Marine photo scandal echoes past concerns of misogyny in Corps culture

A formal investigation is underway after a private Facebook group was shown to have been hosting nude photos of female Marines and veterans.

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File
U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard stands under a Marine Corps emblem in Jupiter, Fla., in May 2014.

In the latest challenge to the integration of women into the United States Marine Corps, hundreds of Marines are being investigated in relation to hundreds, even thousands, of nude pictures of female colleagues and veterans shared on social media.

The photo sharing itself began less than a month after the first three female infantry Marines entered active service on Jan. 5. That milestone itself was made possible by the historic announcement a little over a year earlier, when then-President Barack Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter officially opened all military occupational specialties to women.

There has been substantial opposition to the move, but of all the branches of the US military, the Marines have arguably seemed the most resistant to welcoming women into all roles.

“There is no place for this type of demeaning or degrading behavior in our Corps,” Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, the most senior enlisted Marine on active duty, wrote in an email response to The Center for Investigative Reporting, where the photo-sharing story first broke.

“Let me be perfectly clear; no person should be treated this way. It is inconsistent with our Core Values, and it impedes our ability to perform our mission,” he said.

The photographs in question were shared on a private Facebook page called “Marines United,” which is reported to have had nearly 30,000 followers. In some cases, the women were identified by name, rank, and location, and countless obscene comments were posted.

The activity was initially uncovered – and brought to the attention of the Marine Corps – by Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, who runs the nonprofit news organization “The War Horse.” A day later, at the request of the Corps, the social media accounts concerned had been deleted by Google and Facebook. And the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has launched an official investigation.

“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned,” reads a statement issued to journalists by the Office of Marine Corps Communication. “This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual. The Marine Corps does not condone this sort of behavior, which undermines our core values.”

The Marines have long struggled with accusations of misogyny and other forms of discrimination, but the recent addition of women to their front-line units has lent new focus to the issue. Several Marine Corps generals publicly opposed Mr. Obama’s edict on admitting women to all military occupations, “raising questions as to whether the Marines' institutional resistance to gender integration within its principal war-fighting units has unwittingly exacerbated the struggle with reducing deviant behavior,” as the Marine Corps Times reported.

The formal investigation into this latest incident continues, but in the meantime, “As Marines, as human beings, you should be angry for the actions of a few,” wrote Sgt. Maj. Green. “Ultimately we must take a look in the mirror and decide whether we are part of the problem or the solution.”

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