Uber donates $5m to US sexual violence prevention groups

Uber has pledged $5m over the next five years to seven organisations that work to prevent sexual assaults.

The move is aimed at helping the ride-hailing service combat its own problems as well as society as a whole.

The world's largest ride-hailing company has said the money will help the organisations fund their own programmes as well as train 150 of Uber's customer service agents as part of a new team to deal with sexual assault reports, including how to interview people reporting improper conduct.

The initiative was announced today and comes at a time when Uber is trying to polish its image, which has been tarnished by investigations that found rampant sexual harassment of employees and multiple reports of drivers assaulting passengers.

The issue of sexual harassment has exploded on the global stage as women have been coming forward with complaints against film producer Harvey Weinstein and high-profile people in other industries.

Under Uber's stepped-up efforts, team members receive training on how to respond to sexual assault and harassment from experts in the field, including letting a caller talk without interruption, coaching employees how to ask questions that are not judgmental, and offering resources to victims such as law enforcement information and a national crisis hotline phone number.

In addition, drivers and passengers will get messages via Uber's app referring them to information on how to intervene peacefully as a bystander and how to spot signs of trouble.

Raliance, a consortium of US groups set up to prevent sexual violence, will get much of the money from Uber.

In 2016, America's National Football League made a $10m commitment to the group after a spate of domestic violence assaults on women by players.

Kristen Houser, spokeswoman for Raliance, said it is in the early stages of its work with Uber, but it sees the company's app as a way to get messages to millions of people about prevention, including resources for victims and how people can set standards for acceptable behaviour.

Uber says the problem of sexual assault and harassment is a larger societal one and not limited to its service.

However the company has been plagued with troubles involving its own drivers as well as within its corporate culture.

During the past three years, dozens of women have complained to US authorities that they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers, according to news reports.

In June, the company ousted its co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick after a female former engineer wrote a blog detailing how she was propositioned by her boss.

Travis Kalanick

An investigation of sexual harassment and bullying resulted in the firing of 20 employees, and the company has promised changes.

"I suspect the motivation is not all purity of heart, for sure," added Emily Martin, general counsel for the National Women's Law Centre.

"But that doesn't mean complicated motivations can't result in good work."

Tracey Breeden, global safety spokeswoman for Uber and a former police officer, said that taking some action is better than doing nothing.

"That's why we're listening and learning and trying to speak with experts in this space," she said.

"Our hope is it will have a positive impact on our communities."


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