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Free self-defense class aims to empower ridesharing passengers, drivers in metro Detroit

Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-04 18:23:58-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — While the vast majority of ridesharing trips end safely, reports of assaults on passengers and drivers using Lyft and Uber have sparked concern both nationally and in metro Detroit.

Reports of recent assaults prompted two former Detroit police officers to design a self-defense class geared specifically toward empowering drivers and passengers. It's free at Grindtime Fitness in Detroit on the third Saturday of every month.

“(I'm) riding in a car with people I don’t know, and I never know what their intentions are," said Candace Baker, an Uber driver and passenger who showed up for the class.

Wylene Jackson and her daughter took the class, which started in mid- January.

“Even though you may be in a situation that’s not really predictable... being able to have something to stand on as far as a foundation for what you can do, helps," Jackson told 7 Action News.

The class teaches basic moves to get out of a potentially dangerous situation while behind the wheel or inside of a vehicle. Retired DPD Officer Ron Griffin serves as the main instructor.

“They’ve got to be able to protect themselves. That’s just somebody’s right," Griffin said. "The fight is happening real time, right then and there, what are they going to do?”

While the class is open to both men and women, many of the maneuvers are geared specifically toward women in the event of taking on an attacker larger than themselves.

“When that woman is capable and prepared to defend herself, it’s going to throw him off. And the goal is not to beat him up, it’s just to survive and get away," said retired officer John Smith, who owns Grindtime Fitness.

Uber released a safety report for 2018, which showed 3,000 sexual assaults were reported during its U.S. rides – that's out of 1.3 billion rides that year. The company bases those numbers on reports from drivers and passengers.

We reached out to Lyft for its latest safety report numbers. A company spokesperson told us the information is not available.

"We have not released that data, but do remain committed to releasing our own safety transparency report," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Both Lyft and Uber have faced lawsuits from passengers after reported attacks, claiming the companies should have done more to protect them.

In April 2018, a Pontiac woman was raped by her Lyft driver.

“She used this driver several times. The driver gained her trust," said Major Christopher Wundrach with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.

According to sheriff's deputies, the driver started texting the woman outside of the Lyft app, and lured her to a health spa under the promise that she'd get paid for have a massage and a take a survey. Once there, investigators said she was drugged and assaulted.

The driver, Raheel Bin Hanif, was convicted and sentenced 8 to 30 years behind bars.

If you're using a ridesharing app, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office suggests following these guidelines to increase safety.

1. Wait for your ride inside, or in a well-lit area
2. Always ask the driver to confirm your name first
3. Keep your phone in your hand, and install a 911 app that allows you to contact police with a single button
4. Use the Lyft or Uber app directly, and don't just give drivers your contact information
5. If possible share a ride with a friend.

A new feature for Uber, now live in several U.S. cities including Detroit, allows users to opt-in for a PIN verification system.

RELATED: Former Uber driver fired over carrying weapon says the rules need to change

"Once enabled, the rider will receive a four-digit pin code in their app while the driver is en-route to the pickup location. When the driver arrives, the rider can verbally provide the PIN to the driver before getting into the vehicle. After the driver enters the correct PIN, the trip can begin. When the feature is enabled, a trip cannot start until the correct PIN is entered into the driver’s app," said an Uber spokesperson in a news release.

“We are constantly working and innovating to provide riders and drivers with the tools they need to help ensure a safe and reliable experience,” said Sachin Kansal, Uber’s Head of Safety Products. “This new feature will provide peace of mind that you are getting into the right vehicle.”

And beginning this year, Uber will partner with RAINN, the largest sexual violence organization in the country, to offer a survivor hotline that will provide confidential crisis support and specialized services to sexual assault survivors.

The free self defense class in Detroit will next be offered on Feb. 22 from 10am-12pm at Grindtime Fitness on Wyoming Street. All ages are welcome.