Some female Marines were sent screenshots of nude and private pictures of themselves from concerned colleagues. A few would get texts from their friends alerting them to what was online. Others found vulgar messages from strangers in their inboxes. The red flags were different, but the revelation was the same: Their intimate photos had been shared online without their consent.
Marine officials on Sunday said the branch was looking into a number of Marines, as well as current and former service members, who shared naked and compromising photos of their female colleagues on social media through a shared drive on a Facebook group called Marines United.
The incident has prompted an outcry from senior Marine leaders and an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, but according to ten current and former female service members interviewed by The Washington Post, online harassment goes well beyond a single shared drive or Facebook group. The behavior has become pervasive in the younger enlisted ranks throughout the Marine Corps, threatening unit cohesion at the lowest levels and its ethos at the highest.
The existence of the shared drive was first reported through the website Reveal, in conjunction with the War Horse military news website. Many of the women who spoke to The Post for this article did so on the condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals from fellow service members and their chains of command.
The Marine’s highest ranking officer, Gen. Robert B. Neller, wouldn’t comment on the specific investigation but called the reported postings “distasteful.”
“I expect Marines to give their all to be the best human beings, teammates, and Marines possible,” Neller said in a statement.
Women who have experienced the public shaming firsthand take a starker view.
“It’s Marine Corps wide,” said Marine Pvt. Kally Wayne, 22, who joined in 2013 and was removed from the service three years later for disciplinary problems. In early 2016, her ex-boyfriend, a Marine, posted a sex tape they had made in 2013 to a Marines Facebook group, which quickly spread, eventually getting posted on Marines United, which has 30,000 members, where it appeared sporadically.
“I went to the police to get them to take it down and they told me because I didn’t live in North Carolina they couldn’t do anything,” Wayne said. “I went to his command and they said, ‘Why don’t you not make sex tapes?’”
Wayne said she knows at least 10 other women who have endured online sexual harassment. She said that a meme of her had already appeared on another group after Marines United was taken down after the War Horse article.
It is hard to trace where the Marine Corps’ online culture of illicit photo-sharing began. With about 7 percent of its 200,000 strong active duty ranks made up of women, female Marines are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts. In 2013 and 2014, the Marine Corps Times and the military website Task and Purpose wrote stories about the Marine Facebook group called “Just the Tip of the Spear,” commonly known as JTTOTS. The group bills itself as a hub for “some of the camaraderie” that veterans miss after they leave the service. Wayne’s video was first posted as a comment on the group in 2016 and was distributed from there, she says.
“I don’t know how we got here,” said one female Marine whose pictures also appeared on the Marines United group as well other pages and Tumblrs. “A couple years ago, it was just people making fun of other Marines messing up online, now it’s this.”
Just the Tip of the Spear, like many other Marine Facebook groups that have at one point or another displayed inappropriate pictures, has been taken down numerous times only to reappear in different incarnations with different names or privacy settings. In 2013, Marine Corps officials responded with threats of punishment for those involved with some of the sites and increased briefings on social media awareness.
“Once [my photos] got reported, it would get taken down and go right back up, over and over again,” the female Marine said. “The Instagram photos that people shared didn’t really bother me, but the private ones I had sent to someone I trusted, only for them to appear everywhere, was horrifying.”
She left the service in 2015 and said that just knowing her pictures are still out there has silenced her as a veteran.
“I wanted to be a positive influence on the community,” she said. “And this diminished me. It took away everything. My voice didn’t matter because my nudes were out there.”
Another female Marine who recently completed the once male-only infantry training with hopes of joining an infantry unit said that she used to read the comments on news articles about the Marine Corps’ resistance to integrating women into combat jobs as motivation. In recent months, however, the amount of hate she has seen on the Internet has slowly broken her down.
Last year, when people heard she had gone through infantry training, someone took benign pictures of her from her Facebook profile and posted them in a closed group without her knowledge, prompting a slew of harassing remarks a fellow Marine eventually alerted her to, she said.
“Right now I’m supposed to be able to trust every male Marine,” she said. “And with some of the stuff I see them saying about women, that’s just not happening.”
“When did being so misogynistic become a part the culture?” she asked. “When did being so [awful] become a character trait?”
In the roughly two days since War Horse broke the Marines United story, it is unclear how various Marine units are taking the news. One male infantry Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his active duty status, said, “No one I know is taking it seriously,” and that this kind of harassing activity will probably continue.
A female U.S. Army soldier who had casual pictures of her taken from her Instagram account and posted in a closed Marine group in recent months was baffled at how pages like Marines United and others continued to exist.
“If someone in the Army created a page like this, it would have been gone a long time ago,” she said of Marines United. “I feel like in the other branches females have more respect. Men in the Marines, they don’t take women in the military seriously. The other branches are like brothers and sisters, whereas in the Marine Corps it’s a brotherhood that doesn’t have room for women.”