On an early Sunday morning in November, a 22-year-old Chicago woman asked Uber to send a driver to pick her up following a night out with friends in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. According to police records reported by local media, a black four-door car arrived 20 minutes later. The driver was with Uber X, a lower-cost Uber option, and he told her to climb in.
On Monday evening, more than one month after that night, local media reported the 30-year-old driver, Maxime Fohounhedo, was charged with criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual abuse.
The charges mark the latest sexual abuse allegation to hit the embattled ride-share service, which in the past several weeks was banned in several countries and came under increased scrutiny over how carefully it vets its drivers. In fairness, plenty of regular taxi drivers are accused of sexual assault each year, attracting relatively little publicity.
But Uber is new and everyone is watching, particularly taxi industry lobbyists who would love to put it out of business.
Fohounhedo allegedly asked the woman to get into the front seat because he wasn’t familiar with her requested destination. Soon, police say the driver parked the car and grabbed the woman, according to DNAinfo.
Afterward, the woman told police she passed out — only to awake at an unspecified apartment on the 2600 block of West Lawrence Avenue, reported the Chicago Tribune. When she came to, she said she discovered her Uber driver atop her. Later, he drove her home, and the woman texted a friend.
“I was just sexually assaulted by my Uber driver and I’m supberb [sic] drunk, but I need someone to remind me to follow through to make sure this never happens again,” she wrote, a police record reported by DNAinfo said.
She was taken to a local hospital, and Uber, when they got word of the allegations, immediately removed Fohounhedo from its registry of drivers.
“This is an appalling and unacceptable incident, and first and foremost our thoughts are with the victim and her family,” an Uber spokesman said in a statement. “We immediately removed the driver from the Uber platform when we learned of the reported incident and are cooperating fully with law enforcement. We stand ready to assist them however we can to hold the perpetrator accountable. ”
Fohounhedo is due in court Tuesday for a bond hearing.
The allegations will surely add to criticism hammering Uber. From complaints over astronomical fare prices during crises to concerns it doesn’t abide by local regulatory practices in some countries to allegations it urges drivers with bad credit scores to take subprime loans, it’s been a tough 2014 for Uber.
Still, nothing has slowed the company’s rapid growth and fast entry into markets dominated by established taxi companies, baffling some observers. “The question remains,” asked the Boston Globe, “given all these problems, why is Uber so freaking popular?”