Kidnappers Can Exploit the Popularity of Uber

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Last weekend, college student Samantha Josephson was found dead after getting into a car that she mistakenly thought was her Uber ride. A senior at the University of South Carolina, Josephson had been enjoying a Thursday night out with her roommates before she got separated from them. Investigators confirmed that she had called an Uber and was waiting for her driver to arrive. While this assumption obviously cannot be confirmed, investigators believe that Josephson got into her murderer’s car under the impression that he was her Uber driver.

When Josephson’s roommates still hadn’t heard from her on Friday, they began to worry and called the police at 1:30 PM. Turkey hunters discovered Josephson’s body a few hours later, about 90 miles from where her roommates had last seen her.

The Columbia police have arrested 24-year-old Nathaniel Rowland on charges of murder and kidnapping. Police found Josephson’s cell phone and her blood in Rowland’s car, as well as liquid bleach and germicidal wipes. The child safety locks in the vehicle had been activated.

Of course, as soon as the news of Josephson’s murder went public, people were quick to start victim-blaming. Many people questioned why the young woman had failed to check the license plates on the car to see if they matched the license plate number that is displayed on the Uber app once a driver is on the way.

Perhaps Josephson could have been more conscientious, but getting into the wrong car shouldn’t mean that someone gets murdered. Any normal, decent person would tell the stranger – in this case, a young woman who was dressed up for a night out, probably intoxicated, and clearly not an axe-murderer – to get out of their vehicle.

Whether or not people use ridesharing apps, everyone knows how prevalent Uber and Lyft are, especially late at night in a college town. I’ve made the same mistake that Josephson made, and the strangers were completely understanding. Rather than going home, I was on my way out for the night, and there was a car idling outside my apartment building. No one else was around, and the model of the car seemed similar to that displayed on my Uber app. I merely opened the vehicle door, and the two strangers inside said, “This isn’t an Uber, sorry.” I apologized and backed away. No harm done.

The problem is not that Josephson got into the wrong car. The problem is that people like Rowland exist, people who probably intentionally drive around college party scenes at night to see if they can pick up intoxicated, unsuspecting students. Twenty years ago, no one would have ever thought to get into a random car. Now that ridesharing apps have become the norm, it has become easier for predators like Rowland to have access to vulnerable individuals.

Josephson’s death is not Uber’s fault, either. The blame rests entirely on Rowland, a psychopath who was clearly intent on destroying a young woman’s life, whether that had been Josephson or another unfortunate victim. I’m not sure what other steps Uber could take to ensure that Uber customers and drivers both have a safe ride experience, given that an image and a description of the driver’s car and the driver’s contact information are all shown once a ride is requested.

Because we unfortunately can’t tell disgusting murderers not to kill other human beings, all we can do is continue to look out for each other, whether friends or relative strangers. If we see someone alone at a party who appears vulnerable, we can invite them to stick with our group (something that I’ve done for others, and others have kindly done for me). As upsetting as Josephson’s death is, I still believe that there are more concerned, caring individuals out there than creeps intent on murder.