During a worldwide pandemic, the safest place to be is home.
But for people enduring domestic violence, home is never safe. The coronavirus pandemic—and the stay-at-home orders, social distancing measures, and quarantining that have been instituted in an attempt to keep the disease at bay—have the unintended side effect of trapping domestic violence survivors with their abusers.
As if escaping an abusive situation isn’t painfully difficult under regular circumstances, attempting to leave during a pandemic means either braving public transportation or coordinating with friends or relatives who could themselves be at an elevated risk. Domestic abuse, which disproportionately affects women and children, turns the drudgery of waiting out a pandemic from home into a day-to-day hell.
But for some survivors, one part of the process is about to get a little easier. Uber is providing 50,000 free rides to domestic violence shelters and safe havens. Through shelters and other groups that have partnered with Uber to hand out the codes, free rides will be available in over 35 cities across 16 countries. When survivors contact shelters and help lines, those organizations will be able to share a code from Uber that will allow them to take a free, fast ride to safety.
“Many survivors of domestic violence have no access to a car, and the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced public transportation options,” Allison Randall, Vice President for Policy and Emerging Issues at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) said in a statement. “Local domestic violence programs are still open and available to help survivors, but without transportation, survivors have no way to get there, much less to a doctor’s appointment, grocery store, or courthouse. We are so grateful to Uber–our longstanding partner–for providing these lifesaving free rides to survivors.” In addition to the free rides, the company has announced it will donate 45,000 meals to survivors in need.
The initiative, part of a larger pledge by the ridesharing company to provide 10 million free rides and food deliveries to people in need during the pandemic, is led by Tracey Breeden. The head of Women’s Safety and Gender Based Violence Programs at Uber, Breeden previously worked as a police officer and a detective for nearly 15 years, focusing on violence against women. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world—violence against women and children doesn’t stop,” Breeden tells Glamour. “It just shows up differently sometimes. Domestic violence is not a new crisis, and everybody can play a role in working to help create safe spaces and helping people get help safely. It’s critically important to take COVID seriously by sitting at home, but it’s also important to not forget that for some people being at home is not safe.”
Of course, the kind of help that Uber is offering isn’t entirely risk-free either, particularly for its drivers. The company will be paying workers a full fare for these rides, but it’s the workers who will be driving to the homes of potential abusers, and sharing small spaces with strangers in their cars, despite the CDC’s social distancing recommendations. And, of course, Uber drivers are independent contractors, which means that despite functioning as a kind of first-responder in this and other crises, they don’t get benefits like Social Security, health insurance, or paid sick days, and they’re responsible for damage to their own vehicles.
Still, for survivors with few options, the initiative could be a lifeline. Breeden says that Uber’s partners at domestic violence organizations have shared that given the constraints of shelter-at-home, many survivors are utilizing chatrooms to speak with advocates privately. “What will happen is that shelter, that advocate will work with that survivor to find the safest way to provide them help and get them to another location,” Breeden says, “They certainly aren’t going to send a driver into a situation that they know is potentially harmful.” She also notes Uber apps have an easy-access 911 button for drivers, and that the app allows survivors to enter cross streets instead of their exact address in case an abuser has access to their account as well.