The Marine Corps is looking into allegations that an unknown number of potential Marines, as well as current and former service members, shared naked and compromising photos of their colleagues on social media, Marine officials said Sunday.
The allegations were first reported by the War Horse and published Saturday through the website Reveal. The author, a Marine veteran and Purple Heart recipient, as well as members of his family, have received numerous death threats since the article was first published. It is unclear how many people are involved in the scandal and how many photos were posted online.
The War Horse’s report focuses on one Facebook group with more than 30,000 members called Marines United. In January, a link to a shared hard drive containing photos of numerous female Marines in various states of undress was posted to the group, according to the War Horse’s report. The hard drive contained images, as well as the names and units of the women pictured. Many of the photos were accompanied by derogatory and harassing comments.
The shared drive has since been taken offline and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating “incidents related to the Marines United group,” said Capt. Ryan Alvis, a Marine Corps spokesman.
The person who posted the drive was a former Marine working for a defense contractor, said a Marine official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about the photos. The contractor has since been relieved of his duties.
Photos of Marine Lance Cpl. Marisa Woytek were taken from her Instagram account and posted to Marines United multiple times in the past six months without her consent.
“Even if I could, I’m never reenlisting,” Woytek said. “Being sexually harassed online ruined the Marine Corps for me, and the experience.”
Woytek said she was alerted to the hijacked photos by others on social media and were shown the comments that accompanied them. She said that many of the comments included allusions to sexual assault and rape.
Many of her female colleagues have experienced similar incidents, she said, and added that they have been reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation from the group’s thousands of members. With the War Horse’s report Saturday, Woytek said that she and others “have a voice now.”
On Sunday, the Marine Corps’ highest-ranking officer, commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller, did not directly address the investigation of Marines United.
“For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect,” he said in a statement. “I expect Marines to give their all to be the best human beings, teammates, and Marines possible.”
On Sunday night, lawmakers began to weigh in on the investigation.
“This behavior by Marines and former Marines is degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable,” said Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “The military men and women who proudly volunteer to serve their country should not have to deal with this kind of reprehensible conduct.”