The US Marine Corps is investigating a large group of active-duty Marines after it was discovered that nude photos of female troops had been shared on social media without their consent.
The allegations were first reported Saturday (4 March) by reporter Thomas James Brennan of The War Horse and published on Reveal. According to the report, a link of a Google Drive folder containing photos of female Marines in various states of undress was posted in a Facebook group with more than 30,000 members called Marines United.
The Google Drive folder, which was posted in January, contained photos, as well as the names, ranks and duty stations of the women pictured. The Washington Post reported that many of the photos included derogatory and harassing comments.
The shared drive was taken offline and the Naval Criminal Investigation Service is investigating "incidents related to the Marines United group," Marine Corps spokesman Captain Ryan Alvis told the Post. The Marine Corps did not confirm that hundreds of Marines were involved, as Brennan reported.
"The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about the allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website," Alvis said in a statement given to Military.com. "This behaviour destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual."
If the allegations are proven, active-duty Marines could be charged with violating UCMJ Article 134, general misconduct, for enlisted troops, and Article 133, conduct unbecoming, for officers. Marines found to have shared a photo taken without the subject's consent and under circumstances where there was a reasonable expectation of privacy could be charged with Article 120, broadcasting or distributing of indecent visual recording, Alvis said.
One Marine told The Washington Post that her own photos had been taken from her Instagram account and posted multiple times without her consent on Marines United. "Even if I could, I'm never re-enlisting," Marine Lance Corporal Marisa Woytek said. "Being sexually harassed online ruined the Marine Corps for me, and the experience."
Woytek was alerted to the hacked photos and was shown the comments that accompanied them. She told the Post that many of the remarks included allusions to sexual assault and rape. Woytek added that many of her female colleagues have experienced similar situations.
The scandal prompted Congressman Adam Smith to call for swift action. Smith, a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the alleged behaviour by Marines and Marine Corps veterans "degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable," Military.com reported.
"I expect that the Marine Corps Commandant, General Neller, will use his resources to fully investigate these acts and bring to justice any individuals who have broken the law and violated the rights of other service members," the Democrat said in a statement Sunday (5 March).
Smith added: "He must also ensure that the victims are taken care of. The military men and women who proudly volunteer to serve their country should not have to deal with this kind of reprehensible conduct."
Neller condemned the alleged behaviour in a statement, as did Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green. "For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect," Neller said. "The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect."