Security concerns, harassment and mental abuse: The implosion of Miss USA Organization

Miss Teen USA 2023, UmaSofia Srivastava and Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt recently resigned their crowns amid accusations of mistreament and mismanagement by the Miss USA Organization  (Getty Images for Supermodels Unl)
Miss Teen USA 2023, UmaSofia Srivastava and Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt recently resigned their crowns amid accusations of mistreament and mismanagement by the Miss USA Organization (Getty Images for Supermodels Unl)

The winners of the prestigious Miss USA crown are viewed as celebrities in America, with queues of adoring fans lining up for selfies and their presence sought at events such as red carpets, fashion shows , opening galas, and even major sporting events.

During their 12-month reign, the women are typically – according to organization management – surrounded by teams of bodyguards, handlers, and social media content producers, to ensure that the faces of the esteemed brand are protected and well looked after at public events.

But in recent weeks, Miss USA Organization and its management has garnered unwanted attention after its top title-holders suddenly announced their resignations amid accusations of unprofessional behavior, workplace bullying and harassment from management.

Earlier this month, Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt, and Miss Teen USA 2023, UmaSofia Sravistava, issued lengthy statements online detailing their decisions to resign. Miss Sravistava wrote that her personal values “no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

In early May, Miss Teen USA 2023, UmaSofia Sravistava (left), and Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt (right), issued lengthy statements online detailing their decisions to resign their respective titles (Getty Images for Supermodels Unl)
In early May, Miss Teen USA 2023, UmaSofia Sravistava (left), and Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt (right), issued lengthy statements online detailing their decisions to resign their respective titles (Getty Images for Supermodels Unl)

It is the first time in 70 years of the competition, which was previously owned by Donald Trump, that both winning queens have resigned their positions.

Claims of mistreatment and “mental abuse” have been leveled by the mothers of Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, and former employees, against the organization’s president Laylah Rose.

Ms Voigt and Ms Sravistava are bound by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with Miss USA, and have not commented publicly.

Two sources close to the organization and the women’s mothers, Jackeline Voight and Barbara Sravistava, told The Independent that not only was inadequate support provided for the beauty pageant queens but at times their concerns were actively dismissed.

The resignations

The unprecedented resignations of both Miss USA and Miss Teen USA occurred just days apart earlier this month, with both women posting similar but separate statements to their official Instagram pages.

On May 6, Noelia Voigt, 24, the first Venezuelan-American woman to win Miss USA, posted a message which highlighted the importance of prioritizing mental health. Eagle-eyed fans spotted that the capitalized first letter of each sentence in the statement spelled out the sentence: “I AM SILENCED”.

Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava, the first Mexican-Indian American to win the title, said that she would remember her time as Miss NJ Teen USA “fondly” but that “I find my values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

“After months of grappling with this decision, I have made the choice to resign from the title of Miss Teen USA 2023,” the 17-year-old wrote. “I am grateful for all the support from my family, my state directors, my sister queens, and the fans who have cheered me on since I won my state title.”

When a title-holder steps down, or in some cases wins a higher title such as Miss Universe, the position is then offered to the competition runner-up.

However, Stephanie Skinner, who won second place in Miss Teen USA 2023, released a statement saying she would not be accepting the title, noting that she was unclear on the circumstances of either Ms Voight or Ms Sravistava’s departures.

The role of Miss Teen USA 2023 remains vacant while Savannah Gankiewicz – Miss Hawaii, and the runner up for Miss USA 2023 - has accepted the title from Ms Voight.

The accusations

Ms Voigt and Ms Sravistava’s announcements came on the heels of the resignation of Miss USA social media director, Claudia Michelle, who voiced several concerns about her “disheartening” experience with the organisation.

Miss Michelle became close friends with both title holders during her time in the role.

In a resignation post, also posted to Instagram, Ms Michelle said that she had first-hand experience of the poor treatment of Ms Voigt and Ms Sravistava and their families. “I disavow workplace toxicity and bullying of any kind,” she wrote.

“I feel the way current management speaks about their titleholders is unprofessional and inappropriate,” her resignation post stated.

She added that “not enough time and attention” was given to the teenage queen , Ms Sravistava.

“I don’t believe in taking sides. I believe in telling the truth. I believe Noelia and Uma’s mental health and happiness has taken a toll and I cannot remain silent about that,” she said.

She also accused the organization of sidelining the personal causes of the title-holders, such as mental health, child welfare and female empowerment. Ms Michelle said that she also not bee paid for several months, and had been micromanaged.

Unwanted advances

Concerns about security were also raised by Ms Michelle, as well as Ms Voigt herself on multiple occasions, but nothing was done.

A source close to the matter told The Independent that they had attended several meetings where Ms Voigt had brought up security concerns, and those were “basically dismissed” as though it “wasn’t a big deal”.

These concerns came to a head during an incident in December 2023, during a Christmas parade event in Sarasota, Florida, whenMs Voigt was allegedly the victim of “inappropriate advances” from the driver of the vehicle she was riding in.

The driver had reportedly suggested that he wanted a relationship with the beauty queen, telling her that, as an older man, he had money. Noelia had been unable to escape the vehicle and the designated handler traveling with her had allegedly not intervened.

Ms Michelle and a separate source close to the matter shared her account with The Independent . Her mother has also previously spoken about the alleged incident, claiming that her daughter did not even receive an apologyfrom Miss USA management or Ms Rose.

“She literally couldn’t escape it. What was she going to do, step out of the car and walk away in the middle of the parade? She was stuck,” Ms Michelle said. “The role of the handler in the pageant world is to almost be like a bodyguard in the sense where they’re the eyes, ears and voice for Noelia – to kind of speak up,” she said.

“It would have been in that handler’s best interest to speak up and say something, you know, ‘that’s not appropriate, that’s not okay,’ right then and there, and squash it out.”

The incident of unwanted and inappropriate advances in Sarasota was “thankfully” isolated, Ms Michelle added.

‘Mental abuse’

“That woman tormented them daily and threatened them,” UmaSofia’s mother, Barbara Stravistava, told The Independent, when asked about Miss USA president, Laylah Rose.

She and Jackeline Voigt both said that from the moment their daughters claimed the titles there had been a serious lack of communication with Miss USA management, which had often left their children confused and upset.

There had been multiple instances of this, Ms Voigt claimed.

Former Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt, was not provided with the level of support that title holders should expect to receive, a source told The Independent (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Former Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt, was not provided with the level of support that title holders should expect to receive, a source told The Independent (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“They didn’t know what they were doing wrong, why they were getting such bad texts and emails. You know, like, not normal. Normally you talk to a person,” she told The Independent. “They didn’t know why they got in trouble so often when they didn’t even discuss rules. It was not much communication, but when it was, it was bad.”

“The job of their dreams turned out to be a nightmare,” Ms Srivastava told ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA). “It’s not about what they didn’t get in prizes, it’s about how they were ill-treated abused bullied and cornered.”

Ms Michelle told The Independent that Ms Rose would often “ghost” Ms Voigt for long periods of time. She claimed that the president also “gaslit” the the 24-year-old by comparing her to previous title holders.

The toxic conditions had gotten so bad that at one point Ms Sravistava’s parents had not let her talk to Ms Rose, the New York Post reported. Barbara Sravistava described the alleged treatment of the young women by Ms Rose as akin to “mental abuse”.

‘Worse management than state-level pageants’

Ms Rose fundamentally failed in her duties as organization leader, not arranging events or accommodation, and did not provide the level of support to Ms Voigtthat title holders should expect to receive, Ms Michelle said.

“Miss USA should be booked and busy and going to all of the important events – an equal mix of philanthropic events, red-carpet events... whatever it is.”

After winning the title in September 2023, Noelia was promised an apartment in Miami, a full team of stylists, make-up artists and social media content producers as previous Miss USA title-holders had received, according to Ms Michelle.

Despite breaking her lease in Utah, a move that cost Ms Voigt thousands of dollars, she said, nothing was provided for six months.

Instead, she was stuck “twiddling her thumbs” at her boyfriend’s college apartment in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and her family’s house in Sarasota, Florida.

Being crowned Miss USA automatically qualifies the winner to be America’s entry into the Miss Universe beauty pageant, which sees entries from all over the world. Queens spend the entire year preparing for a chance at the title.

But in the time between leaving Utah and getting to Miami, Ms Voigt had been using her own personal sponsors and coaches from her days as Miss Utah.

In addition, Ms Michelle claimed thatJackeline Voigt had to accompany her to the Miss Universe competition in the place of Ms Rose. Attending the Miss Universe with their national queen is a contractual obligation made by the presidents of the global Miss Universe franchises, she added.

Ms Rose was unavailable for the competition, though Ms Michelle acknowledged that this was due to personal circumstances.

Miss USAs are typically treated like “celebrities” but the former employee said this was not so.

“[Ms Rose] did not have the funds to run the organization. It’s really that plain and simple,” Ms Michelle told The Independent. “I’ve seen state pageants run better than the way Miss USA was being handled and run under the current direction.”

Calls for change

The mothers and Ms Michelle have called for Ms Rose to step down as Miss USA president. Ms Rose owns the license to the company which falls under the Miss Universe Organization umbrella.

Both organizations need to be accountable for the decline of Ms Voigt and Ms Sravistava’s mental health, Ms Michelle told The Independent. Both women are much happier since relinquishing their respective titles and are now focussed on their personal life goals, she added.

“It’s bigger than Noelia and Uma,” she said. “They made a really, really tough decision. I mean, Noelia has worked for over seven years to get this title. Uma is one of the best teen titleholders I’ve seen and I’ve been in this industry for a while.

“These are girls that work hard, they don’t just expect everything to be handed out to them. So for them to do this, they’re also thinking of the future state and national contestants.

“Because as long as Laylah is in the position that she’s in, future Miss USAs and state title holders are going to be subjected to the same treatment.

“So it’s bigger than just the two of them…it’s making sure that leaders in positions, especially in women empowerment organizations, are held accountable. And that’s not what’s happening right now.”

Since the accusations have emerged, the CW Network, which airs the contests, has said that it is reevaluating its relationship with Miss USA.

The Independent has made repeated attempts to contact the Miss USA Organization and the Miss Universe Organization, which encompasses the Miss USA competitions about the allegations but has received no response.

In a statement to ABC News’ Good Morning America, a representative for the Miss USA Organization said: “We are committed to fostering a healthy, communicative and supportive environment for all contestants, state titleholders, national titleholders and staff.”