Students, especially women, need to take precautions when using rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft.
In 2019, USC fourth-year student Samantha Josephson was tragically murdered by a man posing as her Uber driver in Five Points. The murderer, Nathanial Rowland, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole this summer.
The event shocked the USC community and changed how many students view going out and using rideshare apps.
“I definitely think that people are becoming more aware of the dangers of Five Points," said second-year middle-level education student Emily Garren. "Five Points has always had some stigma around it, but I feel like that made it even worse for people going around at night."
Uber released a safety report in 2018 detailing incidents from 2017 and 2018. In the report, Uber announced there were nearly 5,981 reports of sexual assault. Of those were 464 incidents of rape. The report also showed that of the rape reports, 92% of the victims were riders, and of that, 89% of the victims were women.
Josephson's parents created the #whatsmyname movement in the hope of limiting the dangers of using rideshare services. They created an acronym, SAMI, to help students remember what to do when getting into a ridesharing service.
Students should first stop and review safety features. Then, they should ask the driver "What's my name?" and match the license plate. Finally, students should share details about their location with close friends or family.
Uber has similar tips on their website about steps you should take before using its (or similar) services.
While most rides go without incidents, something can always happen. In a report done by Alarms.org, 23% of all women reported feeling uncomfortable and had to report their Uber driver, while 8% had to get the police involved. Second-year psychology major Bailey Barnes gave her thoughts on riding in an Uber.
“I make sure someone is with me most of the time," she said. "But if I do take an Uber by myself, I always double-check the license plate and ask who they are picking up.”
If you are riding alone, consider using an app such as Noonlight. Holding down a button within the app will make the service to begin recording your location. This way, if you are in danger, you can release the button, forgo entering a preset PIN and the app will send your location to the police.
The app is free and offers a variety of other services that are designed to help keep you safe.
This is just one example of how students can stay safe. Second-year fashion merchandising student Abigail McCall gave their tips on being safe in Columbia.
“I always make sure I’m with someone I know, or I’ll call my mom if I’m going someplace, or I’ll let her know where I am and when I leave so she knows if anything has happened,” they said.
Josephson will never be forgotten here at USC. Her strength and the ability to fight when everything was stacked up against her is inspiring. Next time you call an Uber or Lyft, make sure to remember SAMI and never be afraid to call for help.
USCPD: (803) 777-4215
Columbia Police Department: (803) 749-5836