On March 5th, 2017, Thomas Brennan at Reveal broke a Marine Corps wide scandal. It involved the sharing of sexually-explicit pictures of female Marines. The pictures were shared in a Facebook group called “Marines United.” And in some cases, the full names, ranks, and current duty station of the Marines were posted. The group reportedly had nearly 30,000 followers. Although the story broke in the media on the 5th, it appears that redditor /u/MarinesUnitedthraway posted about the group five months ago on Reddit. CNN reports that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is currently investigating “full steam ahead.”
Mr. Brennan reports that, in some cases, Marines who did not share pictures made lewd comments about what should be done to the females.
Today, the Commandant released a video addressing online behavior for Marines as well as harassment and abuse.
The investigation appears to be in its earliest stages, so it’s difficult to make predictions about what might be forthcoming. But I think it’s safe to say that the Marine Corps is going to take this seriously and look to hold Marines accountable. The question will be, how can they do that?
Obviously a lot will depend on the facts of each individual’s case. And it goes without saying that the Corps won’t simply go after everyone that is a member of the group given it’s size. Expect the Marine Corps to go after users who actively shared pictures or, in some cases, made especially lewd comments.
Legal Actions that the Marine Corps might take
Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides a number of ways for Marine Corps prosecutors to come after the perpetrators here. The law makes any action that is “prejudicial to good order and discipline” or “service discrediting” a crime. Military Justice practitioners refer to it as the “catch all” crime. In this case, the sharing of sexually-explicit photos of fellow Marines could reasonably be argued to be “prejudicial to good order and discipline” in that it is psychologically damaging to the Marines whose photos are shared. That, in turn, reduces the effectiveness of the Marine Corps. Likewise, the action is “service discrediting” in the sense that it brings dishonor to the Corps.
For those Marines who might have made lewd comments, they are not in the clear either. Article 134 also criminalizes “indecent language” when it is prejudicial to good order and discipline or service discrediting.
Yet another way that Marines may get prosecuted is for an orders violation for violating the orders prohibiting sexual harassment.
In addition to the potential criminal consequences listed above, there is always the possibility of nonjudicial punishment or administrative separation from the Marine Corps with an “other than honorable discharge.” Marines that might be involved in this scandal–and there may be a lot judging by the numbers–should be sweating now.
I’ll be tracking this story and will file updates as appropriate.