US marine nude photo scandal grows bigger

Attorney Gloria Allred represents two female United States Marines, active duty Marine Marisa Woytek (left) and former Marine Erika Butner (right) during a press conference concerning their personal photographs being posted without their consent to a
Attorney Gloria Allred represents two female United States Marines, active duty Marine Marisa Woytek (left) and former Marine Erika Butner (right) during a press conference concerning their personal photographs being posted without their consent to a "Marine Unit" Facebook page. PHOTO: REUTERS

Female staff whose pictures were used without their consent urged to come forward

WASHINGTON • The Pentagon faced a burgeoning scandal as more pictures of naked female service members apparently shared without their consent by male colleagues have turned up on secret social media sites.

The Marine Corps' top officer last Friday urged female marines whose photos were shared by a members-only Facebook group of active-duty and retired marines to come forward and cooperate with military investigators.

"I understand why that might be a bit of a reach for them right now," said General Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, during a Pentagon news conference. "The only way that there's going to be accountability in this is if somebody comes forward and tells us what happened to them."

As reports spread that illicit images may have also been shared on other social media sites, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis harshly criticised such violations of privacy and betrayals of trust and signalled that he would hold military and civilian officials accountable for cracking down on the abuses.

"The purported actions of civilian and military personnel on social media websites, including some associated with the Marines United (Facebook) group and possibly others, represent egregious violations of the fundamental values we uphold at the Department of Defence," Mr Mattis said in a statement.

Business Insider, an online news site, said the message board was threaded with conversations among men, many of whom asked for naked photographs of specific women, often identifying them by name and where they were stationed.

"The chain of command is taking all appropriate action to investigate potential misconduct and to maintain good order and discipline throughout our armed forces," he added.

"Lack of respect for the dignity and humanity of fellow members of the Department of Defence is unacceptable and counter to unit cohesion. 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."

Most of the focus has fallen on the Marine Corps - not only because of the Facebook group, but also because of its warrior culture and the fact that it has the smallest percentage of women among the services. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has begun an investigation into the site.

Business Insider, an online news site, said the message board was threaded with conversations among men, many of whom asked for naked photographs of specific women, often identifying them by name and where they were stationed.

Investigating the abuse, however, will require the Marines to win the trust of women whose photos and personal details were posted in the group. So far, fewer than 10 women have taken their complaints to the Marines, Gen Neller said.

And despite his call for cooperation from the victims, it remained unclear how many women were even aware their photos had been posted, since the site was members- only and now has been taken down.

Gen Neller said he was establishing a task force to examine what changes need to be made to training and policy to combat the "subculture that may have given rise to this". He said the task force would include female marines.

"I'm not going to lay this off on anybody else, on the society or anybody else," he said. "This is our problem and I own it. We own it."

He also pledged to any women who lodged complaints that "the chain of command is obligated and required by order, rule and regulation and by my direct directions to make sure that they're protected".

Gen Neller has a long military record, including service in the invasion of Panama, operations in Haiti and the war in Iraq. But he has little familiarity with social media - which he acknowledged might have made him slow to respond to the problem of misogynist websites.

"I don't have a Facebook page; I don't do social media," he said. "I'm generationally challenged here, all right."

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'US marine nude photo scandal grows bigger'. Print Edition | Subscribe