Marines being investigated over salacious photo sharing of women service members

Last Updated Mar 5, 2017 3:54 PM EST

Top brass in the U.S. Marines are denouncing  in vigorous terms misbehavior by Marines online, including photographing and sharing photos of women recruits and veterans and making salacious comments about them.

“There is no place for this type of demeaning or degrading behavior in our Corps,” said Sergeant Major Ronald L. Green, 18th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in a statement to CBS News.

Green was responding to reports published by the Center for Investigative Reporting that hundreds of Marines are being investigated for using social media to solicit and share hundreds — possibly thousands — of naked photographs of women service members and veterans.

“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,” said Sergeant Major Green.

On its Reveal web site, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that since Jan. 30, more than two dozen women, including active duty and enlisted service members had been identified by their rank, full name and military duty station in photographs posted and linked to from a private Facebook page called “Marines United.”

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A company of Marines, both male and female, participate in a 10 kilometer training march carrying 55 pound packs during Marine Combat Training (MCT) on February 22, 2013 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Since 1988 all non-infantry enlisted male Marines have been required to complete 29 days of basic combat skills training at MCT after graduating from boot camp. MCT has been required for all enlisted female Marines since 1997. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female.

Scott Olson, Getty Images

In one instance cited in the report, a woman corporal in uniform was followed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina by a fellow Marine, who surreptitiously photographed her as she picked up her gear. The picture was posted to the Marines United private FB page, where dozens of obscene, sexually explicit comments were posted.

A Marine Corps official told CBS News’ Cami McCormick that when they learned of the private website, they started asking questions and “within hours the site was gone.”

“Whoever runs it kept moving it, making it hard to even find what the scope of it was’, said the official, adding that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into the matter. The official expressed sympathy the women involved. 

“People will immediately start blaming victims, and we are most concerned about them. They may have taken pics meant to be private and then those images could have been shared by a former close friend. So many questions that we just don’t have answers to at this point.”

The online activity was first posted by The War Horse, a nonprofit news organization run by Marine veteran and Purple Heart recipient Thomas Brennan, who wrote the piece for the Reveal web site. 

Within hours Brennan became the target of online threats, like “waterboard this p-o-s” and “I’ll pay 500 to the dude that can get good nudes of his girl.”

“I’ve scrolled by things like this on Facebook before. I think this is a good gut check for a lot of people. We have all scrolled by things we shouldn’t tolerate on social media,” Brennan told CBS News on Sunday.

On Sunday, The War Horse web site had a popup message with information on how to report harassment related to Marines United -- and a contact number for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service which is investigating.

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Popup message on The War Horse website has contact information for how to report harassment related to the Marines United site

The War Horse

“Do you think you are or may have been a victim of sexual harassment or misconduct on Marines United?

Both active military and civilians can report a crime or share information on Marines United discreetly, anonymously and safely to NCIS via text, the web, or the NCIS smart phone app. The NCIS number is (877) 579-3648.”

This all comes just two months after the first female infantry Marines headed to Camp Lejeune. In late 2015, former Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened all military positions to women, including combat roles.

“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website. 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. As General Neller said in his recent Message to the Force, the Marine Corps’ success in battle depends on trust, mutual respect, and teamwork,” said Captain Ryan Alvis, a public affairs officer for the Marines.

“The Marine Corps takes every allegation of misconduct seriously. Allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and handled at the appropriate judicial or administrative forum. A Marine could potentially be charged for violating Article 133 (for officers) or Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). If a Marine shared a photo of another person that was taken without that person’s consent and under circumstances in which that other person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the Marine may have violated Article 120c, UCMJ, for broadcasting or distribution of an indecent visual recording. A Marine who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions.”