Claims of topless ‘body checks’ at Miss Universe Indonesia beauty pageant sparks police probe

More than half a dozen women competing in the Miss Universe Indonesia beauty pageant have reported organisers to police over allegations of sexual harassment after alleging they were subjected to topless “body checks”.

The complaint came after the seven finalists in the contest, held in the capital Jakarta from July 29 to August 3, were unexpectedly asked to strip for a supposed body check two days before the pageant’s crowning ceremony.

They said the organisers asked five of them to strip to their underwear for physical examinations in a room with more than 20 people, including men. They were then photographed topless, said their lawyer, Mellisa Anggraeni.

Contestants at the Miss Universe Indonesia 2023 beauty pageant take part in a press conference earlier this month after the winner had been crowned. Photo: Instagram/@missuniverse_id

Officials from the licence holder of Miss Universe in Indonesia, PT Capella Swastika Karya, insisted they had “to examine any scars, cellulite or tattoos on their bodies”, Anggraini said on Tuesday.

“The finalists were not aware that they would be subjected to such a procedure, as it was originally planned to be a fitting,” she said.

She said all 30 finalists in the pageant were subjected to the unexpected body check.

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The number of contestants coming forward with complaints could rise, she said, as more finalists have given her the authority to report the incidents.

Jakarta police spokesman Trunoyudo Wisnu Andiko told reporters on Tuesday that a police report had been filed by the contestants.

Police launched an investigation into the complaint using the report as “the basis for our further investigation”, he said.

Miss Indonesia 2022 walks onstage for the preliminary competition of the 71st Miss Universe pageant, held in New Orleans in January this year. Photo: Getty Images via AFP

Poppy Capella, national director of Miss Universe Indonesia, did not confirm or deny the allegations in an Instagram post, but expressed gratitude to those who had shared “their views, feelings and perspectives with us” over the incident.

“Your comments are not mere words: they are a potent force,” she wrote.

The Miss Universe Organisation said in a statement on Tuesday that it had been made aware of the allegations and it was looking into this matter.

“Miss Universe takes allegations of sexual abuse and impropriety extremely seriously. Providing a safe place for women is the Miss Universe Organisation’s utmost priority,” it said.

Contestants at the closing press conference of Miss Universe Indonesia 2023. Photo: Instagram/@missuniverse_id

Broadcaster Kompas TV showed the women holding a press conference about the allegations, hiding their identities as they spoke.

One of the complainants told the press conference that she had been asked to pose inappropriately, including by opening her legs.

“I felt like I was being peeked on, I was very confused and uncomfortable,” said the unidentified woman.

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Religious groups in Indonesia, the world’ most populous Muslim country, have in the past objected to beauty pageants.

The contest in Jakarta was held to select Indonesia’s entry for the annual Miss Universe competition to be held in El Salvador late this year.

The contest run by the Miss Universe Organisation, which was co-owned by Donald Trump between 1996 and 2002, has been running since 1952.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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