October 21, 2011 12:47
Contestants of an international beauty pageant hosted by Korea were sexually harassed and offered places in the competition in exchange for sex, contestants claim.
Amy Willerton (19), who competed in the 2011 Miss Asia Pacific World in Korea from Oct. 1 to 15, was quoted by the Sun on Wednesday as saying, "I had two of the organisers sexually assault me -- one tried to pull my top down."
"Girls were pulled aside and told they knew what they had to do if they wanted to win -- we all knew they meant sex," Willerton said.
About 50 contestants participated in the pageant, the first of its kind, in Seoul, Daegu and Busan between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15. The top prize was US$20,000.
Contestants were put in a hotel without enough beds and fed just one meal per day, Willerton said. An optional "talent round" was won by Miss Venezuela, who had not even entered that section of the competition.
Willerton said she reported the sexual harassment to police but the organizers bribed them before her eyes. "When the police arrived they called in one of the chairmen of the pageant who actually got his wallet out straight away and we were all pushed back by the organisers so we couldn't speak," she told the BBC. "Our translator would not translate for us, so we were completely helpless."
Officials denied the charges but confirmed the broad outline of Willerton's narrative. "There was a mistake in regional organizing committees making hotel reservations," organizer Choi Young-chul told the Chosun Ilbo.
Asked about the sexual harassment charge, he claimed foreigners "may have misinterpreted Korean-style greetings." As for the scanty provision of meals, he said some of the contestants "did not have a chance to eat due to the tight schedule." But he was separately quoted by the BBC as saying, "There were like 150 lunch boxes, she might be not eating on this for different taste."
In an e-mail to competitors he denied all responsibility but signed off saying, "In conclusion, it's fully my mistake and fault, I had only vision but forget reality. I am terribly sorry what happened here in Korea."
A police officer from Bukbu Police Station in Daegu who responded to the complaint told the Chosun Ilbo, "I explained to the girl who called police how to file a sexual harassment complaint later." He denied the bribery allegation, saying he was only given a business card, not money, by the organizer.
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