Accounts of ‘body checks’ at Miss Universe Indonesia shock the nation as contestants speak out

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Their dreams of representing Indonesia in the 2023 Miss Universe pageant turned to nightmares when they were forced to undergo “body checks” in front of local organizers. Now seven contestants have filed complaints with the police, accusing the organizers of sexual harassment, their lawyer said Tuesday.

During the July 29-Aug. 3 Miss Universe Indonesia contest in the capital of Jakarta — and ahead of the show’s Grand Final event — the contestants were told to strip to their underwear for “body checks” for scars or cellulite, said lawyer Melissa Anggraini.

The checks took place in a ballroom at the downtown Sari Pacific Hotel, where the contest was held, with about two dozen people present, including men. Five of the contestants said they were then photographed topless, Anggraini said.

“We have obtained some evidences, even videos showing that the organizer had carried out ‘body checks’,” she added.

One of her clients, 23-year-old model Priskila Ribka Jelita who represented West Java province in the pageant, recounted her “body check” ordeal in an interview with The Associated Press.

“When they asked me to open my bra … I was shocked! But I couldn’t speak or refuse,” she said. “When I tried to cover my breast with my hand, I was even scolded and yelled at.”

“I was totally confused, nervous and humiliated, especially when I was told to lift my left leg on the chair” for an inspection up the inside of her leg, Jelita said.

After news of the “body checks” leaked out, the Miss Universe Organization cut its ties with its Indonesian franchisee. The New York-based organization said in a statement late Saturday that it had decided to sever ties with PT Capella Swastika Karya, the franchisee, and its National Director Poppy Capella.

“In light of what we have learned took place at Miss Universe Indonesia, it has become clear that this franchise has not lived up to our brand standards and ethics,” the Miss Universe Organization said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

The organization also said it would be cancelling this year’s Miss Universe Malaysia as the Indonesian franchisee also holds the license for the neighboring country’s pageant.

It said it would make arrangements for the Indonesia 2023 title holder, Fabienne Nicole Groeneveld, who won in Jakarta, to compete in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant, to be held in El Salvador later this year.

Groeneveld was not among the contestants who filed a complaint.

Jelita’s mother, Maria Napitupulu, said she found out what happened to her daughter only after reading her daughter’s post on Instagram, where she recounted the ordeal.

“It’s very sad and this really hurts me,” Napitupulu said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

In March, Indonesian beauty company PT Capella Swastika Karya took over the license for Miss Universe Indonesia from Yayasan Putri Indonesia, or YPI, an Indonesian foundation that had held the license for 30 years.

Capella, a former singer and the franchisee’s manager, could not be reached for comment.

In a post on the franchisee’s Instagram account, Capella on Saturday denied she had any knowledge of or was in any way involved in any “body checking” of the contestants. She also said that she was against every form of “violence and sexual harassment.”

In its statement, the Miss Universe Organization said no measurements of height, weight, or body dimensions are required to join the pageant, and thanked the Indonesian contestants who have shown “bravery in speaking out.”

“To the women who came forward from the Indonesian pageant, we are sorry that this was your experience with our organization,” it said, adding that it was also evaluating current franchise agreements and policies to prevent this type of conduct from occurring again.

Since the “body checks” news broke, controversy over the pageant has been mounting in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. The country has a reputation as a tolerant, pluralist society that respects freedom of expression.

Most Muslims in Indonesia, a secular country of 277 million people, are moderate, but a small hard-line fringe has become more vocal in recent years.

In 2013, several conservative Muslim groups staged a massive protest against the Miss World competition in Indonesia, prompting the organizers to move the contest from Jakarta to the resort island of Bali. All of the more than 130 contestants were required to wear Bali’s traditional long sarongs instead of the bikinis that have historically been a symbol of the competition.

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Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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