Nude Photo Scandal Reaches Beyond the Corps

The social media scandal in which male US marines posted nude pictures of female marines without their knowledge through a private Facebook group is just one instance of a problem that involves all the military services.

The Marine Corps story began to draw broad public attention on Mar. 4 when Thomas Brennan, a journalist who runs a non-profit organization called The War Horse, reported that male marines had posted nude and sexually provocative photos of more than two dozen female marines on the Facebook group Marines United. In addition to the photos, Brennan reports that the posts drew numerous obscene comments from other marines belonging to the group, “many of whom used their personal Facebook accounts that include their names, ranks, and duty stations.” In one case, a male marine followed a female marine around an installation to take pictures of her secretly. According to Brennan, that marine was discharged from Active Duty.

On March 9, Business Insider reported that, separate from the Marines United group, “hundreds of nude photos of female service members from every military branch have been posted to an image-sharing message board that dates back to at least May.” The site shares photos of Active Duty women without their knowledge, in many cases with personal information included, in partial undress or completely nude, according to Business Insider. The site refers to such images as “wins” and includes obscene commentary from male military members about their female colleagues.

The revelations have prompted criticism and comment from congressional and military leaders. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif), who alerted Congress to online sexual harassment of female marines in 2013, issued a statement on March 5 saying, “No one who organized, contributed to, or commented on the site should be serving in our military.” She also called on the military leadership to “do everything in their power to provide whatever support is required to the victims of these heinous crimes and to hold accountable those responsible.”

Outrage on the issue has been bipartisan. “Degrading behavior of this kind is entirely unacceptable,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in a March 5 statement. “I expect the Marine Corps to investigate this matter fully with appropriate consequences for those who willingly participated.”

The Marine Corps also issued a statement on March 5, saying “this behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual. The Marine Corps does not condone this sort of behavior, which undermines its core values.” The statement went on to say, “allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and handled at the appropriate judicial or administrative forum.” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is scheduled to testify on the matter before a partially closed session of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

On Friday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a statement saying the alleged behaviors “represent egregious violations of the fundamental values we uphold” and that he is “taking all appropriate action to investigate potential misconduct.”

After the Business Insider revelations, the Air Force told CNN that it was “looking further into the matter and taking it seriously, but cannot immediately verify any details about the site, the source of its content, or whether there has been any involvement by any airmen.” Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein said, in a March 10 statement, “when airmen fail to live up to our core values … the reputation of all who serve and have served is tarnished. These values apply to behavior on social media. Any conduct or participation in activities, whether online or offline, that does not adhere to these core values is NOT acceptable.”