Miss Universe Indonesia: Contestants allege sexual abuse

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Several Miss Universe Indonesia candidates have registered police complaints accusing organisers of sexual abuse.

The contestants were asked to take off their tops for “body checks” and photographs two days before the finals on 3 August, one of their lawyers said.

The organisers allegedly told the women they had “to examine any scars, cellulite or tattoos on their bodies”.

“I feel that my rights have been violated,” one of the contestants said.

“It has affected me mentally. I have had trouble sleeping,” she said, speaking to the media, alongside other complainants, earlier this week. Local television blurred their faces in the broadcasts to protect their identities.

Mellisa Anggraeni, a lawyer who represents three of the contestants who complained, said many others will come forward.

Police in capital Jakarta issued a statement saying they would investigate further. The Miss Universe Indonesia Organisation will investigate the allegations, its owner celebrity Poppy Capella said in a statement. The global Miss Universe Organisation also said it was looking into the matter and that it takes allegations of sexual impropriety “very seriously”.

While body checks are normal in the country, contestants are not usually asked to strip naked, said Maria Harfanti, a former Miss Indonesia. She added that organisers also often ask for the contestants’ BMI or body mass index to check their body proportions.

In Monday’s press conference, one the complainants said that the body checks were done in a closed room, but there were some men also present. The door was not completely shut, giving people outside a view, she added.

While beauty pageants have long been allowed in Indonesia, organisers are careful not to offend conservative sections of the society. In 2013, the Miss World pageant cancelled its bikini round when it was staged in the largely Muslim nation.

Miss Universe, which is now on its 73rd edition, is popular in South-east Asia, especially in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, where winners go on to become celebrities and social media influencers.

Its owner Anne Jakrajutatip a Thai transgender woman and media mogul, who has sought to revamp the brand to make it more inclusive by allowing married women, transgender women and single mothers to compete.

Pijar Anugerah is a reporter with BBC News Indonesia

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