We’ve seen this play too many times before. Military personnel involved in sexual harassment. Top brass vows reforms. A few take the fall, maybe even a commanding officer or two.
But there is always another act, often more disturbing and embarrassing than the previous one, violating human dignity and esprit de corps. This has to stop.
The latest embarrassment came this month with disclosures that an unknown number of current and former Marines and Navy corpsmen used a secret online forum called Marines United to share offensive images and comments about female service members, glorify sexual violence and threaten violent reprisals against the journalist and Purple Heart recipient who reported the misconduct.
Marines United. What a crock. There is nothing “united” about a site that objectifies women and fellow warriors in demeaning and dehumanizing ways that threaten cohesion in the ranks. And it is far from an isolated incident confined to a few men in a few barracks. The shared drive and a closed Facebook site had attracted 30,000 followers and included hundreds of offensive photos before the Pentagon shut it down.
This development is particularly distressing and intolerable. Even before this incident came to light, military publications had written extensively about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in military ranks. Congressional committees had held hearings and found gross examples of sexual harassment and commanders ignoring complaints. Previously, Marine Corps officials have threatened to punish anyone involved with sites like this and increased briefings on social media awareness.
Yet, this debauchery continues. In the latest incident, women went to the police and commanding officers to complain about their images online, yet the predatory cyber-bullying continued. There is nothing acceptable about wanton violations of privacy, mental harassment and anguish, or the betrayal of military values that are supposed to unite warriors in a special bond. There is no way to justify the utter disregard of basic human respect and decency that allowed so many male soldiers to revel in an online community dedicated to exploiting their female peers.
“I felt like my privacy had been taken away from me,” said former Marine Kally Wayne, who has accused her Marine ex-boyfriend of posting a private sex tape they had made together to the private Marines Facebook page. “It is extremely widespread. If it happened to me it’s got to be happening to a lot of other females.”
Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Marines’ top officer, has characterized the postings as “distasteful,” adding, “I expect Marines to give their all to be the best human beings, teammates, and Marines possible.” So do we.
These aren’t boys being boys. The entire armed services, including the Marines, must address a flawed culture that continues to degrade women at will and apparently without much concern that the hammer would come down.
Those involved in such dereliction of duty and honor must be prosecuted in a military court, or in a civilian court if they are no longer in uniform.