General Robert Neller, commandant of the US Marine Corps, has condemned troops who allegedly used a secret Facebook group to share nude photos of women, including female marines, without their consent.
In a video message released Tuesday (7 March), Neller also urged victims, who believe they have been harassed or abused, to come forward.
Addressing the behaviour of marines on social media, Neller said troops accused of sharing the nude photos "acted selfishly and unprofessionally". He noted marines should treat each other with "dignity and respect" and that the Marine Corps does not discriminate against anyone who strives to be a marine.
"Let me cut to the chase. When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don't think such behaviour is that of true warriors or war fighters," he said in the nearly four-minute video. Neller added that cohesion and trust among troops is vital to their success. He later called those involved "embarrassing to our Corps, to our families and to the nation."
In a statement released to ABC News, a Marine Corps spokesperson said: "This behaviour destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual. The Marine Corps does not condone this sort of behaviour, which undermines our core values."
Nellers' remarks come on the heels of allegations that nude photos and personal information of female marines and veterans were being shared on the Facebook group Marines United. A report by The War Horse revealed a Google Docs folder had been shared in the group, which had more than 30,000 members.
According to The Hill, some of the photos were allegedly taken without the victims' knowledge or were taken by the victims but were meant to stay private. The photos received comments from the group members, including threats of rape.
An unnamed Marine Corps official told CBS News on Sunday (5 March) that when the news first emerged and officers began asking questions, "within hours the site was gone". The official, who confirmed that the Naval Criminal Investigation Service is investigating, said, "Whoever runs it kept moving it, making it hard to even find what the scope of it was."
Thomas Brennan, a former marine and the journalist who first reported on the scandal, told ABC News he knew one of the women targeted online. He said the page included the names, ranks and duty stations of dozens of female marines.
"That's an easily weaponisable collection of images," Brennan said. "That can destroy their lives, absolutely destroy their lives."
Neller vowed the Marine Corps would survive the scandal. "We will get through this if we are all in together. Treating your fellow marines with the respect they deserve. I need all to be a marine. To do your job."