Houston Police Search For Uber Driver Accused Of Raping 15-Year-Old Girl And Then Driving Her Back Home

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Uber

Houston police are searching for an Uber driver accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old passenger.

Leonel Medina, a 49-year-old driver, is wanted on two counts of sexual assault of a child under 17 years old but has been on the run since a warrant for his arrest was issued. 

The alleged assault took place on May 12 after the teen ordered an Uber to take her to a Family Dollar store near her home. Police say Medina drove the teen to the back of a neighborhood before stopping in a dead end. 

He allegedly ordered the girl to cancel the trip before locking her in his vehicle and sexually assaulting her. He then drove her back home. 

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In an interview with police, Medina allegedly admitted to the assault before fleeing after an arrest warrant was issued. 

What is Uber doing to protect underage teens? 

In a statement, Uber said that they have canceled Medina’s account and are ready to work with the police on their investigation. Uber stated that they run background checks on all potential drivers that check Motor Vehicle Records (MVR) and criminal offenses at the local, state and federal level.

The company also pointed out their Minor Policy which strives to protect minors from incidents related to Uber. 

The policy states that riders and drivers must be over 18 to use the app. Anyone under that age must be accompanied by an adult 18 years of age or older on all rides. 

However, that doesn’t stop teens from flocking to the app using their parents’ accounts or lying about their age. 

2019 data from Current, a debit card company, shows that Uber and Lyft account for 94 percent of all taxi service transactions for customers aged 13 to 18.

Uber depends on its drivers to report underage passengers and only asks for proof of age to reactivate a reported account. But, without any incentive to report riders, drivers risk losing out on income if they refuse to collect underage passengers. 

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Ride-sharing apps are dangerous for minors. 

Apps like Uber are an attractive means of transportation for teens who don’t want to rely on their parents to get around and for parents who don’t want to serve as an unpaid taxi service for their teens.

One poll revealed that 1 in 8 parents have allowed their child to use a ride-sharing app, but the number of teens who have used these apps without their parents knowing is probably higher. 

Even Uber is aware of their lucrative underage customer base and launched a teen ride-sharing pilot in 2017 before it petered out due to safety concerns. 

These platforms might seem like the safer option compared to public transport or walking alone. Driver details can be sent to family and friends and locations can be tracked throughout trips. 

But drivers with malicious intent can easily find their way around these obstacles. By canceling a ride, drivers deactivate GPS tracking, for instance. 

This tactic, which was allegedly used by Medina, was also used in an attempted kidnapping of another 15-year-old girl by an Uber driver in 2019. 

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Uber has a concerning sexual assault history.

In 2019, Uber released a safety report, for the first time, which revealed nearly 6,000 reports of sexual assault from both drivers and passengers between 2017 and 2018. Drivers made up 45 percent of the accused. 

The company has also been accused of trying to silence victims by trapping them in forced arbitration and prevent them from pursuing action in court. 

But even the worst-case scenarios aren’t likely to stop every teen or parent from using the app.

Until tighter restrictions are placed on drivers who accept underage riders or more preventative measures are put in place to keep minors off the app, young people and their parents aren’t going to pay close attention to the fine print on Uber’s terms and conditions.

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, assault, or violence, please know that there is help and hope. RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline and Live Chat is available 24/7 for support.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.