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First Marines punished for online conduct following nude-photo scandal

Two Marines have been disciplined for posting derogatory comments on social media, marking the first time the Marine Corps has officially punished members for online misconduct following last month’s revelations that hundreds of service members shared illicit photos of their female counterparts on a Facebook group, Marine officials said Friday.

The two active-duty Marines, one a noncommissioned officer and the other a junior enlisted Marine, had made demeaning comments about one of their enlisted leaders, said a Marine official, who requested anonymity to speak about punishments that had not been made public. The Marines were reduced in rank and lost pay, the official said. The Marines belonged to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, an infantry unit stationed in California.

“The Marines and Sailors of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines do not tolerate personal attacks on their Marines, online or elsewhere,” said the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Warren Cook, in a statement. “This kind of behavior flies in the face of our service’s core values and this organization refuses to condone it.”

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The comments were part of a longer thread that disparaged a female Marine who had completed infantry training, the official said.

“This is a good a start,” said Erin Kirk-Cuomo, a former Marine sergeant who co-founded the group Not in My Marine Corps. The organization is composed of active-duty and veteran service members committed to ending sexual assault and sexual harassment in the armed services.

“These guys weren’t advocating for the assault of women and they’re being punished,” she said. “The Marine Corps is taking swift action, and that’s exactly what we need.”

The punishments come as the Marine Corps scrambles to combat a subculture of sexism and misogyny that has flourished on numerous social media pages in recent years. News reports in 2013 and 2014 brought the issues to light, but it wasn’t until last month that the branch’s leadership decided to take action — after a Marine-turned-journalist exposed a Facebook page where Marines were sharing illicit photos of women without their permission.

In the weeks since, the top-ranking officer in the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, has testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers tore into Neller for what they considered a long-standing record of inaction on the issue.

“Have you actually investigated and found guilty anybody?” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) asked. “If we can’t crack Facebook, how are we supposed to be able to confront Russian aggression and cyberhacking throughout our military?”

On Wednesday, two female Marines spoke about the photo scandal to lawmakers in the Democratic Women’s Working Group. Erika Butner, a Marine who left active duty recently, told the group that female recruits are taught from the beginning to accept an overtly sexist culture and that those involved in the photo-sharing scandal need to be publicly punished.

“I’m not blaming the drill instructors,” she said. “They were preparing us to have thick skin because it is so ingrained in this culture that they don’t know how to change it, so they go with the grain.”

No Marine officials attended Wednesday’s meeting, drawing ire from some of the lawmakers present, including Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif). Last month Speier, as well as others in the House, introduced a bill that would amend the military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice to allow for harsher punishments for service members caught distributing private sexual images.

Since news of the scandal broke, Marine officials have created a task force to understand and combat the service’s cultural issues. They also have implemented a new social media policy that Marines have to read and sign. In recent weeks, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has identified hundreds of names potentially associated with sharing the illicit photos and has set up a tip line for those affected to come forward. In March, Neller said that more than 20 people had reported some sort of online harassment associated with photo sharing.

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