The top general of the Marine Corps on Thursday told senators the Corps has made progress in combating sexual harassment and sexual assault in its ranks over the past year, despite a slew of misconduct scandals, including most recently a general calling sexual harassment allegations “fake news.”
At a hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Commandant Robert Neller conceded the Marine Corps wasn't perfect but said it was improving since the Marines United scandal in March 2017, which exposed rampant sexual misconduct among the ranks.
"Since the Marines United, we've clarified policies, and rules, and regulations so all Marines know what's expected of them," said Neller. "We had to clarify to commanders what they could do to hold people accountable. That doesn't mean we're perfect."
Neller’s comments were in response to questions from the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, on what the Corps was doing to combat the issue of sexual harassment. Last week, Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, whose office oversees the Corps’ sexual assault prevention program, was reassigned (though it’s not known where) after he disparaged claims of sexual harassment as “fake news” at a town hall and joked about living vicariously through a Navy chaplain who was caught having sex in a bar.
“Can I ask you very seriously and with the difficult challenges that you face, how are you addressing the culture that might be contributing to this issue?” Reed asked.
Neller said the Marine Corps had enacted new policies and regulations to educate senior leadership, and was doing more to hold violators accountable. Last April, the Corps announced it had created an NCIS task force, issued a new social media guidance, and added additional training on misconduct.
“They are not the majority. They are not even close to the majority and yes, you should expect more from a more senior officer,” Neller told the Senate panel. “Are we where we want to be? Are we where you want us to be? No. Are we in a better place than we were a year ago? I believe we are.”
The Marine Corps has come under fire over the past year since the discovery of a Facebook group of over 30,000 Marines, veterans, and civilians containing nude photos of service members. VICE News reported on a Dropbox folder called “Hoes Hoin’” in March, which involved explicit photos of service members across all branches of the military and is subject to an ongoing investigation.
“Aside from those events, as disturbing as they are, I think today you look at our Marine Corps …we are as diverse, as integrated and inclusive as we’ve ever been,” Neller told Reed. “I would give credit to members of this committee for holding the mirror up and making us look at ourselves and ask ourselves some hard questions.”
Though Neller told senators the Marine Corps was holding individuals accountable whether they are a “general or a private,” the reassignment of Stein — instead of his demotion or permanent removal — raised eyebrows.
Cover image: Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the "posture of the Department of the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2019 and the Future Years Defense Program," on April 19, 2018. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)