A recent CNN investigative report brought ride-hail companies Uber and Lyft under fire for the disturbing trend of driver-to-passenger sexual assault. The report found that at least 103 Uber drivers had been accused of assault or abuse by their passengers—31 of those drivers received criminal convictions, and many cases are still in the works.
The assaults have tended to follow a certain script: a solo female passenger, who is intoxicated, grabs an Uber to safely head home. While she is either seriously impaired or totally passed out, the driver rapes or assaults her, in the car itself or once they have reached her residence.
Uber and Lyft both responded to the CNN report, assuring concerned citizens that they are taking proactive measures to increase safety and systematic monitoring of criminal allegations against drivers and passenger complaints. Even so, some legal pros looking into the situation claim that Uber specifically has been sidelining the issue by including a clause in their user terms of service that forces passengers to resolve claims “on an individual basis of arbitration” rather than in legal partnership with Uber.
This is clearly an infuriating issue for anyone who’s concerned about sexual assault in society. And while we’re fighting against the realities of sexual assault in society, we need to be aware of all the places where this criminal abuse is normalized, and even promoted.
The fact is, porn that mimics the abusive situations detailed above is easily accessible to anyone with a smart device and an internet signal. How is this acceptable?
Porn is built on what’s socially unacceptable
Where does demand come from for content that sexualizes rape scenarios?
Research shows that porn is inherently thrill-based. When someone consumes porn, it activates the brain’s reward center and triggers the release of dopamine. This pleasurable “high” motivates the brain to seek the thrill again. The reward center, however, can get overloaded. A person will need to consume more porn and more hardcore versions of it in order to feel that same dopamine-induced “high.” This is how people who started out watching more “tame” hardcore porn eventually find themselves seeking out extreme, ultra-shocking—even violent—porn.
Basically, this escalating mental reality fuels the porn industry’s production of material that is edgy, extreme, and illicit. Genres are built around socially unacceptable behavior—dads and babysitters, teen girls and truckers, gangbangs, etc. So in the real world, certain things are off limits. But in the world of porn, virtually nothing is. After consuming this desensitizing material, the brain can become deadened to that ethical and social awareness as the brain literally restructures itself to consider this extreme content the new normal.
So when porn tells the story, a normal Uber ride is not one person providing a transportation service for another person from point A to point B—it’s a hyper-sexualized situation that follows the typical pornographic script: what starts as innocent becomes illicit.
And while this would never be accepted in reality, it’s a popular genre in fantasy.
Taxi porn…and now Uber porn
Consider how researchers conducted a 2018 study entirely on the genre of “taxi porn.” “Taxi porn” almost always involves women hailing taxis and eventually having rough, unprotected sex with their drivers—and appearing to like it.
Study participants viewed this content and were then asked to evaluate how likely a woman might be to willingly accept a sexual offer from a taxi driver in a hypothetical situation. Researchers concluded that those with past porn exposure were more likely to think that the women in hypothetical scenarios would want “porn-like” sex with taxi drivers.
The team wrote: “The study provides some evidence that pornography can influence consumers’ judgments of social reality by affecting consumers’ perceptions of the likelihood of women enthusiastically engaging in the kinds of sexual practices commonly depicted in pornography.”
Study after study reveals how porn warps consumers’ expectations of reality, training their brains to hyper-sexualize their surroundings and consider formerly unacceptable behavior the norm.
And just as “taxi porn” has been an established genre for years now, you can now find porn about Uber ride sex encounters with a simple google search. That line between what is acceptable and what is not continues to be blurred, and commercial ride-hail transactions are not immune.
Further proof can be found in this Buzzfeed article (link trigger warning), highlighting passengers who have hopped in an Uber just to find their drivers watching porn in the car.
Sexual assault is a staggering issue in countless realms of our society. As we move towards understanding and dealing with this societal epidemic, we must confront the realities of porn and how it normalizes unacceptable behavior.
For the sake of Uber passengers and of everyone, we need to think critically about the ways porn shapes our collective experiences and interactions—and not in ways that we should encourage. No one’s abusive reality should be sold as a fantasy.