Uber is assisting police in India with an investigation into the alleged rape of a passenger who used its service in New Delhi, the U.S. company confirmed today.
Update: Reuters reports that the man has been arrested.
A number of media in the country — including Times of India and NDTV — report that a woman was raped sometime between Friday night and the early hours of Saturday after taking an Uber ride home. The woman, whose age is reported as 25 and 27 by various media, is said to have fallen asleep in the back of the car. When she woke up to find the car parked in a secluded spot, the driver is then reported to have raped her and, after taking her home, threatened to kill her if she reported the incident.
The woman telephoned police in the early hours of Saturday morning having apparently managed to take a photo of the driver’s license plate.
However, media report that the driver is missing. He had allegedly registered to use the Uber service in a false name and disabled the GPS functionality from his smartphone during the incident.
In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Uber did not mention those latter two claims, but it did confirm the incident and that it is working with authorities having already banned the driver:
We became aware of the incident this morning. Safety is Uber’s highest priority and we take situations like this very seriously. We are working with the police as they investigate, and will assist them in any way we can to determine what happened. It is also our policy to immediately suspend a driver’s account following allegations of a serious incident, which we have done. In India, we work with licensed driver-partners to provide a safe transportation option, with layers of safeguards such as driver and vehicle information, and ETA-sharing to ensure there is accountability and traceability of all trips that occur on the Uber platform.
The company added some humanity to that very dry response with a tweet from its New Delhi account:
Uber later posted a further statement to its blog saying that the company’s “thoughts remain with the victim who has shown tremendous courage under the circumstances”.
Uber is no stranger to controversy, but this alleged rape in India — which police are still to confirm — is one of its most significant incidents to date. Late-night taxi journeys and public transport trips are seen as dangerous for women in certain parts of India, and New Delhi in particular, and Uber has been pressing its credentials as a safer alternative.
News of this incident comes just over a day after the company closed a second billion-dollar-plus round of funding this year, at a valuation of more than $40 billion. Uber has earmarked its latest funding round to help develop its business in Asia Pacific, where India is very much a key part of its plans.
Uber India recently introduced five days of free rides, a new low-cost service, and driver vehicle financing in a bid to raise awareness of its service among consumer, and battle a number of local rivals, including Ola Cabs, which recently raised a $210 million funding round led by Japanese telecom giant SoftBank.
This is, unfortunately, not the first sexual complaint against an Uber driver by any means. A passenger in Washington D.C. accused a driver of rape in 2012, but prosecutors did not file charges. Earlier this year, an Uber driver was found guilty of fondling a female passenger, although Uber had canceled his driver account follow the incident.
Hat tip to the many readers who sent this in