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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Lyft Pays Shareholders $25 Million for Driver Sexual Assaults—But Nothing for Survivors

The company's wealthy shareholders claim they were the real victims harmed by Lyft's sexual assault scandals. Gang rape survivor Alison Turkos begs to differ.

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Alison Turkos
Alison Turkos
Photo: Alison Turkos

On Thursday, Lyft agreed to a $25 million settlement to resolve claims from its shareholders that the company failed to be transparent about “safety problems”—which sure seems like a gentle way to phrase a 2019 lawsuit from 14 women who say they were raped or sexually assaulted by their Lyft drivers.

Lyft shareholders claimed that by concealing these issues and misleadingly posing as a socially conscious alternative to Uber, the company’s actions posed an “existential risk” to shareholders’ profits when Lyft went public in 2019. Around the same time that the lawsuits emerged, the company’s value almost immediately tanked and never recovered.

Now, Lyft shareholders are calling the $25 million settlement an “excellent” result—something of a Cinderella story, given the “exceedingly unlikely” prospect of recovering the $777 million of potential damages if the case went to trial, Reuters reports.

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According to Alison Turkos, one of the survivor-plaintiffs suing Lyft, neither she nor any of the other survivors harmed by Lyft are receiving a dime. She told Jezebel in a phone interview that she fears people who see Thursday’s news will read “$25 million” and “settlement” and conclude that Lyft is paying survivors.

It’s not.

In 2017, Turkos was held at gun-point and kidnapped by a Lyft driver, taken to an abandoned park and gang-raped by him and several men. Now, Lyft is paying its ultra-rich shareholders $25 million. They say they were the ones who were harmed—because Lyft cost them money by mishandling sexual assault allegations. Lyft did not immediately respond to Jezebel’s request for comment for this piece.

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“Shareholders quite literally profited off of my kidnapping, off of my multiple rapes, off of the violent crime that was committed against me,” Turkos said. She notes that the company was “making money until stock prices fell” amid the backlash against Lyft for the sexual assault lawsuit, and only then began to take issue with the company’s actions—not for its treatment of women like her, but their loss of money. “Now, with this $25 million settlement, rich people are again getting richer because of what happened to me in 2017,” she said.

To date, the only correspondence Turkos says she’s received from Lyft has been a statement it shared to The Verge in 2019, essentially writing off sexual assault as inevitable. “The unfortunate fact remains that one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives—behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform,” the statement read. But, because her driver had “passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive,” the company seemed to shrug off any and all responsibility.

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The $25 million settlement this week comes nearly five years after Turkos’s harrowing experience, sending a message that Lyft doesn’t value her or any other survivors and instead values “people who will give them money and make them money,” she says. In the last five years, Turkos says she’s dedicated her life to organizing for survivor justice and holding Lyft accountable. It’s work that she loves, but it’s exhausting and often re-traumatizing, and she hasn’t been paid a cent for it. “I don’t get paid to be a public facing survivor rips herself open to tell her story,” she tells me. “It’s a full-time job, and it feels like I’m being constantly gaslit, slapped in the face by a company that says, ‘Safety is our number one priority.’”

The small glimpses of language from Lyft’s millionaire shareholders celebrating the settlement, framing themselves as the company’s actual victims, and relegating rape survivors to a footnote—nameless, faceless women on the receiving end of those unfortunate “safety concerns”—dehumanizes survivors like Turkos, she says. The term “safety concerns” in itself, being used to describe her gang rape, is infuriating, but predictable coming from Lyft and its shareholders. “A Lyft driver held a gun to my head while I begged for my life—that’s what they call a ‘safety concern.’ They minimize it because they want to move right past that, because [the details] don’t help with profit, return on investment.”

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“You have to name what happened to be able to address it, and make your platform safer,” Turkos said. But the company and its shareholders continue to fall back on platitudes, language that erases and therefore compounds the trauma of survivors like her. They’ll never have to face “the lives lost, the people who had to move because their driver knows where they live,” Turkos says. “They don’t see that we cannot show up as our full selves in our relationships and our friendships with our families. We can’t sleep through the night.”

Shareholders will move on with their lives, $25 million richer. But survivors will forever have to live with the consequences of the company’s stunning failures to protect its customers and its willful refusal to acknowledge the existence of rape victims, let alone offer them an ounce of support or compensation.

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Ultimately, Lyft’s deference to its exorbitantly wealthy shareholders—but not the survivors permanently scarred by Lyft rides—reflects a broader issue of corporations creating situations that endanger women and victims, and then harming, silencing, and dismissing them. Lyft is part of a culture of Silicon Valley tech giants that have weaponized NDA’s to establish cultures of fear and silence, and consequently cover up rampant sexual misconduct.

The message Lyft’s settlement sends to survivors is bleak, and Turkos has no faith whatsoever that the same shareholders who profited off the company that enabled her gang rape will do the right thing, and give her and fellow survivors the $25 million. But she’s undeterred in her activism. “Yes, you have these companies that are creating these situations—but you also have the incredible collective power of survivors who are finding one another, and sadly there are so many of us, so we cannot be ignored when we speak together,” Turkos said. “The FBI and federal prosecutors have called me a ‘difficult victim’—and they’re right, because I will never stop speaking out.”