Galway student opens up about her experience of sexual assault in a bid to inform young people of ‘fake’ taxis

By Maeve Lee

In January of this year, just a few weeks before Galway’s infamous “RAG” week, an anonymous Facebook message circulated on social media platforms; its content acting as a warning to young people against “fake” taxis. That same night, another young woman took to social media to share her shocking encounter with a similar vehicle. The woman took to Instagram, pleading with young people to take precautions when getting into a taxi alone as she bravely spoke out about her own encounter with a so called “fake” taxi.

The young woman who bravely shared her story on Instagram is a student at NUI Galway, and at the time of the incident she was 18 years-old and in the first year of her degree. 

When I met the student in between lectures, she was adamant that she wanted to use her story to warm other young, vulnerable people of the dangers that are out there. She explained that her decision to break her silence came after seeing the Facebook message that was recently shared.

“I saw a friend from my hometown had posted a Facebook message where she had been told about a girl in a taxi where a situation had happened. She managed to get out at a petrol station and told the man behind the counter that she didn’t feel comfortable and asked if he would mind going out and paying for the taxi. 

“The taxi drove off and was later seen with a man getting out of the boot.

“When I saw that my stomach just dropped. I was like ‘it’s happened.”

She proceeded to share her own experience, nervously looking at her hands as she spoke.

In March last year, the student hailed down a taxi on Eglington street in Galway’s city centre. She was taking a drunk friend home from a nightclub, before returning alone to continue her night with the rest of the group. She made an arrangement with the driver before getting into the vehicle and he agreed to return her to the club once she had dropped off her friend. 

“I dropped my friend into our house in Newcastle and got back into the front of the taxi and he had taken my phone and my wallet. Then when I was in the car, he locked the doors,” explained the student.

“I knew then.”

The driver began to circle estates in the Newcastle area as the student attempted to talk the situation down. She warned the man that her friends would be looking for her, and that she always texts her Mam when she gets home from a night out. 

“He just kept saying ‘you’ll have to pay me; you’ll have to pay me’ and I was like, ‘well I have the money’ and he said: ‘No, you’ll have to pay me’.”

She took a deep breath before sharing what happened next.

“I just started to panic, I started to cry a bit. We were in this back estate- I couldn’t even tell you where…just driving around through estates up towards Hazel Park direction. I think there’s like, a football pitch up there. I remember seeing it and that’s where he sexually assaulted me.”

The 20-year old student was evidently anxious when sharing the details of the night, but with each answer, she clearly reiterated and reminded herself of the importance of sharing her story.

“There’s a school opposite the courts. He dropped me there [after he assaulted me],” she continued.

“It was so weird. It wasn’t as if I was screaming and shouting at him, I just asked him if he had a card – like a taxi card – and he handed me a black card and I put it into my purse.”

The card had two phone numbers, one of which was blacked out with permanent marker.  The first number, which was not blacked out, was for a communications company in Ireland while the second one was the number for a local taxi company. However, when the woman rang the company, she was informed that this driver had no ties with them.

The incident was reported to Gardaí. However, the driver was not captured on any CCTV camera’s in the area and had fake registration plates as well as a fake taxi light.

“They tracked his route and he seemed to miss every camera. He knew what he was doing, it was very clear that this wasn’t his first time… and because he was going to get away with what he had done to me, it was going to happen again.”

Frank Fahy has been a taxi man for over 30 years and is the managing director of Big O Taxis, Galway’s largest taxi company. When I spoke to Frank about the young woman’s experience, he was not as shocked as one would expect and had heard some similar stories over the years, particularly since deregulation was brought into Ireland 20 years ago.

“I did have a girl in the car about ten years ago that I picked up out in Oranmore who told me that she was sexually assaulted [in a taxi]. She hopped into a mini-bus and she hopped into the back and she didn’t realise that there was a second guy in it, and it was dark…so she couldn’t see him,” said Mr Fahy.

When I rang Frank Fahy, he was working and had a female passenger and her guide dog in his taxi.

I listened as the woman described where her front door was, to ensure Mr Fahy was outside the correct house, before he got out of the vehicle and assisted both her and her dog to their front door.

“She’s being using our company for years and there’s a trust element that has to be there,” said Mr Fahy, referring to the female passenger.

“I help to guide her into the car and guide the dog and make sure there’s room for him and that’s an issue when people aren’t licensed,” he said as he got back into the car.

Like most taxi drivers, Mr Fahy is chatty and had a lot to say on the issue. As a Galway councillor and former mayor, he has frequently aired his concerns. For him, ceasing the leasing of taxi plates is the first step in the long road to preventing these dangerous situations. This leasing, which was eased with the liberalisation of the licensing regime in 2000, means that one taxi can travel to different counties, making them more difficult to regulate.

“The first thing I would do is ban the leasing of taxi plates,” said Mr Fahy.

“One dog, one bone, one man, one taxi license. Why should someone have 20 and 30 licenses and rent them out to Tom today, and Dick the day after and Larry the week after? To me, that is why a taxi vehicle can be in Galway this week and in Dublin the week after. There’s no regulating that.”

In addition, Mr Fahy does not believe that enough is being done to check up on taxi drivers since the changes were made to the licensing regime.

“There should be enforcement officers in Galway 24/7 in my opinion, not just for a few hours on a Saturday night. I’d know when they’re around by just driving around-without anyone telling me anything,” he concluded. 

For the female student who bravely shared her story, life in Galway has changed forever but she wants to use her experience to spread awareness and ensure that other young people are informed of the dangers that exist and in turn, vigilant. 

“It should be something that is put out there.”

“Maybe not even talk about what has happened to me – but the signs that you need to look for, especially when you’re living away from home…there might not be someone making sure that you’re getting to your bed every night.”

“It should be something that is known.”

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