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Exposing the Marine Corps' revenge porn hasn't made it go away

It’s been five months since we first learned about it.

Female Marine recruits prepare to fire on the rifle range during boot camp February 25, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina.
Female Marine recruits prepare to fire on the rifle range during boot camp February 25, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Photos of a woman in a US Marine Corps uniform participating in oral sex. Explicit screenshots from private Snapchat conversations. Even pictures of a nude, unconscious woman.

Five months after it was first revealed that many male Marines had set up a private Facebook group called “Marines United” dedicated to posting unsolicited, often derogatory sexual materials of female Marines online, a newly discovered cache of explicit photos and videos reveals that the practice has continued unabated.

All of this is according to an explosive new report by the Daily Beast. It turns out that instead of shutting down the group completely, the perpetrators merely shifted their debauchery over to an online group named “Mike Uniform” (that’s how you say “MU” — i.e., “Marines United” — using the military’s phonetic alphabet).

It was there that a new Dropbox drive filled with 3,863 photos and videos — including some featuring former Marine Kally Wayne, who has been a vocal critic of this practice since it came to light in March — was discovered.

This development is yet another indication of a Marine Corps culture that treats women as second-class members of an honorable service — a culture Marine leadership says it is currently trying to combat.

Some Marines — mostly young enlisted men — believe the Corps needs to keep a macho ethos in order to do the hard work it does. But if that’s true, it’s hard to see how exploiting female Marines online keeps that ethos alive.

“I think this whole thing, as disturbing and as difficult as it has been, has actually been a benefit," said Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, during a Senate hearing on May 24. "I think it's brought up a very simple point — it's really not about social media, it's about how we view women in our Marine Corps."

But how hard they’re actually trying to change this culture remains to be seen.

On July 10, a male Marine pleaded guilty in a court-martial to sharing lewd content in the Facebook group. His punishment? Demoted three ranks, fined two-thirds of his monthly salary, and sentenced to 10 days in the brig, per the Daily Beast.

Ten days. Not exactly the kind of “throw the book at him” punishment one would expect from a service branch truly dedicated to sending the message that this sort of behavior is unacceptable.

Marines have struggled to incorporate women for decades

The Marine Corps has had problems integrating women ever since the first woman joined the service in 1918. Even today, women make up only 8.3 percent of the corps.

Most notably, that problem plays out via sexual harassment. In an article for Vox, one female Marine wrote that she carried knives with her for protection while walking to the base’s showers.

She also recalled being told never to walk around a base alone. “Women struggle to feel fully part of the Marines,” she concluded, adding that she consistently feared for her safety. Not because of the enemy, she said, but because of her fellow Marines.

The Marines United scandal didn’t help matters. Marines United was a 30,000-member Facebook group with mostly active-duty and retired male Marines victimizing female Marines by posting naked pictures of them. Worse, the pictures were accompanied by the victims’ names, ranks, where they were serving, and even their social media accounts.

In sum, it was a testament to the culture of sexism and harassment that still afflicts large portions of the Marine Corps.

When the story broke on March 4, all eyes were on the Pentagon. It took until March 7 for Neller to offer his rebuke.

“When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don’t think such behavior is that of true warriors or war fighters,” he said in a statement. “If changes needs to be made, they will be made.”

Three days later, on March 10, Secretary of Defense James Mattis — a former Marine four-star general — publicly condemned Marines United as “unacceptable.”

Marine Corps leadership, at least, has begun to take some action. On May 9, top Marine commanders said that troops who shared nude pictures on social media or anywhere online without the consent of the people in the pictures will be booted out of the service. That means they won’t receive benefits they would have kept had they left the corps amicably.

And the Marine Corps released a recruitment ad in May titled “Battle Up” featuring a female Marine serving in the infantry, making it through very tough training, and establishing her moral and ethical courage from a young age.

But even something as innocuous as a commercial may be hard for some in the Marine Corps to accept — let alone the bigger changes surrounding the role of women in the service that have occurred in recent years.

The Marine Corps needs to change. It doesn't want to.

The Obama administration opened the door for women in the US military to serve in combat roles. The unhappiest service about that order? The Marine Corps.

In September 2015, Gen. Joseph Dunford was the top Marine, and he recommended women be excluded from some of those combat roles. (Dunford is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) Mattis, before he was nominated to be defense secretary, questioned whether women should join the infantry.

The Marines’ reaction was to be expected, though. The corps acts like a fraternity, according to Emerald Archer, an expert on women’s advancement at Mount St. Mary’s University in California. Many Marines, she said, believe that integrating women would ruin that brotherhood.

Those who work with Marines agree. There’s a “toxic masculinity culture” in the Marine Corps, James Joyner, a professor at the Marine Command and Staff College, told me in an interview.

That may be what is at the core of the women-in-infantry debate among Marine ranks: the identity crisis of a historically macho club now being forced to let in women. Now that the Marine Corps must allow women to serve in combat roles, it tears at the social fabric of the service.

Marshall Chiles, a spokesperson for the now-shut-down Marines United group and a former Marine himself, is emblematic of this attitude. In an interview with the Daily Beast, he stated, “The Marine Corps is supposed to go out and win wars, being the front line of defense for America.”

“So why should would we integrate women when we know it’s going to happen and it’s just going to continue to be a huge distraction?” he asked.

Chiles does not represent the attitude of all Marines, of course, but many do agree with him, even if they may not condone the activities of Marines United and their ilk. And that’s the bigger problem that the Marine Corps leadership will need to solve in order to combat this recent onslaught of online sexual harassment.

That’s going to be hard for old-school Marine officials. “Leadership is just genuinely puzzled” about what to do, Joyner said.

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