Alison Turkos is a New York woman who says she was kidnapped and raped at gunpoint by her Lyft driver and at least two other men. The 31-year-old survivor is now suing Lyft, accusing the rideshare app company of failing to protect its users.
Turkos says she took a Lyft home from a party in Crown Heights, New York, in 2017. She was supposed to be driven to her home in Brooklyn. But instead of that 15-minute trip that was supposed to cost less than $20, Turkos was abducted by her driver and taken to an isolated New Jersey park, where she was raped, according to the lawsuit. She was then dropped off at her apartment. The ride took 79 minutes and cost $106.80.
Turkos’ lawsuit comes weeks after 14 women sued Lyft accusing the company of mishandling their complaints of sexual assault by drivers.
Turkos’ lawsuit was filed September 17 in California state superior court in San Francisco.
Four other women also filed lawsuits against Lyft in San Francisco on Tuesday. According to Vice, at least 26 people have sued the company since August 1 in connection to sexual assault cases.
In a statement to Heavy, Turkos’ attorneys said, “As a women-led law firm, Levin Simes Abrams LLP is proud to represent Alison Turkos and dozens of other women who have been sexually assaulted by Lyft Drivers in their search for justice and systemic change. While the attack on Alison is one of the more horrifying cases our firm has seen, tragically, the dozens of women we represent are presumably only a fraction of the women who have fallen prey to predatory drivers. Because of the trauma involved, many women choose to remain silent. Our hope and our clients’ hope is that, in holding Lyft accountable, other women will not suffer the same fate as Alison and countless others.”
Her attorneys added, “We commend Alison for her courage in coming forward and making her fight for justice public. We hope that by her doing so, other victims will realize they are not alone and they have a voice, and that Lyft will finally make the changes necessary to end this epidemic and keep its passengers safe.”
Lyft issued a statement saying, “What this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure. 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. In this case, the driver passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive.”
The statement added, “We constantly work to improve the platform, which is why we have invested in new features, protocols and policies to protect our riders and drivers. This year alone we’ve launched 14 new safety features — including daily continuous background check monitoring, in-app emergency assistance, and mandatory feedback for any ride rated less than four stars.”
According to Lyft, “This was not initially reported as a safety incident. It was reported as an indirect route where the passenger asked for a refund.” Turkos has said that she reported the incident as a kidnapping.
Jason Koebler, of Vice’s Motherboard, tweeted, “Lyft says that when Alison Turkos originally reported the incident to them, she didn’t mention the rape and only sent a message to support asking them to look into the ride. They argue that they basically had no way of knowing she had been raped. We’ve read the messages she sent.”
He added, “It’s true that the first message is her basically asking the company to look into why she got taken on an hour-and-half trip across boroughs, through four tunnels (there and back) and into another state for what is normally a 10 minute cab ride. She then followed up with several additional messages and continued to get canned copy paste or ‘sorry for the inconvenience.’ A few days later she explicitly sent them a message letting them know that she was looking into filing a police report and wanted help doing so. If Lyft’s response/statement/position that it didn’t know about the rape is given even the bare minimum of good faith scrutiny, it completely falls apart.”
Lyft said, “We first became aware that this was a safety incident when the Wall Street Journal published an article on May 8, 2018. We received a subpoena from law enforcement on May 14, 2018, six months after the ride took place. We complied with the subpoena and worked with law enforcement for over a year as they investigated.”
Here’s what you need to know about Alison Turkos and her lawsuit against Lyft:
1. Alison Turkos Says Lyft Has Been ‘Wholly Uncooperative’ During the Investigation of Her Kidnapping & Brutal Rape & Did Not Terminate the Driver After Learning About the Accusations
Alison Turkos says that in the fall of 2018 she was at a party in New York when she got into a Lyft and fell asleep. She was expecting to wake up at her Brooklyn home about 15 minutes away, but instead was driven into New Jersey, where she says she was held at gunpoint and gang-raped by at least two men.
“Alison remembers the men cheering and high fiving each other as they continued to rape her,” Turkos’ attorneys wrote in the lawsuit. “Their attack was so brutal that the next day Alison experienced severe vaginal pain and bleeding. Her body was so exhausted from the attack and resulting trauma that Alison could not even leave her bed or raise her arms.”
Turkos’ attorneys wrote in the lawsuit that the driver continued to work with the company after the sexual assault was reported. They wrote, “Lyft actively resisted and continues to resist law enforcement’s efforts to investigate the crimes of the Lyft driver who kidnapped (Turkos) at gunpoint and facilitated her gang rape. Upon information and belief, after Plaintiff reported this driver to Lyft and law enforcement contacted Lyft about this driver in relation to an investigation of Plaintiff’s allegations of kidnapping, human trafficking and rape, Lyft continued to allow this driver to continue driving for Lyft under a different name, endangering the safety of countless unsuspecting passengers.”
The lawsuit also states that the ridesharing company “has been wholly uncooperative” during the police investigation.
Lyft told Tech Crunch that the company received a subpoena from law enforcement in 2018 related to Turkos’ case and has worked with law enforcement since then.
Turkos’ attorneys write in the lawsuit, “At least as early as 2015, Lyft became aware that Lyft drivers were sexually assaulting and raping female passengers. Since 2015, sexual predators driving for Lyft have continued to assault and rape Lyft’s female passengers. For four years, Lyft has known of the ongoing sexual assaults and rapes by Lyft drivers upon Lyft passengers. Complaints to Lyft by female passengers who have been attacked by Lyft drivers, combined with subsequent criminal investigations by law enforcement, clearly establish that Lyft has been fully aware of these continuing attacks by sexual predators driving for Lyft.”
The lawsuit adds, “Lyft’s response to this sexual predator crisis amongst Lyft drivers has been appallingly inadequate. Lyft continues to hire drivers without performing adequate background checks. Lyft continues to allow culpable drivers to keep driving for Lyft. And, perhaps most importantly, Lyft has failed to adopt and implement reasonable driver monitoring procedures design to protect the safety of its passengers. As a consequence, Lyft passengers continue to be victims of sexual assaults and rapes by Lyft drivers.”
designed to protect the safety of its passengers. As a consequence, Lyft passengers continue to
be victims of sexual assaults and rapes by Lyft drivers.”
The lawsuit claims that Lyft does not perform screening, such as a Skype or in-person interview, beyond an online form. Turkos’ attorneys also say Lyft does not use its own technology, such as GPS tracking or in-car cameras, to protect passengers and ensure that they are taken to the location they intended to go to. Turkos’ says that Lyft should notice that a driver has taken a passenger so far off route and should be able to intervene to ensure the rider is safe.
Vice’s Jason Koebler tweeted about the case, “You have a GPS-tracked app showing that a passenger was taken not to their house a few minutes away from their starting point but on an hour and a half long journey to another state in the middle of the night. This is, at bare minimum, kidnapping and should trigger investigation. Instead, Lyft treats this as a minor financial inconvenience and promises to not pair that driver and that rider.”
He added, “This is not how this platform should work. Lyft (and Uber and Facebook and Google and everyone else) have completely abdicated the idea that they need to have humans doing customer service and instead rely on algorithms and automation. It’s disgusting and it results in real harm. Lyft could argue that at the scale they’re operating at, it can’t check every anomalous ride. But that presumes that Lyft (and Uber, and Facebook, and Google, and Amazon) have some right to operate at scale with blatant disregard for the harm that scale brings.”
2. She Says ‘Lyft Has Continuously Ignored & Dismissed the Stories of Victims Like Me’
Turkos wrote a Medium post explaining her decision to file a lawsuit against Lyft, published the same day that the suit was filed in California by her attorneys.
“All I wanted to do was get home safely and go to bed. This was supposed to be the safer option than walking home or taking the subway late at night alone. What should have been a 15-minute drive, turned into an 80-minute living nightmare,” she wrote. My Lyft driver kidnapped me at gunpoint, drove me across state lines, and, along with at least two other men, gang raped me.”
According to Turkos’ post, “Within 24 hours, I reported my kidnapping to Lyft. Lyft ‘apologized for the inconvenience that I’d been through’ and informed me they ‘appreciated the voice of their customers and were committed to doing their best in giving me the support that I needed.’ However, to my utter shock, Lyft informed me that I would still be expected to pay for the original estimated cost of my ride and I would be ‘unpaired’ from the driver in the future — I’d later learn he remained a Lyft driver.”
She added, “Lyft tells its customers that safety is their number one priority and one of the key values the company was founded on, but my trauma proves otherwise. Lyft callously forced me to pay $12.81 for my kidnapping and rape and has allowed a predator to continue driving for not months, but years — proving once again they value profits over customer safety.”
Turkos said she has suffered from PTSD, depression and anxiety and has struggled with trust issues since the rape and kidnapping. She said Lyft’s failure to remove the driver in her case from the app has increased her fear and put other passengers in danger.
“Lyft has continuously ignored and dismissed the stories of victims like me. It has become clear that this company has never been interested in believing or supporting victims. I know now that nothing will change unless I change it myself,” she wrote on Medium. “By necessity, I have had to become my own advocate to hold systems like Lyft accountable to me and survivors like me. I have told my deeply painful story, over and over again, to the press, at rallies, and on social media. I have put my face, my name, and my reputation on the line in an effort to be taken seriously — to be heard and believed — by Lyft.”
I know I’m not alone. It should never be on the back of victims to fight to be believed and supported by a company that purports to put the safety of its customers first. Our job is not to fix Lyft; our job is to heal.
But Lyft makes this impossible. Even now, two years after my assault, I’m still unable to even start the job of healing, because Lyft continues to place profits over the safety of its passengers. Every day brings another headline, another story, another assault.
Turkos wrote, “So to Lyft executives, I say: what happened to me is real. And if it’s so difficult to hear my story, just imagine what it’s been like to live through. I deserve better. Survivors deserve better. Lyft passengers deserve better. And I will not stop fighting until we get what we deserve.”
3. The Rape & Kidnapping Case Remains Under Investigation by the FBI
The rape and kidnapping case remains under investigation by the FBI, after it was passed along to the federal agency by the NYPD, according to the lawsuit. The FBI has jurisdiction over the case because Turkos says she was brought across state lines by her driver and then raped in New Jersey. No arrests have been made. Turkos says the case is now being considered a human trafficking investigation.
Turkos first spoke out about her case earlier this year, at a January 2019 press conference and again to the Wall Street Journal in May 2018. She told the Journal, in an article about her frustration with the NYPD, “I can’t get my detective to answer my email or return my calls. How can you can tell us to report when we can’t get you to do your jobs?”
Turkos wrote that she did what society says she is “supposed” to do by reporting her rape to police and to Lyft’s safety and trust team, but she says, “after all that, they couldn’t even be bothered to answer a simple email. They ignored, belittled, dismissed me. Lyft’s failure to properly investigate the failues of their system that lead to my kidnapping and rape has severely hampered the ongoing criminal investigation.”
She added, “Lyft’s feeble public response to viral tweets and other lawsuits has made a mockery of me and the other victims who have come forward. We don’t want partial refunds. We don’t want $5 credits to continue using your service. And I don’t want your customer service’s attempts to gaslight me into believing the attack never happened, as if maybe I was confused or wrong about being kidnapped or raped repeatedly.”
4. She Is a Vermont Native Who Has Worked With Planned Parenthood, the New York Abortion Access Fund & NARAL While Using Her Voice to Be an Advocate for Women’s Rights & Sexual Assault Survivors
Alison Turkos is a Vermont native and a graduate of Plymouth State University with degrees in English and women’s studies. She writes in her Twitter profile, “Survivor / Victim of rape fighting for change. Working in Repro. Proud feminist.” On Instagram, Turkos describes herself by writing, “Feminist. Queer. I #BelieveSurvivors. Professional rabble rouser in the repro movement.”
Turkos has worked with Planned Parenthood as a counselor and with the New York Abortion Access Fund as a co-chair of the nonprofit organization’s board. She also worked with NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health. In January 2015, she raised awareness for women’s health by live-tweeting her IUD insertion.
Turkos has been a longtime advocate for reproductive and women’s health, other women’s rights and for sexual assault survivors, according to her social media profiles. Turkos was among many sexual assault survivors who went to Washington D.C. to talk to U.S. Senators to implore them to vote against Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. In July 2019, she wrote an op-ed for NBC News about the Jeffrey Epstein case.
Turkos told ABC News in October 2018 that she was also raped when she was 16 at a friend’s graduation party and she was raped a second time when she was 18. She spoke to the news network amid the Kavanaugh hearings.
“For those of us who have experienced this first-hand, and our bodies have literally been crime scenes, the news cycle is daunting and it is horrific,” Turkos told ABC News. “It can be inescapable. It’s impossible and it feels like I’m sometimes drowning in it and I can’t escape it because I’ve lived through this three times.”
Turkos told ABC News, “I am a victim who is in this space of, I didn’t report my first two rapes and I did report my third rape, and so I sort of understand the world from both sides. Even when I did report and ‘did the right thing,’ my reporting process was horrific and traumatic and terrible. So I’m thinking about that a lot when I’m seeing all these people, and people in positions of power and elected officials, who are telling us: ‘Why did you do this? Why didn’t you do that?'”
She added, “We are so often blamed: ‘Why didn’t you come forward? Why didn’t you tell someone? Why did you tell someone but not in this way?’ It makes us fall back into this ‘perfect victim’ narrative: this is how a rape victim should look like, this is how they should act, this is how they should behave, this is how they should report. There is no one way to be raped, there is no one way to survive a rape, there is no one way to report a rape and what that looks like — 10 minutes later, 10 months later or 10 years later. We are all doing our best.”
5. Turkos Sued the NYPD in January 2019 Accusing the Department of Failing ‘Countless Female Victims of Sexual Assault’ With a Culture of ‘Disdain, Disbelief, Disrespect’
Turkos is also part of a lawsuit against the NYPD that accuses the department of failing her and other sexual assault survivors. “Fundamentally, the failure emanates from the male-dominated culture that pervades the NYPD and the fundamental disregard for both how sex crimes occur and the debilitating, life-altering harm they cause,” the lawsuit, filed in January 2019 in New York state court, says. “The root of the failure is gender bias against female victims.”
Turkos says in the lawsuit that officers were “insensitive” about her rape complaint and said it was “too complex,” leading to it being ignored. She said that the detective in her case has also botched other rape cases and that the FBI told her the NYPD investigators mishandled her investigation before it was turned over to them.
“The NYPD has been criticized for years for failing sexual assault victims who are brave enough to come forward and report to the police,” Mariann Wang, an attorney with Cuti Hecker Wang LLP who is representing Turkos in that case, told ABC News. “Time and again, women have been treated aggressively by untrained and biased officers, being asked — in the midst of their trauma and at a moment when they expect support — why they went on a date or why they wore a skirt or a dress, as if they should have expected to be sexually assaulted.”
Turkos said at a January press conference, flanked by Wang and her co-plaintiff, fellow rape survivor Jennifer Welch Demski, “They have ignored me, belittled me, dismissed me. Survivors deserve better. New Yorkers deserve better.”
Wang added, “Even now, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, NYPD is not changing.”
The NYPD issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed, saying, “The NYPD is committed to doing anything and everything to ensure survivors feel the safety and support needed to come forward and help the NYPD bring them the justice they deserve. Over the last 10 months, the NYPD has made major improvements to strengthen the Special Victims Division with a victim-centered approach, including new leadership, significant policy enhancements, facility improvements and deepened training to amplify our ability to respond effectively to survivor.”