an employee who smokes pot is not a huge deal in some professions, but dangerous if their job involves operating machinery.

          • Anon Spock

            Don’t worry about it. I sought to answer dat’s question and did. That’s all.

    • sproc

      Could be an independent owner/operator, though, so without law enforcement involvement, he may only have to answer to the DCTC.

    • anon

      The OP said: “They gave me the option of trying for a harsher punishment, which I declined to pursue.”
      So, he got a hefty fine without the OP ever having to testify or see him again. I assume termination might have been an option if she opted to pursue harsher punishment, but due process probably would require her to face him in some sort of quasi-trial or hearing, which she probably didn’t want to do.

      • Anonymous

        Exactly. I’ll wager that he probably had a right to contest the fine but opted not to.

  • emily

    As a public institution, wouldn’t the Commission be required to report this incident to law enforcement? This isn’t just “poor behavior” — it’s dangerous. A fine doesn’t seem like enough, it doesn’t encompass the gravity of the incident. It’s a symbolic slap on the wrist, at best. It offers no measures towards preventing future incidents, aside from paying a fine (which should not be the bottom line).

    • AG

      I also don’t know if I trust the Commission that the driver has been reprimanded. I know it’s very cynical of me, but it wouldn’t take much for them to just print off a letter saying it’s been handled without actually doing anything.

      • Anon

        And what is the “highest amount they can fine a driver” anyway? Could just be a slap on the wrist.

        • Anon Spock

          $1,000 or more.
          That’s how much they fined ppl for credit card violations earlier this year.

  • Uber Lover

    So, they take this type of thing very seriously considering the competition from Uber and Lyft?

    • Timebomb

      Another reason I always take Uber or Lyft, even when vacant cabs are plentiful and I have to wait a little longer. We need to starve this institution out of existence.

  • I can’t figure out how to ask this without appearing to “victim blame” but here goes. When people are talking about taxi drivers sexually assaulting them – how does that exactly happen? The driver is in the front seat, you are in the back. Are they locking the door to prevent your exit and climbing over the seat? Are they pulling over in remote places and raping? Are they just being skeevy and copping a feel while taking your luggage out of the trunk?

    I definitely believe that sexual assault should always be taken seriously, but I’d also like to understand what people are actually talking about.

    • Caroline

      When it happened to me the driver picked me up with other passengers in the backseat (I didn’t know at the time that this was not allowed) so I had to sit in the front. After dropping them off he drove to an empty parking lot where he grabbed my arm and shoved his hand up my skirt before I was able to get away.
      Another time I was in the back and the driver pulled in to an empty parking lot and got out of the car without explaining why. When he went over to my side to open the door I bolted. Maybe he wasn’t trying to do anything sexual but I wasn’t sticking around to find out.
      From other stories I’ve heard the woman is usually in the front seat when it happens. So don’t sit up there alone.

    • U Streeter

      Not to me but to a friend of mine – driver had child safe locks enabled in back so friend could not exit. Deviated from route to God knows where. Friend repeatedly asked him to stop, let her go, etc. – and he just stared ahead and pretended did not hear. Fortunately driver had to stop at light in traffic, and friend jumped over front seat and exited passenger side front door. Friend weights less than 110 pounds.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure why this is being used as an advertisement for Uber or Lyft. There have been numerous allegations of sexual assaults by drivers who work for those companies.

  • Brooklyn Brawler

    Kudos to the OP and her quick response from the DC Taxi Cab Commission. It’s been a long four months on my complaint. That office is slowwwwww

  • Hi OP,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am horrified to hear that you were sexually harassed in a cab but want you to know, like other commenters have said, you are not alone in this experience. It happens all too often, and it inspired the development of RightRides DC – a free, safe rides program for women and LGBTQGNC people. Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) just finished its pilot phase of this program and plans to launch a monthly service in 2016.

    I am glad to hear that you got the response that you wanted from the DC Taxi Commission, though I’d like to see them do more to prevent these incidents from happening again. If there’s any way that I can support you or you’re interested in getting involved in anti-harassment activism in DC, please be in touch with me at [email protected].

    In solidarity,
    Jessica Raven, Collective Action for Safe Spaces


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