Over 50 Sexual Assaults and 2 Murders in 4 Years, How Can Didi Better Protect its Passengers?

The tragic murder of female passenger, who happened to be an attractive flight attendant, in a Didi Hitch ride early this month was not the first sexual assault case the largest Chinese car-hailing service provider has dealt with. In the past four years, about 53 female passengers accused Didi Chuxing drivers of sexual assault and harassment. Last year, another Hitch driver of Didi Chuxing raped and killed one female passenger.

Though Didi Chuxing said it has the most severe punitive rules for sexual harassment such as permantently closing the driver’s account, but it is difficult to obtain evidence for sexual harassment cases at present.

At least three of 50 drivers involved in sexual assault have criminal records related to endangering the safety of others, yet they all have passed the three checks of government ID card, driver’s license and vehicle license.

Among the 53 female victims, seven were drunk when the assault happened.

This time, Didi Chuxing is regulating the safety checks by requiring the hitch car drivers to carry out facial recognition before picking up any ride order. Some think this regulation may not be effective as Hitch drivers can accept orders hours before when the ride takes place and someone else can easily substitute in as the driver later.

Starting on May 12, Didi Chuxing launched the “biggest reform in history”, but harassment of female passengers have not ceased to take place.

On May 17, Mao Youer, who lives in the Changping District of Beijing, saw the Didi driver who had just sent her home hiding in the grass. After calling the police, the driver admitted he had stalked her all along the way and just “wanted to add her WeChat account”. On May 20, Chen, a college student in Dalian of Northeast China, reported to the police officers that Didi Express driver called her “Darling” and even asked her when they can “get it on”. A similar assault happened to Zhu Yanyan in Changsha, Hunan province, who was locked in car by a Didi driver for “a grope with 500 yuan ($78) as payment.”

According to an incomplete study done by the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly, at least 50 cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment by Didi drivers took place over the past four years, equivalent to one incident a month.

Of the 50 cases, 2 are intentional homicides, 19 rapes, 9 compulsory indecencies, 5 administrative punishments and 15 registered sexual harassments cases. It was not until May 6, when the homicide case took place in Zhengzhou, Henan province, did women’s car-hailing safety attract the attention of the whole society.

Li Mingzhu, the 21-year-old flight attendant, was not the first female passenger to be raped and killed by a Didi Hitch driver. On May 14, 2017, Zhou Hang, a Didi Hitch driver, strangled and killed the 30-year-old Ms. Gan with a kite string and red cloth in Chongqing, a city in Southwest China. He then molested her with a wine opener. Zhou was sentenced to death but there is little coverage of the case that can be found.

1 . Past patterns and new loopholes

On May 11, Didi Chuxing announced the three new self-scrutiny policies, including operations and customer service system reshuffle, one-week overhaul and introspection on Didi hitch service, and account invalidation of drivers and cars that are not corresponding with each other. On May 16, nearly a week after the launch of their new rules, Didi announced more concrete steps to reinvent itself.

Many measures seem to respond to the recent Hitch murder. Didi took off all personalized tags and comments that may disclose passenger personal information. Also, no Hitch service is available between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

According to the reports, 21 of 50 sexual harassment cases occurred during this period of time at night. It’s not always safe in broad daylight either: 20 cases happened between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The most dangerous season is summer. Nearly 25 cases occurred between May and August, half of which happened in May.

As for the disconnect between the driver and their car which was widely criticized, Didi Chuxing requires that “every day, the drivers of express car, special car, and luxury car must carry out facial recognition process before they receive orders” on top of the existing verifications. The company also set up a reward mechanism for passengers who report driver violations.

For Hitch drivers, Didi Chuxing has more stringent requirements. It regulates that the Hitch drivers must carry out facial recognition every time before they receive an order.

Public information on age only exist for 21 of the 50 accused drivers: the oldest driver was 40 years old and the youngest was 22 when they committed the crime. Zhou Hang, the driver in the first hitch car rape and murder case in 2017 is born in 1995. Like Liu Zhenhua, the Hitch driver in the recent Zhengzhou case, most of these drivers have lower levels of education. Of the 10 people whose educational backgrounds are available, 3 graduated from junior high and 7 from high school.

What is most concerning is at least 3 of the 50 drivers had a criminal record before.

In early May 2016, a female teacher in Shenzhen was robbed and killed by a Didi Hitch driver. Taking advantage of a loophole that Didi only showed parts of the license plate numbers, the killer forged a faked license to pick up the passenger.

According to the Xinhua News Agency, since June 2016, the company had launched multiple security checks, such as share trip itinerary with family and friends, “emergency help”, “number protection” and “portrait authentication”.

Six months after that, Didi announced its achievement. The number protection function is used more than 25 million times a day; the trip sharing function is used more than 200,000 times a day; emergency help ensures that a professional emergency team is available 7*24; and portrait authentication has covered all cities in China where Didi operates. Data also proves that the most basic checks of ID card, driver’s license and vehicle license are effective, as DiDi declines 30,000 registration requests as they fail to pass three-card verification every day.

Didi also repeatedly stressed that it had signed a cooperation agreement with public security bureaus for background checks on their registered drivers. It could prevent people with criminal records from entering the Didi platform.

However, there are still some loopholes even after its safety upgrade.

Liu Zhenhua, who allegedly killed the flight attendant, has had his license revoked before and just received his new license less than a year ago. He was not qualified to be a hitch driver, however, he passed Didi’s “3-card verification” and “facial recognition” by using his father’s identity.

Flight attendant Li Mingzhu had high safety awareness. When Liu showed aggressive behaviors, she told her family the trip itinerary, and pretended to be in a call with friend, yet her life still ended on that day.

On May 16, 2018, many taxi drivers in Luoyang, Henan province printed signs and stuck it on the back window of their taxis to mourn the death of the victim. (Oriental IC/ picture)
On May 16, 2018, many taxi drivers in Luoyang, Henan province printed signs and stuck it on the back window of their taxis to mourn the death of the victim. (Oriental IC/ picture)

2. Intoxicated women as targets

Out of the 22 victims whose personal information was available, the oldest was 33 while the youngest was only 16 when the assault took place. Sixteen victims made their identites public, 6 of which are university students, making up the largest category.

Seven victims were sexually assaulted or harassed by Didi drivers when they were drunk.

Other behaviors that put passengers themselves at risk include socializing through Didi’s platform. Six of the 50 criminal cases involved “socializing”. Some female passengers only knew the driver for a month, and some for only two days before they went home with drivers where the assaults happened.

Other incidents occurred inside the vehicles. Ye Wei, a Didi Hitch driver, was 30 years old when he worked in Suzhou Industrial Park and drove Didi as part-time job. He would first prepare a drink with ecstasy, coax the young female passengers to drink it and then take nude pictures of them after they pass out. When the police finally caught Ye, he had already practiced this many times.

Different from the other Didi products, Hitch is considered to the most similar to ride-sharing. Didi positions Hitch as “let privately-owned cars be the gateway for interpersonal connections”. On Chinese Valentine’s Day in 2015, Didi even put out dating-themed advertisements for Hitch.

This time, Didi has turned the comments section for Hitch into a choice of “satisfaction” or “dissatisfaction”. Tian Liang, a Hitch driver, thinks that this change is very good. “Previously, some beautiful female passengers will be commented on as “a goddess” by drivers, while other comments are border-lining verbal sexual harassment.”

As it is difficult to obtain evidence for sexual harassment cases at present, one solution proposed by Didi is to install an on-board recording device inside the car.

“I am personally against it.” Tian Fu, a Hitch driver who doesn’t support this proposal says, “we just want to earn some gas money, why make things so complicated? These are still our own cars, our privacy must be guaranteed.”

3. Ineffective customer service

Southern Weekly found that for the 50 incidents of sexual harassment in the past four years, many victims were dissatisfied with how customer service dealt with the matter.

Li Li, a 17-year-old high school student, complained to Didi’s customer service that the driver, surnamed Yang, had placed his hand at her thigh during the trip. She took the picture quietly. It took four days before a “head of a certain department” in Didi called her up. Didi paid 50 yuan to settle the matter.

According to the Elle Men magazine, after the hitch murder in Zhengzhou came to light, another flight attendant revealed on Weibo that she had complained about Liu Zhenhua’s verbal harassment before the May 6 incident. Didi admitted that they have received complaints filed against Liu Zhenhua before the murder, but customer service was unsuccessful in their multiple attempts to contact him.

After that, Liu continued to receive Hitch orders until Li Mingzhu, the flight attendant who was on her way to Zhengzhou railway station, got into his car but never arrived.