This beauty pageant has turned ugly.
Two former contestants said yesterday that they were sexually harassed during the Miss Earth pageant that was held in the Philippines in late October to early November of this year.
Beauty queens Jaime VandenBerg (Miss Canada) and Abbey-Anne Gyles-Brown (Miss England) wrote on their Instagram accounts that one of the sponsors of the competition asked sexual favors from them during the pageant.
Both women also said that they informed the pageant’s organizers about the harasser but they alleged that their complaints fell on deaf ears.
According to its official website, Miss Earth is a 17-year-old beauty pageant that aims to “promote environmental awareness.”
Held annually, its organizer is a Filipino-owned company called Carousel Productions. According to them, its “partner organizations” include the United Nations, World Wildlife Foundation, and UN Women.
Despite the pageant’s impressive credentials, VandenBerg alleged that it failed to protect her from a sponsor who allegedly harassed her during the contest. She alleged that the organizers failed to make her feel safe that she chose not to finish the pageant.
She wrote: “The second day of the pageant I felt uncomfortable because a sponsor from the first night was given my phone number, without my consent, and was calling me asking for my hotel and room number. I gave my phone to a team manager so that she could resolve the issue, but it did not work.”
She also alleged that the sponsor asked for sexual favors.
She added: “He showed up to almost all of my events telling me he could take care of my needs and asked for sexual favours in exchange to get me further in the pageant. I was disgusted.”
VandenBerg said she reported the harassment to Carousel Productions’ Executive Vice President Lorraine Schuck. She also said that the “team managers,” members of Carousel who worked as their guardians, laughed off their concerns and told the contestants to “be nice.”
She said: “That night a few of us were given the opportunity to bring our concerns to Miss Lorraine [Schuck], the woman in charge of the pageant. I went through almost two weeks of sexual harassment before I (sic) anything was done about it. I was told he would not be around any more (sic), but I had advised Lorraine of several other issues that were not resolved.”
She also alleged that the pageants’ organizers confiscated her passport and other belongings without her approval. She wrote that she had to “fight” to get her passport back so she could leave the “unsafe situation” that she was in.
Shortly after VandenBerg’s post appeared, Gyles-Brown also posted on her Instagram account to say that she too was harassed during the pageant.
In her post, she wrote that she was sexually harassed by one of the sponsors who also asked sexual favors from her.
She said: “I enjoyed 50% of my trip but the other 50% was over shadowed by feeling exploited, vulnerable, unnerved & sexually harassed as I was approached by a sponsor on many occasions who asked for sexual favours in exchange for the [c]rown….The sponsor also tried to find out what hotel and room I was staying in.”
Echoing what VandenBerg wrote, Gyles-Brown said that the harassment was brought to the attention of the team managers who allegedly laughed off their predicament.
“Myself and Canada approached [t]eam [m]anagers to express our disgust only to be laughed at. Another official attendee of the night told me not to cry as I would ruin my makeup! There was no respect or compassion shown to myself or Jaimie [VandenBerg],” she wrote.
Guyles-Brown said the harassment, which left her traumatized and unable to sleep, also happened to other contestants. She also supported VandenBerg’s claim that Schuck was informed of the harassment but failed to protect them from it.
“I approached Lorraine Schuck who is the Vice President Of Miss Earth. [S]he informed me that the sponsor would be removed from all contact with contestants but this did not happen….The said sponsor in fact show up at a prelim event and also attended the Coronation night,” Guyles-Brown wrote.
In a phone interview with Coconuts Manila, Schuck said that she spoke with the sponsor who denied that he asked for sexual favors from the women.
The sponsor said that he was merely inviting them to Boracay but he wasn’t asking for anything in return.
Schuck said Guyles-Brown told her about the alleged sexual harassment over the phone during an event held in the Manila Yacht Club but that the contestant didn’t report the alleged harassment to the team managers, contrary to her post.
Schuck said: “I told her, ‘why didn’t you tell your team manager?’ I told her she should have talked to the team manager.”
According to Schuck, Guyles-Brown told her that she didn’t want to raise a fuss because she was afraid that she might lose “points” from the competition. Schuck said: “I told her that guy had nothing to do with the judges.”
Schuck then said she assured Guyles-Brown that the sponsor would no longer attend any Miss Earth events. However, Schuck said there was no way she could have stopped him from attending the coronation night because it was a public event.
Schuck also said that VandenBerg allegedly didn’t bring up her concerns about the alleged harassment.
“I got a different reaction. She’s a vegetarian and she did not like the food that was being served there. She also said that the use of plastic water bottles was not environmentally- friendly,” Schuck said.
Schuck said that they did everything to make VandenBerg and the other contestants feel safe.
“I don’t know what else we could have done to make her (VandenBerg) feel safe. There were policewomen who were with them because they were foreigners,” she said.
Schuck also said that Carousel’s team takes contestants’ passports only for safekeeping.
“It’s put in a safe. If they want it they can get it back but they have to sign a waiver that if they lose it it’s no longer our obligation.”
Of the two, Schuck was more surprised that Guyles-Brown posted about the allegations because she felt their phone conversation went well.
“I was shocked. [Our conversation] was so good,” she said.
Schuck was also quick to dismiss the pageant’s online critics.
“It’s making us (criticisms and controversies) even more popular,” she said.
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