Last week news broke of a Facebook group which shared intimate images of female US Marine Corps soldiers. This week, women whose personal and private images were shared have begun to speak out.
Two Marines, one still on active duty, appeared with attorney Gloria Allred on Wednesday to speak out, and “promote respect for women who are proud United States Marines”.
One of the Marines, Erika Butner, told the press conference: “I can tell you that this exact behaviour leads to the normalisation of sexual harassment and even sexual violence”.
The Marine Corps say they are looking into a number of current and former service members who shared images through the Facebook group with 30,000 members, called ‘Marines United’. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe is also underway.
But those who have had their images shared without their permission say the issue goes far beyond one Facebook group.
“It’s Marine Corps wide”, is the damning verdict given by Kally Wayne, 22, who was a Marine from 2013 to 2016. Her ex-boyfriend posted a sex tape the pair had made in 2013. The tape spread, and was soon found on ‘Marines United’.
According to Wayne, commanding officers responded to her complaint by asking, “why don’t you not make sex tapes?”
Wayne added that she feels “like my privacy has been taken away from me. Having to go through being harassed every day of my life for the past year because of a mistake I made four years ago is not anything anyone deserves to go through”.
Elle Audra, who left the Marines in 2010, was also scathing in her assessment of the Marine Corps culture. She said “Slut shaming and rape culture mentality is so prevalent”.
Another female Marine whose pictures also appeared on the page said: “I don’t know how we go here… A couple of years ago, it was just people making fun of other Marines messing up online, now it’s this”. She also said that images would reappear again and again. “Once (the picture) got reported, it would get taken down and go right back up, over and over again”.
Despite leaving the elite military outfit in 2015, she said the existence of her images online has stopped her from speaking up as a veteran. “I wanted to be a positive influence on the community. And this diminished me. My voice didn’t matter because my nudes were out there”.
A further female Marine, who has reportedly completed the infantry training that was once a male-only endeavour, said: “Right now I’m supposed to be able to trust every male Marine. And with some of the stuff I see them saying about women, that’s just not happening”.
General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, posted a video response to the reports on the US Marine Corp Facebook page.
He reiterated that all Marines must “treat each other with dignity and respect”, and “our Corps does not care where you come from… whether you’re man or woman”. He said some had forgotten that, and “instead acted selfishly and unprofessionally through their actions on social media”.
Neller called such actions “embarrassing”. He asked Marines to report such actions and instructed senior staff to ensure those who report abuse are protected from retaliation.
The US Code of Military Justice explicitly outlaws distribution of sexually explicit photos of others without their consent and says the offence is punishable by court-martial.