A first sentence has been handed out in a widening scandal centered on Facebook page, “Marines United”. The 30,000 strong group with several active-duty marines claiming membership was apparently being used as a forum for circulating explicit pictures of female service members and other women.
The story first hit media attention back in March when a report published by investigative journalist and former Marine, Thomas Brennan, detailed the sophisticated and disturbing nature of the groups’ activities.
“What made this different was the volume of photographs and the details: names, ranks, duty stations.”
According to Brennan, the intelligence gathering methods employed here were similar to tactics at play in Afghanistan and Iraq. In other words, the group had evolved far past glorified locker room antics, and specific women were being targeted and exposed.
One such woman is former Marine Corporal, Ella Audra. Ella suspects that her pictures were leaked to the group as she began to receive messages through her social media profile a few years after leaving active duty. To Ella’s surprise, some of the messages she got even included specific details about her deployment and members she’d served with.
For their part, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service were quick to respond to the growing calls for justice, launching an investigation into the group and encouraging any victims to get in contact.
Marine Corps Representative Maj. Christian Devine had this to say,
“As a father of a young lady growing up in today’s digital information environment, I find this type of voyeurism disturbing and the subsequent justification of it to be repulsive.”
“People who do this to others, regardless of their proclaimed affiliation to military culture, are cowards. Their actions are inconsistent with the Marine Corps’ values and team building, and it impedes our collective ability to perform our mission and win.”
Further investigations in March revealed that the ring extended to a dedicated online image hosting site for military personnel known as AnonIB. Inside were rows of threads requesting “wins”, nude photos of specific female service members, often posted alongside images from their targets’ Instagram accounts with deployment details and full names also provided to aid identification.
Such threads often ran for several months with victims shutting down their social media accounts multiple times to avoid harassment, before nude photos would eventually be posted.
After posting one such image a member purporting to be an ex-boyfriend wrote,
“She knows how to end it all. If she does get in contact with me I won’t post anymore. So get it while it’s hot!”
Cadets from military academies seemed to be involved in the activities as well, one academy related thread started with the challenge,
“Bumping all 3 service academies’ threads to see who can post the best wins in the next 7 days.”
The anonymous nature of the hosting site and its user base posed several problems for investigative efforts. With the website hosted in the Bahamas, and no real names provided on the site itself, it was near impossible to identify any of the major culprits involved in the scandal. Getting the site itself shut down would also be an uphill task due to jurisdictional issues, so any images could be archived and moved elsewhere.
A culture of heroism and honor distinguishes the USMC from other branches of the military, the bonds of loyalty forged in the heat of battle are well known to those who have served. In light of this, the actions of this group seem to fly in the face of many of these values. With female integration in both combat and non-combat roles still moving forward, it remains to be seen if greater female participation can even be possible in such an atmosphere.
The dominoes have fallen quickly as the story has gained prominence. In March Marines United was finally shut down and in May the House passed the PRIVATE act, criminalizing the sharing of sexually explicit photographs.
Now the first sentence has been handed down with one marine receiving 10 days of solitary confinement, a rank reduction and a month forfeiture of salary. 22 others have received administrative action to date with a further seven receiving non-judicial punishment.
It is obvious that the establishment is treating this issue with the seriousness it merits, with more sentences seemingly following – let’s hope that the message sent to the perpetrators of these cowardly acts is clear. The only people our Marines target are those that seek to harm the interests of the United States of America.