An investigative report published this weekend offered an unsettling peek at the misogynistic culture women serving in the military have to deal with on a regular basis. According to the story, published on the Center for Investigative Reporting's website, hundreds of Marines stationed across the world are being investigated for allegedly sharing nude photos of female service members and veterans.
"Since Jan. 30," wrote Thomas Brennan, a Marine veteran who runs the nonprofit news outlet The War Horse, "more than two dozen women—many on active duty, including officers and enlisted service members—have been identified by their rank, full name, and military duty station in photographs posted and linked to from a private Facebook page."
Read more: Two-Thirds of Young Women Are Sexually Harassed at Work
Members of the Facebook group "Marines United" allegedly solicited and published to a Google Drive folder explicit images of female service members, some of which were taken without consent. Other photos appeared to have been taken by the women themselves, though it appears they were published without their knowledge. The folder has since been taken down.
"The War Horse has spoken with five of the women in the photographs," Brennan wrote. "Two of them said they believe former partners may have leaked images. Some said they worry their own accounts might have been hacked or poached. One said a co-worker, a male Marine, alerted her to the fact that the photographs had been posted."
The report goes on to detail some of the comments posted after the group of images was made available, including "Holy fuck, there is a god" and "I know one of these chicks, her name is … Check her out, boys." In one particularly disturbing instance, a female Marine in uniform stationed in North Carolina was secretly photographed by a fellow service member, the report stated. Commenters in the group suggested the publisher "take her out back and pound her out."
According to a document prepared by the Marine Corp public affairs office, there have been 140 substantiated complaints of sexual harassment in the Corps between 2012 and 2015. But, according to Kate Hendricks Thomas, an associate professor of health promotion at Charleston Southern University who serves on the board of directors for Service Women's Action Network, "If you speak to any female Marine, she will have a story about being harassed while she was serving."
All the porta-johns on the [base] were decorated with statements and graphic depictions of me.
Thomas spent six years in the Marine Corps as a military police officer. She recounts how, when she was deployed to Iraq, she often carried a can of black spray-paint with her when she went to use the portable bathrooms. "All the porta-johns on the [base] were decorated with statements and graphic depictions of me," she tells Broadly. "I needed to be able to spray-paint over whatever crazy sex act was painted on the bathroom wall. That was something I laughed off and I accepted as normal. I think that's the problem. While we're on active duty, we get used to it—you buy into this false narrative."
Thomas suggests that the responses regarding the nude photo scandal are falling into two camps of Marines: Those who recognize that "this is about larger unit cohesion, and women Marines are a part of the fight… this behavior damages our ability to accomplish missions" and others, whom she describes as "a subculture of bad apples," who believe these actions are harmless.
To suggest this behavior isn't troublesome "dismisses the contribution of these women Marines," Thomas says. "Today's generation of female Marines are fucking Amazons. They're doing incredible things. It is hard to see their achievements and accomplishments dismissed and disregarded."
At this point, Thomas continues, it's important "to hear a ringing condemnation on behavior like this." This is especially important, she points out, as the military works to level the playing field for women and create a system in which they're less marginalized than they have been historically. "I think that institutionally and organizationally, Marine Corps Headquarters has a really important leadership role in squashing this. It is absolutely within the capability of the Marine Corps as an organization to find and punish and create a zero-tolerance policy for this sorts of behavior."