Raleigh, N.C. — An Uber driver has been charged with sexually assaulting a female passenger, Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker said Thursday.
Muhammed Arslan Afzal is charged with first-degree kidnapping, attempted second-degree forcible sex offense, indecent exposure and sexual assault. He was being held in the Wake County jail under $250,000 bond.
The woman told investigators that she requested an Uber in Wake Forest in the early hours of May 9 to take her to her home in Raleigh. During the trip, the driver pulled onto the shoulder of Interstate 540 in Knightdale and convinced the woman to sit in the front passenger seat to help him with his GPS system, authorities said.
The driver then groped and assaulted the woman and performed sex acts on himself, over a 20-minute period, authorities said.
The woman was able to call her family during the ordeal, and as soon as the Uber pulled up outside her home, family members were waiting for her and she fled the vehicle, authorities said.
An Uber spokesman said Afzal was banned from the ride-share platform as soon as the company learned about the alleged attack.
“What’s been described is horrifying,” the spokesman said in an email to WRAL News. “We are working with law enforcement on their investigation.”
Baker said that, while using a ride-share service is convenient, people need to take precautions for their own safety:
- Share your trip with others.
- If you need to travel alone, consider taking the carpool option.
- Request your ride before you go outside.
- Sit in the backseat and wear your seatbelt.
- Check the driver’s ratings and read the reviews and feedback before you confirm a pickup.
- Call 911 immediately if your personal safety is threatened.
Uber last year launched a hotline for people to report sex assaults by drivers. The company spokesman said the hotline is staffed by trained people experienced in working with victims of sexual violence.
The company also has launched safety features in recent years, such as checking for unplanned stops by drivers, directly linking to 911 through the app and allowing people to share details of their Uber rides with up to five friends and family members.
WRAL’s Julian Grace spoke with three women in Raleigh Thursday night, all of whom say they take ride shares regularly.
Christie Perry takes a ride share from her home and says she feels safe doing so. Wendy Love agreed that she also feels safe.
“I do feel comfortable when I ride share, especially with Uber and Lyft,” Love said.
Lynda White said that it may make some think twice about taking ride shares in the future.
“It doesn’t surprise me, but it always a strong reminder, if you don’t have to take [one], maybe it can limit the times you have to,” White said.
A trial is now underway in Columbia, S.C., for a man accused of killing a University of South Carolina student who mistook his car for an Uber in March 2019.
That case prompted North Carolina lawmakers to adopt rules requiring all ride-share vehicles to have lighted signs and to have their license plate number visible from the front of the vehicle.