Ride-hailing company Lyft and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, announced a new pilot program Tuesday aimed at providing victims of sexual violence with resources to flee from their abusers.
The program, which will roll out in select American cities, will offer 1,000 free rides to individuals seeking crisis support who contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline. Lyft declined to release the cities publicly to protect users.
“When we started thinking about the most vulnerable, we quickly understood that victims of intimate partner violence could be one of these areas where we could do more,” Heather Foster, head of policy engagement and strategic partnerships at Lyft, said.
Police departments across the country say they’ve seen a staggering increase in domestic violence calls since the coronavirus pandemic swept the United States. In New York, calls to the state’s domestic violence hotline saw a 32 percent jump since this time last year and a 53 percent increase in calls between February and April alone.
Uber launched a similar program in April, promising 50,000 free rides in 35 cities across 16 countries in addition to free meals.
Foster said the company could expand the pilot program in the future to offer additional rides to those who need them, all of which are part of the company’s “LyftUp” coronavirus effort that includes $2.5 million in ride credits for communities in need.
Callers to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, when appropriate, will be given the option to be connected with a Lyft ride in order to access transportation to critical assistance such as a women’s shelter, the home of a friend or a family member, a police station or to go get a rape kit. The Lyft driver would not be given any indication of the purpose of the ride.
Keeli Sorensen, the vice president of victim services at RAINN, said these rides are a vital lifeline, particularly during the pandemic.
“Survivors are feeling a heightened sense of fear being cut off from their normal support networks and safety nets," Sorensen said. "And some are reporting an increase in the frequency and severity of the abuse that they're experiencing while in that situation."
As shelter-in-place orders are lifted nationwide, RAINN anticipates that reports of intimate partner violence and sexual violence will increase as survivors are able to move about more and get access to services they need. And help is available now.
“I want survivors to know that RAINN is here to listen and support them during this difficult time and at all times," Sorensen said. The group operates telephone and online hotlines at the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE (4673) and at https://hotline.rainn.org/online).