Sexual Assault Survivor Alison Turkos On Justice, Healing & Self-Advocacy

"For those of us who can speak out and loudly, we do so not just to take a step toward justice for ourselves but in hope to change the system for others."
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Image credit: WSJ

Image credit: WSJ

Warning: This interview may be triggering. 

It is with great sensitivity that we share Alison Turkos's story with you—just recently she filed a lawsuit against Lyft for her 2017 assault, rape and kidnapping that occurred at the hands of her driver, and in the aftermath the company still charged her for her ride and allowed the driver to stay employed. And it's not just Alison's charge, Lyft is currently facing a flood of lawsuits from women around the country who say the ride-hailing company has known for years that their safety has been at risk, while doing nothing to protect its female passengers. 

Alison has always, very courageously, been publicly facing in telling her painful story in order to be believed, seen and heard. And after years of advocating for herself when system after system failed her, she is seeking justice now because, as she says, "I deserve better. Survivors deserve better. Lyft passengers deserve better. And I will not stop fighting until we get what we deserve."

Our founder and EIC, Amanda Carter Gomes, spoke with Alison about her voice that refuses to be silenced, how to support survivors and victims, her road to recovery (which included female friendships she couldn't have gone without), and much more. We are honored to use our platform to shed light on Alison's brave endurance because, as Alison reminds us, "When a survivor chooses to share their story publicly, it’s often because we know we are not alone." 

Until today, I had not heard your Lyft assault story, and after learning more I was infuriated, heartbroken, disgusted and enraged. I assume I am not alone in my reaction—this happened two years ago and many are just hearing about it now.

How have you been processing and working toward recovery over the past two years?

To be honest, I haven’t been able to really start the process of healing. From the beginning I’ve had to put so much time, effort, energy and labor (both emotional and mental) into advocating for myself. I realized that the NYPD was not doing their job, so I had to advocate for myself. I learned that I was one of many who had been assaulted by a Lyft driver so I had to advocate for myself to hold the company accountable.

Seeking justice for myself has become basically a second job. Because the NYPD and Lyft have not taken responsibility and listened to victims like myself, because they have not done their jobs, I have not been able to do my job—which is to heal from the harm perpetrated against me.

What have the past 48 hours been like for you? [Editor's note: On Sept. 17 Alison filed a lawsuit accusing Lyft of 11 counts including general negligence, sexual assault, sexual battery and breach of contract.]

Unreal. I am so grateful to the victims and survivors who have shared their support with me, I am saddened to hear that I am not alone. So many have reached out to share their stories with me, friends and family members of survivors have reached out to echo support and let me know they’re supporting someone who has experienced something similar.

I am also so grateful to my community for lifting me up and showing me so much love these last few days. I would never have been able to do this without them.

You wrote a piece on Medium addressing the assault and suit you filed against Lyft. This is after spending the last two years reliving this horrific event as an advocate for yourself and to ensure your voice was heard—mostly because Lyft has not responded. Not only have they been negligent in handling your case, they forced you to pay for the ride in which you were raped by one of its drivers (and two other men) and kept the man employed. THIS IS HARD WORK, and I can only imagine what you are doing is physically and emotionally exhausting.

Why is it important for you to continue to tell your story?

When a survivor chooses to share their story publicly, it’s often because we know we are not alone. All too often, we know we are not the only victim this person has harmed. Lyft allowed the driver who kidnapped me at gunpoint, gang raped and trafficked me to remain on their platform and continue driving for months, if not years. How many other people were harmed by this man while he was on Lyft’s payroll? It’s important for me to continue to share my story because Lyft needs to be held accountable, because the system needs to change.

We know a small percentage of rape survivors ever report, and for those of us who can speak out and loudly, we do so not just to take a step toward justice for ourselves but in hope to change the system for others. 

I am so inspired by the women who filed lawsuits against Lyft before me, I am grateful to them. But I want to note, so many of those women chose to remain anonymous—and for good reason. The decision to file suit against a Silicon Valley tech giant is not one made lightly. Lyft has access to resources I can’t even begin to comprehend. I made the decision to be public, to attach my face and my name to this lawsuit because I want to remind Lyft that they are harming real people, I will not be ignored.

If this happened to me, it could happen to anyone else. I want to see Lyft and other ride-hail apps change their policies. For me, holding them accountable means sharing my story and letting other victims know they aren’t alone. Sharing my story is important because Lyft leadership claims safety is their priority, but my trauma and their response proves otherwise. I want them to know exactly who I am and what happened to me while they turned a blind eye.

There has been a beautiful outpouring of support for your bravery in these past two days and many are making sure your story is not silenced. Is there any good that has come out of this situation?

Survivors and victims are joining together to hold Lyft accountable. I am grateful to those who have shared their stories with me and I have promised them I will not stop fighting until justice is served.

If you are open to sharing, how are you caring for yourself and working towards recovery?

With regards to caring for myself, I watch a lot of Grey’s Anatomy. I have pretty severe insomnia and night terrors so when I’m up in the middle of the night I watch in hopes it will help me go back to sleep. I spend time with friends, and my friends' kids. My best friend Dana has two children whom I eat waffles with every weekend and that’s always a highlight for me. Because when I’m with those kids magic exists and the biggest problem in their world is where Peppa Pig disappeared to. The FBI and Lyft aren’t problems, and I forget about the real world for a second. I also read a lot of books for and by survivors. I’m currently reading Megan and Jodi’s book She Said. I go back and reread Roxane Gay’s anthology Not That Bad a lot as well.

I also try and leave New York City, where I live and where the assault took place, as much as I can. It’s helpful for me to distance myself from the constant reminder of the location (I live just a few blocks from the bar where I was picked up).

Working toward recovery, I want to shine a light on my friends. My friends have been extraordinary these last two years. Showing up for me in ways I didn’t even know possible. Some of my friendships have changed, or shifted, and that’s because I’ve changed as a person, because trauma changes you. But I have such a solid core group of women who are with me every single day. Who I have called on and they have shown up for me so beautifully. 

It has been a journey, in particular with my best friend Morgan, who has been a rock for me. My heart swells when I think about her because we have been through so much. She was with me the day I reported, held my hand while my body was the physical manifestation of a crime scene and I had a rape kit done. Our friendship has been tested but we came out stronger. I am more honest with all my friends, more direct. That's been helpful for my healing. 

My PTSD, depression and anxiety can also get the best of me sometimes and there will be days, or a few days, where I don’t leave the house. If I’m in New York I don’t leave my neighborhood a lot. This assault has had a catastrophic effect on my life. And the amount of effort that I have had to put into seeking justice for myself has meant my healing process has barely begun.

Finally, in your opinion and experience, what is the best way we can all better support victims?

I don’t think people understand that trauma changes a person. I always tell people it has changed me down to the marrow of my bones. I wish more people understood that, understood that after you go through something traumatic the person you were going to become dies. So you’re not only attempting to heal from an incredibly horrifying experience, you’re mourning the loss of the person you once were.

I wish more people understood that victims don’t need to be fixed. We don’t need you to provide us with answers. We need you to sit with us and listen, we need you to acknowledge that what we’re going through is horrible, and hard, and it will be that way for a while. I will never “get over” what happened to me, I will never move past it, but I’m learning to slowly live with it, I’m learning to try and move forward. But in a moments notice I can be triggered and it’s like I’m right back to that night.

Victims need boundaries. Ask before you hug us or touch us. Don’t show up at our home uninvited. Be aware that crowds and loud spaces may be hard for us, so give us a heads up before inviting us somewhere with that type of environment. Let us take the lead when it comes to making plans.

Victims need space and time, don’t rush our healing process. The greatest gift some of my friends have ever given me is space and understanding.

And to victims who may be reading this: First and foremost I want to say I believe you. I trust you. I’m holding you in the light even though I know it may feel like there’s only darkness surrounding you. Invest in yourself. Unapologetically put yourself first in your healing process, no matter what that looks like, and that may change day to day, but just do it. It will feel so freeing. 

If you or someone you know has suffered sexual violence, please ask for help. RAINN is an incredible resource, and you can contact them at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or live chat with them here.



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