Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Ride gone wrong: When taking a taxi turns ugly
Part 1 of a 3-part series
SHE’S a young mother who’s got a solid job, a love of poetry and a supportive boyfriend.
But after she went to police about her alleged rape by a taxi driver this summer, she also took on a new role — a woman furious over what happened to her and eager to warn other women of the risk of getting into a taxi alone. The Free Press can’t publish the name of the woman, as the man accused of attacking her is still before the courts on a sexual-assault charge.
But the woman came forward to tell her story after she was picked up by a cab driver this summer as she walked home. She said she was taken down a dark street, told to get out and raped against a tree. The victim says she told her story because she wanted to "shed light on the fact that you’re not necessarily safe if you go into a cab."
"I came forward because I felt that I would be doing an injustice to society if I didn’t," she said.
And she’s not alone.
Jennifer Joslin, co-ordinator of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program, says there are about 12 women who have come forward alleging sexual assaults by cab drivers in the past two years. The SANE program is located at the Health Sciences Centre and sees sexual-assault patients who report to any city hospital within 72 hours. About 400 patients come into the SANE program each year, where nurses provide specialized medical care and collect evidence.
Joslin said the victims who have come forward alleging sexual assaults from taxi drivers are from a broad age range, but the "majority" are "young women who have been travelling alone."
"The cases that we have seen have been a range, from inappropriate touching to actual penetrative sexual assault," said Joslin.
In the SANE program, the victim can choose whether to involve the police but is not required to do so.
"We really want people to seek medical care, and... when they do choose to seek medical care, it doesn’t mean they have to report to the police," she said.
"They have a lot of choices available to them, and we’re here to present those choices and to support them in whatever decisions they’re going to make."
Her sexual-assault story began on a regular night out last August, except she’d had a fight with her boyfriend on the way home from a bar and got out of their vehicle.
She stormed off near the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge and began to walk — a move she now regrets.
Somewhere around Main Street and Aberdeen Avenue, at about 2:30 a.m., a man in a Unicity taxicab pulled up and offered her a ride, she said.
Even before the cab pulled up, the woman said she’d been nervous about her safety due to the neighbourhood she was in.
"I was walking in the median lane because I wanted to be safe," she said.
"I didn’t call a cab. I didn’t wave him down. He stopped, and he was apparently on his way home. He wasn’t even running a fare."
The driver’s outward appearance was "very kind and really outgoing."
Soon after she got in the cab, she asked the driver to stop.
She said she asked how much she owed him, and he told her there was no charge for the ride and asked if she was "free." He then took off again.
"Without my permission, he just started to drive," she said.
The doors to the taxicab were locked and she didn’t know how to get out of the taxi.
The driver then parked in a secluded area nearby, she said, and told her to come with him.
"I thought he was going to kill me. I thought, ‘If I don’t do what this guy says, I’m dead, because there’s no one here,’ " she said.
She claims he grabbed her, pushed her against a tree and raped her.
She said the driver then walked to his car and left and she walked home.
"The choices I made, I made out of fear, because I thought I’m going to be one of these girls floating in the river, or my head’s going to be smashed in somewhere," she said.
The driver was arrested days later after an investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service sex-crimes unit.
He was charged with sexual assault and breaching court conditions, and released on bail. The sexual-assault case remains before the courts, and the man’s bail proceedings are under a publication ban.
At the time of the sexual assault, he was already before the courts on three counts of assault, uttering threats and carrying a weapon.
Since the alleged incident, the woman has struggled to attend counselling sessions on a regular basis.
She’s grown rail thin and usually can’t finish the toast she orders for breakfast.
She also has problems sleeping and smokes more.
The woman said telling her story to the Free Press gives her hope, because she wants to see the Taxicab Board release more information about cabbies charged with sexual assault.
"The irony is I walked through one of the (worst) neighbourhoods in Winnipeg, and I had a cab driver pick me up and that’s when I became unsafe. How messed up is that?" she said.
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