“It was at that time that he turned to me and embraced me and gave me a kiss on the lips. I remember feeling kind of embarrassed, like wanting to turn and wipe my mouth, like, What just happened?” Temple Taggart McDowell told NBC News as she recalled the time when she fell victim to sexual misconduct. Who is she? And who was the alleged abuser? Temple is Miss Utah USA 1997 and the person she has alleged is none other than the former owner of MUO and current President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump.
The year 2017 was all about women coming forward and speaking out about sexual abuse or misconduct. The #metoo movement came down like an avalanche on powerful men in the United States who misused their power for abusing their subordinates. After former Miss America, Gretchen Carlson, took down the Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, it opened a floodgate of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men working in various industries across the USA. This wave of bravery did not even spare the President as more than a dozen women have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. But the pageant world was the one area which took the biggest hit in this scandal because some of these accusers happen to be former Miss USA and Miss Universe contestants.
One of the biggest scandals of Trump’s presidential campaign was when his 2005’s interview on the Howard Stern Show that went viral. In a shameful admission he described his practice of walking in unannounced way while pageant contestants were naked or partially clothed: “I’ll go backstage before a show, and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else….You know, no men are anywhere. And I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant. And therefore I’m inspecting it…. Is everyone OK? You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible-looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that. But no, I’ve been very good.” Donald Trump said. At that time people took it as a joke and let it slide. As the number of women accusing Trump increased, more and more number of former pageant contestants started coming forwards with their stories of dressing room encounters with Donald Trump. Even though only a few of these accusers are going public with the allegations or suing him for the same, the number of women who have anonymously accused Trump is also staggering. This even includes contestants of Miss Teen USA pageant who were not even 18 years old when the incident happened. Mariah Billado, former Miss Vermont Teen USA recalled “I remember putting on my dress really quick, because I was like, Oh my god, there’s a man in here. Trump”. As horrible as it sounds, this was just the tip of the iceberg as more serious allegations came from some other former pageant contestants.
Temple Taggart McDowell accused trump of unwantedly kissing her and embracing her when she met him at the backstage of Miss USA 1997. Ninni Laaksonen, Miss Finland 2006, accused Trump of grabbing her bottom during promotional activities of Miss Universe 2006. Miss Laaksonen said the incident occurred moments before she appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman with three other contestants and Donald Trump. “Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt. He really grabbed my butt. I don’t think anybody saw it but I flinched and thought: What is happening?” she revealed her account to a local Finnish newspaper. Another former Miss USA contestant Cassandra Searles, Miss Washington USA 2013, told Rolling Stone that she was fondled by Trump during the Miss USA pageant.
The year 2015 became a turning point in the history of Miss Universe pageant as Donald Trump finally decided to sell it. The pageant was acquired by WME IMG (now known as Endeavor) led by Ari Emanuel. Although WME IMG is trying to transform the Miss Universe and USA pageants into celebration of women empowerment, this deal did not start that way. Ari Emanuel has been a friend with Donald Trump for a long time. Back in the early days of Trump’s campaign, there were rumours of his alleged behaviour with pageant contestants. A reputed news outlet even claims that the only reason Ari Emanuel pushed for the acquisition of MUO was to distance Donald Trump from a potential scandal. But the job of a President invites public scrutiny and those allegations became public anyway.
As dark as the past was, there is still a lot of hope for the future. We must remember that Donal Trump is not the owner of MUO anymore. The new owners of Miss Universe are treating the pageant with respect and dignity it deserves. More importantly we shall not forget that MUO functioned independently from the Trump Organisation and these incidents were not frequent at the MUO’s pageants. Out of all the Trump business ventures Miss Universe and Miss USA have suffered the largest amount of damage due to toxic campaign and presidency of Mr. Trump. A lot of people are calling for boycotting the Miss USA and Miss Universe telecast because of this scandal. Due to this, both the pageants have suffered massive drop in TV ratings. If this trend continues, it will become difficult for pageants to stay on the US Network TV. Millions of girls around the world dream about being part of MUO’s pageants. Dreams of these girls shall not be crushed because of irresponsible comments made by a former reality show star. Pageants are beyond Trump. They existed even before Trump came into picture and shall survive even after the disaster of Trump presidency. MUO is moving in a new direction and as loyal pageant fans we must stand in their support. Let’s hope that this story shall have a happy ending. The accusers shall get the due justice and MUO shall get back the respect and reputation it once had.
Article by Jinendra Aherkar