The Pentagon is investigating hundreds of Marines who allegedly shared naked photographs of their colleagues on social media, as an explosive report by Thomas Brennan of The War Horse shows, but the top leadership of the Marine Corps has only itself to blame.
The scandal has apparently shaken the entire Marine Corps. But in reality, the problem has been known for many years — and the Corps has done little to address it.
Long before Brennan revealed the inner workings of a Facebook group with 30,000 members, which posted nude photos of female service members, or photos stolen from Instagram accounts without consent — often with their personal information attached — an article published by the website Task & Purpose revealed similar behaviour that was happening online more than two years ago.
At the time of that article, a Marine Corps spokesperson offered a rather muted response and did not allow further questions. Now, after the new story from Brennan, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, offered only a carefully worded, non-specific response to the issue.
“The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect,” Neller said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. “I expect every Marine to demonstrate the highest integrity and loyalty to fellow Marines at all times, on duty, off-duty and online.”
Neller has Marines under his command enduring harassment and cyberstalking, with some even saying the problem is so bad that they would never reenlist. And this is what they are told?
This isn’t a locker room. This isn’t “boys being boys.” This is dishonorable behaviour by Marines to their fellow Marines. As my friend and fellow Marine infantry veteran Maximilian Uriarte has pointed out, women only make up 7% of the Marine Corps.
They “do not have the numbers to defend themselves against a culture of misogyny,” he wrote on Twitter.
But the commandant does.
The last thing female Marines need is to worry about one of their supposed brothers taking a surreptitious picture of them and posting all their information so other Marines can stalk them.
Show moral courage and take a stand. That’s what Australian Army Gen. David Morrison did when he was confronted with a similar scandal in 2013. He didn’t try to sweep it under the rug or offer excuses for the behaviour.
Morrison stood up in his role as the Army chief and bluntly told troops that such behaviour was unacceptable.
“Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army,” he said in a video. “On all operations female officers and soldiers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us, maintaining our capability now and into the future.”
“If that does not suit you, then get out,” he added. “You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others.”
The Marine Corps doesn’t need more mandatory training on sexual assault or pamphlets distributed on how to behave on social media. It doesn’t need carefully worded statements telling the media that it is investigating the problem.
It needs the commandant of the Marine Corps, the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, and all of its leaders to unite and tell the Marines under their charge that this black mark on the Corps hurts not only those within its ranks — it also damages the hard-fought reputation the service has earned over its 242-year history.
There is a leadership vacuum at the top. It’s time to clean up.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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