Update April 8: Bolt has launched its own service for women to request female drivers in response to this story.
Police today said they are still looking for a Bolt driver accused of raping a 16-year-old girl during a ride southeast of the capital days after she accused them of doing nothing.
Local police in Chonburi province said that Tanong Buakham has already evaded their capture once after his young accuser says she woke up naked at a motel after being harassed and ultimately drugged late last month during what was supposed to be a ride home.
“I woke up at around 5am,” she said. “My body felt heavy, and I found myself naked in a motel room, and there was a camera recording me. The driver was in the room, but he was taking a shower in the bathroom.”
Coconuts is withholding her name as she is a minor and possible victim of sexual violence.
On Sunday, the girl publicized her experience with the help of a friend to warn others after the police took no action for over a month after the Feb. 20 attack.
To protect her anonymity, she related her story through a friend’s Twitter. After that, she said she finally heard back Tuesday from the police. Reached for comment, Chayapol Yurod of the Bang Lamung Police Station told Coconuts that they had yet to look into his criminal background or retrieve medical records from the hospital the girl was treated at.
The teen girl told Coconuts she was looking for a late-night ride from a friend’s home in the beachside Bang Saen community to her parents’ home in Sri Racha. She was sober. She turned to Bolt – an Estonian ride-hailing service that expanded to Thailand last year – after failing to find a ride using competitor Grab.
“I canceled the first Bolt driver I got because he was far from where I was, and the trip was going to cost me like 500 baht,” she said. “Then, I got [Tanong] as my driver for a cheaper price.” He was identified as “Pradipat” in the app.
But she canceled him as he was also too far. After that, she said, he used her phone number to reach out via Line to say he was heading along her route on his way home. After about an hour of him trying to convince her, she says she accepted. She booked him through the app, and he picked her up at 2:41am.
During the trip home, she said he asked many inappropriate questions such as if she’d had sex with her boyfriend. He also took many detours along the way and stopped at a gas station, she said.
Growing afraid, she said that she was looking for a way to get help from Bolt, but could not find a phone number or any other contact option.
Bolt customers in Thailand can only report an emergency or complaint via its app or by email.
“Our customer support team is available 24/7 to respond to any complaints through the app. Providing the best service to our customers is a priority for Bolt,” the company said by email, adding that it will “discontinue cooperation with drivers who are not observing Bolt’s standards of customer service.”
A Bolt representative reached for comment Monday said the company was aware of and deeply concerned about the case. Spokesperson Daria Staverska said it had reached out to those involved and offered its full cooperation to the police.
She said driver applicants must provide their driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and national ID numbers but did not mention criminal background checks. Asked if there was a policy to not hire drivers with criminal backgrounds, she did not respond.
Back on the road after leaving the gas station at nearly 4am, the student said she fell asleep.
The next thing she remembers is waking up in the motel room, where, despite what had happened, her attacker tried to convince her to take a trip to Pattaya with him. In her condition and afraid, she thought it was better to play along, so she asked to first get her stuff from her dorm room. He drove her there that morning, at which point she ran for help. A video clip she’s shared shows what she says is his vehicle fleeing the dorm parking lot.
An exam at the Queen Savang Vadhana Memorial Hospital confirmed that not only was she sexually assaulted, she said, but drugged as well. She could not remember what substance it was, exactly.
The student said she identified Tanong by looking in a Facebook group for Thai bolt drivers and finding him among its members. Tanong was also listed as the Line username of her attacker, she said.