Boston Uber driver charged with sexual assault

A Boston Uber driver who allegedly attacked a woman is charged with rape, kidnapping and two counts of assault and battery.

An Uber driver allegedly assaulted a woman in Boston earlier this month. Uber

A driver for car-hailing service Uber has been charged in Boston with raping a young woman.

Alejandro Done, 46, has been arraigned on charges of rape, assault to rape, kidnapping and two counts of assault and battery after allegedly attacking a young woman in his Uber car earlier this month, the district attorney's office for Massachusetts' Middlesex County announced Wednesday.

Authorities say a young woman arranged for Uber to pick her up and bring her home on the night of December 6. After telling the woman she needed to pay for the Uber ride with cash, Done allegedly brought her to a secluded area, stopped the car and attacked her, said the district attorney.

"This alleged predator took advantage of a young woman who trusted that he was who he portrayed himself to be and exploited her vulnerability once he had her in his car," District Attorney Marian Ryan said in a statement Wednesday.

The district attorney's office added that Uber has been "cooperative and has provided assistance" with the ongoing investigation. Cambridge Police say they identified Done as driver of the car through the ride-sharing service's records, and then the woman allegedly identified Done as the person who assaulted her.

"This is a despicable crime and our thoughts and prayers are with the victim during her recovery," said Uber spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh. "Uber has been working closely with law enforcement and will continue to do everything we can to assist their investigation."

Uber, which currently operates in 250 cities in 50 countries, provides a way for people to hail a ride using their smartphones. While Uber maintains that drivers are subject to stringent background checks, the company this week pledged to improve its safety programs.

"We have more work to do, and we will do it," Phillip Cardenas, head of global safety at Uber, said in a blog post Wednesday. "Uber is committed to developing new technology tools that improve safety, strengthen and increase the number of cities and countries where background checks are conducted and improve communication with local officials and law enforcement."

Uber said it started a safety review in November to identify new technologies, such as biometrics and voice verification, to enhance driver screenings and background checks. Uber also said it is working to make it easier for riders to communicate with the company and is building "Safety Incident Response teams" to provide support to customers during emergencies. Uber did not say when its new programs would roll out.

This is the fourth time an Uber customer in the Boston area has reported an assault or inappropriate touching within the last month, according to The Boston Globe, which earlier reported on the alleged assault by Done. On Sunday, three women reported incidents and at least two had been using Uber, Boston police told the Globe.

Uber has been facing a whirlwind of bad news over the last several weeks. Just last week, a report surfaced saying that an Uber driver in India's capital of New Delhi allegedly raped a woman while driving her in the city. Not long after, New Delhi banned Uber, saying it was operating illegally in the city. Thailand and Spain issued similar bans just one day later. The service has also been labeled illegal in several other markets -- including Seoul, South Korea, and Portland, Ore. -- and warned to stop operating.

In most cities, the debate centers around Uber competing with taxi companies. Some taxi unions and consortiums claim Uber drivers don't have the required licenses to operate. Others have taken aim at Uber for using mobile technology to allow users to hail cars.

Uber has remained defiant in the face of the controversies, in some cases arguing that its service is perfectly legal and in others saying that it will work with local governments to reach the required accords. Regardless, Uber continues to operate in cities where it has been warned not to.

Despite all the bad news, Uber continues to attract investors. Earlier this month, the company announced that it had raised $1.2 billion on a valuation believed to hover around $40 billion. On Wednesday, China-based search engine Baidu said it invested in Uber for an undisclosed amount and would bundle the ride-sharing services into its mobile mapping and search applications.

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