Uber is pledging $5 million over the next five years to seven organizations that work to prevent sexual assaults, a move 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 says the money will help the organizations fund their own programs as well 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 Monday 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 national stage as women have been coming forward with complaints against film producer Harvey Weinstein and high-profile influencers 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 aren't 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 groups set up to prevent sexual violence, will get much of the money from Uber. In 2016, the National Football League made a $10 million 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 behavior.
Uber says the problem of sexual assault and harassment is a larger societal one and not limited to its service. But 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 police that they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers, according to reports. In June, the company ousted its co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick after a female former engineer wrote a blog detailing how she was propositioned by her boss. An investigation of sexual harassment and bullying resulted in the firing of 20 employees, and the company has promised changes.
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