The US Marine Corps has demoted two members who made derogatory remarks about their female colleagues on a Facebook page. The crackdown followed after a scandal involving a group sharing nude photos of female Marines provoked an outcry in Congress.
Two Marines based in Camp Pendleton, California were reduced in rank and given 45 days of punitive duties for comments posted on the Facebook page “United States Grunt Corps,” said their unit commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Warren Cook of the 2nd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.
“It’s hard to say whether the punishment is appropriate without knowing more of the facts,” Colonel Don Christensen from Protect Our Defenders said in a statement. “That is one of the problems in addressing the issue. The military hides behind the Privacy Act to keep the American people from knowing the extent of crisis and its typically inept response.”
The USMC has updated its social media policy and cracked down on inappropriate online conduct after revelations that about 500 current and former Marines disparaged their female colleagues and shared their nude photos in a Facebook group called “Marines United.”
“This kind of behavior flies in the face of our service’s core values and this organization refuses to condone it,” said Cook, according to the Washington Post.
2 Calif.-based Marines were punished for derogatory remarks on social media re: female Marine, service leadership https://t.co/vPkor1uWJ2
— laurenking (@laurenking) April 7, 2017
Since news of the scandal broke, Marine Corps officials issued updated social media guidelines, and set up a tip-off line to receive calls from self-identified victims. Fifty-three victims responded since the scandal broke on March 4.
Hundreds of Marines are reportedly under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service over whether they violated the Uniformed Code of Military Justice in sharing nude photos without the women’s consent and harassing them online.
These actions aren’t enough for Christensen, however.
“What we do know is the Marines will likely never hold those at the top accountable who have known for years about this abusive culture but did nothing,” he said. “The generals who sat by silently are as equally culpable as the Marines posting abusive comments. Until leadership starts paying the price for their part in failing to act, nothing will really change.”
So far, investigators have identified who was behind 1,200 screen names, of which 725 belonged to active duty Marines, 150 were in the Marine Reserves and the rest were unidentifiable. It is unknown how many people accessed or commented on the photos. Of the active duty service members, 15 are being investigated for felony-level criminal activity related to sharing nude photos online without consent from the subjects of those pictures.
A majority of the photos were selfies and did not appear to have been taken surreptitiously, although it was not clear under what conditions they were shared.
On Wednesday, two female Marines spoke about the photo scandal to lawmakers in the Democratic Women’s Working Group.
Erika Butner, a Marine who recently left active duty, told the group that female recruits are taught from the beginning to accept an overtly sexist culture and that those involved in the photo-sharing scandal need to be publicly punished, the Washington Post reported.
“I’m not blaming the drill instructors,” she said. “They are preparing us to have thick skin because it is ingrained in this culture that they don’t know how to change it, so they go with the grain.”
Since the probe began, a Marine veteran who worked as government subcontractor was fired after being the first to post a Google Drive link to the photos, and a service member was fired for secretly taking photos of a woman picking up gear at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller said the offenders were a subset of the 30,000-member group but it still represented a troubling mindset of some of the Corps.
Since news of the scandal broke, Marine officials have created a task force to understand and combat the service’s cultural issues.
The unit also introduced new social media guidelines that prohibit the posting of discriminatory content online, and all Marines must sign an agreement that they have read and understood them.
In mid-March, Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) introduced the Servicemembers Intimate Privacy Protection Act to close the gap in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that would prohibit military service members from sharing intimate images without the consent of the individuals depicted.
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