By: Emily Wang
In March of last year, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation into “Marines United,” a private Facebook group which shares explicit photos of women in service.
This social media group, which was comprised of 30,000 active duty and retired male Marines, Navy corpsmen and British Royal Marines, began its targeting of female soldiers in 2015; its revolting actions were finally uncovered when a retired Marine Corps sergeant, Thomas Brennan, immediately contacted the Marine Corps headquarters after discovering the Facebook page. The posts not only revealed pictures of servicewomen in various stages of undress, but also contained derogatory language and slurs towards these female victims, with comments like “take her out back and pound her out.”
Days after Brennan reported his findings to headquarters, members of the Facebook group who found out that they had been exposed quickly moved their photos to other websites -- Dropbox, Google Drive, and Anon-IB -- in an attempt to scavenge and preserve the nudes.
Unfortunately, this incident is not the first of its kind. In 2012, an Army sergeant at West Point was discovered secretly videotaping women in bathroom and shower areas. Although he pleaded guilty and received a sentencing of 33 months in jail, his actions reveal that this intentional violation of basic human rights to privacy is not limited to just the Marine Corps, but extends to all military service branches.
These actions, though disturbing, are just a branch stemming from the tree of rape culture rooted in military history. Having commenced as institutions for boys only, these service academies began admitting females only a few decades ago, with the United States Military Academy at West Point admitting its first class of female trainees in July of 1976. As such, many men are predisposed to viewing women in an “us versus them” lenses, with some even being told to stay away from female soldiers -- “don’t talk to them, don’t sit near them in the mess, don’t breathe near them” -- in fear of getting into trouble.
In fact, a Rand Corporation study estimated that over 20,000 service members had been sexually assaulted in 2013 -- but beyond mere statistics, the more disconcerting issue lies with the response of the military. Instead of punishing sexual predators, the military often discharged victims who filed complaints regarding sexual harassment, finding it easier to side with the perpetrator than to aid the victim to recovery.
This incident of photo-sharing could hurt recruitment of women into service academies and blacken the name of anyone associated with the American military if this situation is not handled properly. As of now, the military is taking steps to punish the offenders in an attempt to change the misogynistic culture of the military. Since May of last year, 30 Marines were identified by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for online misconduct that were not labelled as felony crimes. Even more, five Marines have been punished in connection with the investigations, receiving nonjudicial punishment for their actions. Is this enough? Will it be effective in changing military culture? Voice your thoughts on this.
In addition, Representative Martha McSally introduced a bill in May to prevent these actions from happening again. Passing through the House on a vote of 418-0, this bill would prohibit non-consensual distribution of intimate images in the military in the aftermath of the Marine Corps’s nude-photo-sharing scandal. By amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to punish violators by court martial, Congress hopes to send a message about the importance of immediately reforming the culture of sexual violence that pervades the military.
Military leaders have also voiced their concerns. James Mattis, a former general and the Secretary of Defense, states, “We will not excuse or tolerate such behaviour if we are to uphold our values and maintain our ability to defeat the enemy on the battlefield.” Even more, Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, states that "for anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect."
In order for this “respect” to be reestablished, or in some cases, built, the military must no longer cover up acts of indecency and must collectively regulate and punish those who deliberately choose to infringe upon the rights of others. Females who serve work equally as hard and sacrifice their lives for the same objective as their male colleagues: to protect the freedom of the country. They cannot be treated as second-class citizens. Simply put, members of the military must work to combat the invisible enemy of sexual discrimination and erase the normalized culture of female degradation within service.