Uber Sex Assault Case Reveals a Disturbing Norm in Rape Reporting

Just over 80 percent of rape and sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement.

(Photo: Petek Arici/Getty Images)

Jun 11, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Michael Sugerman is a summer intern at TakePart and a student at the University of Michigan, where he reports for the school newspaper, The Michigan Daily.

A driver with ride-sharing service Uber was arrested after allegedly kidnapping and sexually assaulting a drunk woman last week in West Hollywood. She reportedly woke up in a motel to find the man, Frederick Dencer, shirtless and in bed with her. She didn’t know where she was, so she called the police.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Since the June 3 phone call, the woman has dropped off the map. While many stories homed in on the pitfalls of an app like Uber, where everyday schmoes can register to cart complete strangers around the city, the incident illustrated an often underreported detail of sexual assault cases: The majority of victims don’t report such violence.

According to a criminal victimization report released by the U.S. Department of Justice in October 2013, it’s estimated that only 28 percent of rape or sexual assault cases were reported to the police that year.

In the Uber case, the woman never answered or returned numerous calls from police, and she gave a fake home address during her first verbal interaction with law enforcement, Los Angeles County prosecutors wrote in a document.

The D.A.’s file on the situation says, “As presented, there is insufficient evidence to prove kidnapping or any felony sex act. Additionally, the case will not be refereed to the City Attorney for misdemeanor consideration because the victim is unavailable for interview or prosecution.”

As a result, Dencer—who was suspended from Uber once the allegations of kidnapping and assault were brought against him—has been set free. It’s worth noting that without a trial, he hasn’t had any opportunity to clear his name either.

The Department of Justice’s statistics are based on a survey that was administered to individuals 12 or older in which they were asked about the number and characteristics of “victimizations” experienced during the six months prior.

So the question stands: Why would victims of rape and assault not report their aggressors to law enforcement? Why are cases like the one presented by the Uber example commonplace?

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports a mix of reasons that might lead a victim to decide against reporting an attack—one common rationale is the belief that rape is a personal matter. Others are the fear of reprisal and the belief that police are biased or cannot do anything to help.

For this reason, according to RAINN, only three of every 100 rapists will spend even a single day in prison. It’s time to make a change.