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Most people assume that getting into an Uber ensures a safe ride home, no matter what the circumstances. However, the ride-hailing app is now coming under scrutiny for flimsy third-party background checks that make it easy for sexual predators to slip through the cracks, instead of the more stringent background checks that taxi drivers are subject to.
One case in particular that’s gaining national attention involves a 26-year-old Miami woman who was allegedly raped by her Uber driver over Labor Day weekend in 2017.
The unnamed woman and her friend were partying in downtown Miami when she became heavily intoxicated, according to the Miami New Times. She was reportedly “doubled over vomiting” outside of the El Patio bar when she caught the attention of 51-year-old Uber driver Fredrick Gaston, who offered her and her friend a ride home in his Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
The intoxicated woman got in the front seat of the car because Gaston told them that the windows in the back of the van didn’t roll down all the way, and he didn’t want her throwing up in his car. After dropping off her friend, Gaston allegedly digitally penetrated the woman while he was driving and then proceeded to pull the van over and rape her.
After she was dropped off, the woman asked a neighbor to call the police, who found her hysterically crying and saying “I’ve been raped” over and over.
Special Victims Det. Michelle Farinas was assigned to the case and eventually tracked down Gaston, who waived his Miranda rights and submitted to questioning. At that point, Gaston was not aware that he was a suspect in a sexual assault and proceeded to brag about having sex with the victim—even going so far as to call it “good sex”—and told Farinas that apparently one of the “perks” of being an Uber driver is that “you get a lot of pussy.”
Gaston was charged with sexual battery on a physically incapacitated victim and will appear in court on Oct. 29 for the criminal case. The victim has also brought a pending civil suit against Uber and Gaston for negligence in hiring him in the first place, due to lax security screenings that have led to other instances of sexual assault. A recent CNN investigation turned up a whopping 103 reported instances of alleged sexual assault or abuse by Uber drivers in the past four years alone.
More women are becoming aware of the risks of solo ride-hailing, which is why just earlier this week a tweet went viral in which writer Jill Gutowitz explained why she never tells a male Uber driver that they’re dropping her off at home late at night.
Stacey Ritzen is a reporter and editor based in West Philadelphia with over 10 years' experience covering pop culture, web culture, entertainment, and news. You can follow her on Twitter @staceyritzen.