Woman 'humiliated' after Uber driver allegedly offered to accept sex as payment

A Toronto woman says her Uber driver falsely told her payment wouldn’t go through if her phone had died, and offered to accept sexual favours in lieu.

Erika Szabo hopes her story encourages other sexual harassment victims to speak up

Erika Szabo alleges her Uber driver told her she could not pay for the ride if her phone was off, and asked for sexual favours as a substitute. (Jon Castell/CBC )

A Toronto woman says her Uber driver falsely told her payment wouldn't go through if her phone had died, and offered to accept sexual favours in lieu.

Erika Szabo, 28, was hoping for a relaxing ride home from a speaking engagement at the Unplugged Expo downtown Sunday night when she booked with Uber as part of her frequent use of the service.

After getting into the vehicle, the video producer told her driver that her phone had died.

Szabo alleges the male driver told her the payment wouldn't go through if her phone wasn't on. Believing that was true, she said, she asked to get out of the car, but he kept driving.

On the highway, he allegedly offered her two deals: give him oral sex or show him her breasts. "I thought it was a sick joke or something," Szabo said.

"It just sounded too ridiculous. And he was dead serious about it," she told CBC News.

He said Szabo owed him for his service, she said, also recalling him saying it was "no big deal."

'I felt humiliated'

Szabo said she repeatedly told him "no," and asked him to pull over. He ignored her and proposed a third deal. This time, she said, he offered to pay her for oral sex. 

She bolted out of the car and into her west-end apartment once they arrived.

"I was so upset. I felt humiliated. I felt helpless," she said. "It was really scary to be a victim like that."

After plugging her phone in, she realized the payment did go through. She alerted Uber about the incident through the driver feedback section of the app.

'Enough is enough'

She then went online to share her experience in a Facebook post.

"I want to build awareness," she said. "There are a lot of times where victims feel they're silenced and they can't speak out. Clearly, this guy thought that I would stay quiet."

Szabo confessed to being a silent victim of sexual harassment and assault in the past, but decided to raise her voice this time. 

"For me, it was a bit of 'enough is enough.'"

The next morning, Szabo filed a sexual harassment report with police and a formal complaint with Uber.

'A bigger issue here'

A customer service representative from Uber called her to apologize on behalf of the company and refunded her the $12 charged to her credit card. Szabo said it's not about the money.

"There's a bigger issue here," she said. "It's a bit of an insult."

CBC News contacted Uber on Wednesday morning, and a spokesperson confirmed the driver's account has been removed permanently. The spokesperson called the situation "unacceptable."

Szabo was happy to hear about Uber's actions, but said no one from the ride-hailing service had contacted her to tell her about it directly. 

Szabo said Uber should screen drivers more strictly and install an emergency alert system. Uber said it encourages passengers to call police if they feel in danger.

Toronto police said officers are investigating Szabo's report and the Uber driver could face criminal harassment charges.

Szabo said she hopes that by speaking out, she has encouraged other people to share their stories. 

"Just because you're a victim doesn't mean you're weak. You can still be a strong person and still stand up for yourself."