A man who sexually assaulted two vulnerable women while pretending to be a ride-share driver fears his family will be split up if he is deported after completing his jail term.
Twice in 2019 Sharjeel Mirza preyed on two young women who were drunk by sexually assaulting them while each sat in the passenger seat next to him as he drove. He had an Uber sticker on his blue Toyota Corolla but was not registered to drive for the company.
Mirza, a 39-year-old father of two, has spent two years in jail since his arrest and has pleaded guilty to rape and two charges of sexual assault.
Mirza claimed he was an Uber driver and studying to be a paramedic when he drove a 19-year-old home from outside a Melbourne nightclub on March 10, 2019. Having insisted to the woman’s boyfriend the fare would be higher for two passengers and that the woman would be safe by herself, Mirza moved the woman’s hand onto his crotch and digitally raped her, a pre-sentence hearing at the County Court heard on Thursday. The boyfriend was not in the car.
At the woman’s home Mirza spoke to her mother while the teenager was on the ground near the car, prosecutor Shivani Pillai said. As the woman was helped inside the house she told her family: “He’s very bad, he’s a very bad person and he did very bad things.”
Four months later Mirza attacked a 26-year-old woman as he drove her through Coburg. She had been at a birthday party that night and outside a Fitzroy nightclub when Mirza gave her a lift.
The woman woke during the assault, Ms Pillai said, and got out of the car but Mirza chased her, told her it was unsafe outside and promised he wouldn’t touch her again while he drove her home. The victim couldn’t recall how she ended up at home.
She said in a victim impact statement she was disgusted, ashamed and angry at her lack of vigilance that night, that a “dark cloud” had descended over her mental health, and her work and relationships with loved ones had suffered.
“I found myself struggling to get out of bed some days because I was anxious about leaving my room and I didn’t feel safe in the community,” she said.
Judge Amanda Chambers told the woman she should not bear any shame or responsibility for what happened. The first victim declined to make an impact statement.
Mirza previously worked as a ride-share driver while looking for work as an accountant, the court heard, and was not registered to drive when he purported to be driver, which prompted Judge Chambers to raise concern over regulations over ride-share drivers. Those companies are regulated and drivers need to be registered.
Defence counsel Lucien Richter said Mirza assaulted the women during a stressful stage of his life as he couldn’t find accountancy work and was sleep deprived from driving at night and caring for his children during the day.
He was now worried what would happen to his family if he was deported to his native Pakistan once released from prison. Mr Richter said Mirza was “anguished” at the thought his wider family would take the children from his wife over disapproval of the marriage.
“That is an unbearable prospect for someone to live with,” Mr Richter said of his client’s concerns.
Mirza was remorseful, his lawyer said, and wrote a letter of apology.
But Ms Pillai said Mirza’s persistent, premeditated offending was “very concerning” as he preyed on women under the guise of offering help.
Mirza will be sentenced on August 20.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
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