How to be safe in a taxi in Mexico: female Uber driver speaks out

When 19-year-old college student Mara Fernanda Castilla went out dancing with friends one night and got raped and murdered by the driver of her Cabify taxi, shock permeated my entire being. I sit behind the wheel every day. This is my industry, and I needed to figure out what happened. I wondered, what could she have done differently to save her life. I studied the case, looking for vulnerabilities.

  • 1 year ago
  • March 23, 2023
8 min read
According to a 2022 PBS article, on average, 10 women or girls are killed daily in Mexico. According to a 2022 PBS article, on average, 10 women or girls are killed daily in Mexico. | Photo courtesy of Frederik Trovatten on Unsplash
Interview Subject
Carmen Martínez is a Venezuelan national who studied acting in her native country and has participated in commercials, theater, cinema, and television, both in Venezuela and in Mexico. She arrived in Mexico in January 2003 fleeing the political and economic situation in her home country. She began driving for Uber to supplement her income but eventually took the job full-time. Through her own experiences and those of clients and in the news, she began to recognize the serious nature of the situation in Mexico regarding violence against women. She began speaking out and making videos on her social networks. Some of her videos went viral and this has led her to have a presence on television programs and newscasts regarding the topic.
Background Information
According to information from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESSNP), during 2022, 6,699 homicides were registered, of which 968 cases were classified as femicides – hate crimes characterized by the intentional killing of women simply because they are female. This same body reported that in 2022, at least 67,315 women were victims of intentional injuries, the highest number since 2015 on record. Figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) indicate that in Mexico, 70.1% of all women aged 15 and over (50.5 million) have experienced “at least one incident of violence, which can be psychological, economic property, physical, sexual or discrimination in at least one area and exercised by any aggressor throughout his life.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico ꟷ As one of Mexico’s first female Uber drivers, working in this industry has been one of the toughest tasks of my entire life. As an aspiring actress by trade, I needed to earn extra income, but slowly became more and more involved in driving. Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, I work full-time as a driver.

Read more stories out of Mexico from Orato World Media.

Throughout my experience as an Uber driver in Mexico, I realized just how vulnerable women can be, including passengers and me, as a driver. I needed to do something to help women travel more safely.

Murders of women inspire Uber driver to speak out

My urge to improve passenger safety for women in Mexico came on the heels of increasing cases of harassment, rape, and murder of women in taxis. I often thought of how it feels to sit in car, hear the door close and lock, and feel so isolated, hoping the person in the car with you has no ill intentions.

When 19-year-old college student Mara Fernanda Castilla went out dancing with friends one night and got raped and murdered by the driver of her Cabify taxi, shock permeated my entire being. I sit behind the wheel everyday. This was my industry. I needed to figure out what happened and what she could have done differently to save her life. I studied the case, looking for her vulnerabilities.

As I developed my ideas and thought about my experiences as an Uber driver, I began giving women who climbed into my car advice. I explained where to sit for maximum safety; how to ensure the child safety lock is off by attempting to open the door at least once before the ride starts; and offering general safety tips. Then, it happened again.

[In 2022, authorities recovered the remains of 18-year-old Debanhi Escobar in an underground water tank at a motel in Monterrey. A taxi driver took a haunting photo of her leaving his car in the middle of the secluded highway. He says she left of her own accord, but her father, Mario Escobar said surveillance camera footage suggested the driver innapriately touched her, causing her to flee. He continued, while the driver might not have killed her, he was responsible for her death.]

Videos offer safety tips to taxi riders in Mexico

I became indignant. In a moment of courage and rage, I parked my car and started recording a video. I knew, based on my experiences as a female driver, I could help prevent these horrible tragedies. I did not want to see one more woman raped or killed, so I posted my video on social media and it went viral.

In addition to offering my listeners ways to be safer in cabs and taxis, I also addressed the current situation in Mexico, which the government seemed unable to prevent. Out-of-control violence against women in Mexico forces us to take care of one another.

[According to a December 2022 article by PBS, Mexico has made little progress on femicide. In the year prior to the article, the country saw more than 1,000 femicides – the crime of intentionally killing a person because she is female. Additionally, on average, 10 women or girls get killed daily in Mexico. The national data reveals the lack of progress.]

Uber driver Carmen Martínez teaches passengers to be safer in their taxis and cabs in Mexico | Photo courtesy of Ms. Martínez

I began recording more videos and grew an audience for my safety tips and experiences as a driver. Sadly, violence against women in taxis in Mexico continued. When Lidia Gabriela got into a taxi at 5 p.m. in Las Peñas, Iztapalapa, the driver allegedly changed routes and sped up. Witnesses say she screamed for help out the window before jumping from the vehicle to her death. The case motivated me to make another video explaining a technique to stay calm, wait for a stop, and get out of the car when they can safely. Unfortunately, many women jump from moving vehicles to try and flee a possible kidnapping or rape.

Experiencing sexual harassment and violence as an Uber driver in Mexico

Being a female Uber driver in Mexico, I also face danger. During my first year, I suffered from violence by male passengers and began training in self-defense to protect myself from attack. Even when passengers did not engage in violence, they remained unaccustomed to seeing a woman behind the wheel and reacted rudely.

One customer saw me and got out of the car, telling his friend, “No old lady takes me anywhere,” but this was not, by far, the worst harassment I faced. One day, an elegant man who seemingly had wealth, touched my leg while I drove. My body felt paralyzed and for what seemed like a long time, I could not react. I felt shocked as he caressed my leg with his hand. When I finally snapped out of it, I turned and grabbed his hand. I moved it toward his face and demanded he leaves me alone. He responded simply, “Ah, sorry, it was so easy for me to do.”

Uber driver Carmen Martínez with her emotional support dog | Photo courtesy of Ms. Martínez

In anger, I slowed down in the middle of the freeway, pulled over, and forced him out of my car. The experience left me shaking. Another time, things escalated, and my client severely beat me. I struggle with chronic depression and have an emotional support dog. The client became angry about my dog. Accompanied by his wife, mother-in-law, and holding a baby in his arms, he began to shout at me.

He put his hand through the window and hit my dog. I got out of the car and so did he. He and his wife began hitting me. They threw me to the ground, kicked me, and spit on me. That moment felt like the most hopeless and horrible experience of my life, but luckily, the police came and arrested them.

A voice of hope for women victims of violence and abuse in Mexico

Working for Uber changed my life and gave me the idea to become a advocate for female passengers. As a result, I am becoming an influencer in this area. I want my voice to reach more people, because cases of violence against women in taxis, in the streets, and in their homes continues to happen every day in Mexico.

I want society to see that men do not have the right to abuse women. We are human beings. Just because a woman dresses a certain way or walks somewhere alone, no one has the right to hurt us. As a woman in Mexico, I fell victim to rape and sexual harassment; I experienced physical, psychological, and economic violence at times. As someone who survived abuse my whole life, I hold onto a great hope. Through my work, I want to give a voice to women and victims, to tell them we can live and be safer. Although we may never forget our trauma, we can move on.

This video is in Spanish. If you are not a Spanish speaker, go to settings on the video, select subtitles and auto-translate, then choose your language, such as English. The subtitles will appear. Carmen Martinez shares safety tips in this and other videos on YouTube and across her social media.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.


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