(CNN) – Photos of thousands of women turned up on private Facebook groups like Marines United, captioned with degrading and sexually violent comments. Many of those women claim that they reported it years ago but were either blamed or rebuffed.
“I don’t feel ashamed sending that picture to that person who I had loved so much, who I share a daughter with,” said one of the women, who asked to be identified as Liz. “But to see my picture out like that, and all these judging eyes – ‘Oh, look at her. She is probably a whore, a slut, or whatever’ – shaming me for something that has absolutely nothing to do with them, it’s unacceptable.”
Liz served in the Marines for 10 years. During her 2010 deployment in Afghanistan, she found out her then-Marine boyfriend circulated a nude photo of her.
“My supervisor could tell that I was on the verge of tears, but he told me that if I go forward and report this, then I would get into trouble because I would be seen as a distributor of pornography,” Liz said.
Even harmless pictures of women in uniform weren’t off limits. Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who spent six years in the Marines, had a picture taken of her and her team after they finished a training event in 2013. Fitzgerald was so proud that she put it on her private Facebook page. Within 24 hours, it had made its way to one of Facebook’s private group pages, and the comments poured in.
“Talking about who they’d rather sleep with in the photo, that female Marines were a joke,” Fitzgerald said of the comments. “It was an awful feeling to be publicly humiliated by people we served with, by Marines who are supposed to be our brothers in arms.”
She didn’t even have a chance to report it before being called in by her female superiors.
“We were told it was our fault, that we shouldn’t have taken the photo, that it shouldn’t have been on social media and, basically, that because we took the photo, this is what we get,” she said.
Mary, who has served in the Marines for 11 years, is afraid of backlash that may come after speaking out and asked to have her name and identity hidden. Unbeknownst to her, a Marine took a picture of her in uniform from behind at a shooting range.
“That picture got posted on the internet, Facebook, and it got blasted with comments,” Mary said.
There were comments about her appearance and that she was flirting with other Marines. She figured out who took the photo and reported him.
“They told me there was nothing they could do about it because he wasn’t a member of our unit,” she said. “Unfortunately, females in the Marine Corps have a harder time maintaining their reputation, even if they have a clean record.”
All of these women believe the top brass in the Marines has been aware of the problem of lewd pictures for a long time but turned a blind eye.
Now it has become so explosive that the Marines’ top general told a congressional committee that this time, it’s different.
“What’s it going to take for you to accept these Marines as Marines?” said Gen. Robert Neller. “I’m committed to making this right, and I need all Marines equally committed.”
That commitment begins with every Marine signing their names to acknowledge the Marines’ new social media policy, which a spokesman said comes with stiff punishments for violators. There is also a new reporting structure in place for alleged victims.
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