Hundreds of veteran and active-duty Marine Corps members are under investigation for distributing nude photos of female Marines and other women on a secret Facebook group. According to Marine Corps veteran Thomas Brennan, who reported the allegations on his War Horse news site and on the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal, the number of photos shared may number in the thousands.
The group, Marines United, has almost 30,000 members, many of whom would post photos of female Marines taken without their consent, or sexual photos taken by the women themselves or by a partner, but shared without their consent. Brennan reports that the men began sharing photos less than a month after women joined a Marine infantry unit for the first time in the branch’s history, in early January. Marines United members, who are mostly current or veteran members of the Marine Corps, stored their photos in Google Drive folders linked to from the Facebook page and encouraged other members to take and share any naked photos of women in their units. Brennan reported the group to Marine Corps officials last month and has been fielding death threats since the news came out.
In his report, Brennan included some sample comments that were posted on photos of a female corporal who was targeted at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. “Take her out back and pound her out,” one read. Another recommended sex acts that didn’t involve vaginal penetration: “And butthole. And throat. And ears. Both of them. Video it though… for science.” Folders on Google Drive contained information on many of the women in the photos, including their names, military affiliations, and social media screenshots. “Here you go, you thirsty fucks …this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more coming,” read the post linking to the folders. The folders were removed after Brennan tipped military officials off to the ring of sexual exploitation; CBS reports that one official thinks Marines United leaders are trying to obfuscate the extent of the harassment by deleting parts of the group.
These disturbing revelations paint a picture of a military culture in which men are building feelings of camaraderie around the exploitation of their female peers. Marines United is a clear illustration of how sexual harassment is about power, not sex. If the men involved in this group just wanted a trove of sexually titillating photos, they could have shared porn or naked images of any random women. Instead, they targeted their fellow Marines. By violating their co-workers’ privacy and reducing them to sex objects, members of Marines United asserted power over the women in their ranks.
This is the same tactic used by boys in middle school and high school, who create secret “slut pages” on social media, where they distribute any private nude photos they get from girls in their grade. In some cases, boys will use those photos as blackmail. The specter of blackmail is far more serious in the Marines United case: Men who posted or viewed sexually compromising photos of their peers were opening members of the military up to extortion and threats, putting U.S. national security at risk.
Brennan reports that the Marine who first posted the link to the Google Drive archive of exploitative images, a government contractor, has been fired from his job. The military has faced criticism in the past for maintaining a closed system of resolution separate from civilian criminal courts. Because of this, commanding officers have often glossed over cases of sexual harassment and assault, fomenting a culture that allows men to victimize female co-workers with impunity and punishes victims when they report violations committed against them. The commandant of the Marine Corps told CNN that posting nonconsensual naked photos of fellow Marines was “inappropriate” and “distasteful”—a gigantic understatement. It remains to be seen whether, in the U.S. military, “inappropriate” behavior is a fireable offense.