Miss Universe cuts ties with Indonesia and Malaysia organiser over sexual abuse claims

Six contestants had earlier filed a police complaint alleging they were subjected to topless 'body checks'

Miss Universe Indonesia 2023 Fabienne Groeneveld. Photo: @missuniverse_id / Instagram
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The Miss Universe Organisation has severed ties with organisers of the Miss Universe Indonesia pageant, and announced that the coming Miss Universe Malaysia is cancelled.

The move comes days after six Miss Universe Indonesia contestants filed a police complaint alleging that they were subjected to sexual harassment during the competition held in Jakarta from July 29 to August 3.

In their complaint, the women alleged that organisers of the pageant conducted topless "body checks", telling contestants the reason was "to examine any scars, cellulite or tattoos on their bodies". The "examinations" took place in a room with more than 20 people, including men, they allege.

Five were photographed topless, their lawyer Mellisa Anggraeni said.

Both Miss Universe Indonesia and Miss Universe Malaysia franchises are owned by singer and entrepreneur Poppy Capella, who also serves as national director for both pageants.

"In light of what we have learnt took place at Miss Universe Indonesia, it has become clear that this franchise has not lived up to our brand standards, ethics, or expectations as outlined in our franchise handbook and code of conduct," Miss Universe posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Providing a safe place for women is the Miss Universe Organisation's utmost priority, and the events at this particular pageant are diametrically opposed to everything we stand for as an organisation.

"To the women who came forward from the Indonesia pageant – we're sorry that this was your experience with our organisation. We appreciate your bravery in speaking out, and we pledge to do better in the future."

No measurements such as height, weight, or body dimensions are required to be taken to join a Miss Universe pageant worldwide, it added.

Capella, who became the national director after a controversial round of bidding last year, has denied her involvement in the physical examination during the contest and said that she is against any kind of “violence and sexual harassment".

“I, as the National Director and as the owner of the Miss Universe Indonesia licence, was not involved at all and have never known, ordered, requested or allowed anyone who played a role and participated in the Miss Universe Indonesia 2023 process to commit violence or sexual harassment through body checking,” she posted on social media.

Hengki Haryadi, the Jakarta police director for general crimes, said police are still examining surveillance cameras from the scene. Investigators will interview the victims and provide psychological assistance, he said.

Miss Universe Indonesia has been rocked by controversy. Earlier this year, Yayasan Puteri Indonesia, which has been sending Indonesian representatives to the Miss Universe pageant for 30 years, claimed it was being sidelined despite years of collaborating with Miss Universe's previous owners.

YPI posted on Instagram saying it was "shocked" to learn that another company had been granted the licence and that it was "disappointed" by the lack of transparency in the bidding process.

Different entities can own the right to host national pageants. For example, Yugen Group in Dubai owns the rights to Miss Universe Bahrain, Miss Universe Pakistan and Miss Universe Egypt.

In its statement, Miss Universe said "arrangements" would be made for the Miss Universe Indonesia 2023 winner. Model and business student Fabienne Groeneveld, 23, beat 29 contestants to the crown at the glittering ceremony attended by reigning Miss Universe R'Bonney Gabriel.

One of the longest-running and most popular beauty pageants in the world, Miss Universe will hold its 72nd event in El Salvador on November 18. More than 80 contestants are expected to take part, where Gabriel, who is from the US, will crown her successor.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 7:35 AM