- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2017

The Marines aren’t the only military service feeling the heat after revelations that photos of nude female Marines were shared on social media. A day after the Marines introduced tougher mandatory guidelines on social media use, congressional lawmakers are poised to give representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force a grilling Tuesday over efforts to curb such harassment in the ranks.

The hearing before the House Armed Services Committee will be held after reports of an increase in cases of sexual assault at two U.S. services academies.

Reports of sexual assault at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, went up by 17 percent during the 2015-16 academic year. Officials at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, tallied 28 instances of assault or abuse against female cadets — up from 25 during the previous year.

The Marines and Army on Monday announced tougher measures to police social media use in the military. After releasing a longer and more detailed online code of conduct, the Marine Corps will now require that all Marines sign a statement acknowledging that they have read and understand the guidelines.

Top Army officials, including service Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, are circulating a signed message to all soldiers warning that online misconduct is unacceptable and passive tolerance of bad behavior by others is also wrong.

The congressional hearing will be the second to address social media’s role in promoting a hostile environment for female service members across the military branches.

Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller were called before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the scandal surrounding the private Facebook group Marines United. Public furor erupted this month when reports surfaced that explicit photos of current and former female Marines, as well as other female service members, were being circulated by members of the private Facebook page.

The members-only social media page had 30,000 current and former Marines before it was shut down by Facebook. Members posted thousands of sexually explicit images of female service members and civilians — some without their knowledge or consent.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee lambasted Navy and Marine Corps brass during the March 14 hearing, a harbinger of the criticism that the service personnel chiefs will face during the House hearing.

Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the behavior exhibited by members of Marines United was “unacceptable for Marines or any member of the armed services.” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said the allegations represented “a sad day for the Marine Corps.”

Criminal inquiry

A criminal inquiry by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into whether some of the women in the distributed images were stalked as part of efforts to get pictures of them in compromising situations.

Curtis Evans, NCIS division chief for criminal investigations, told reporters Friday that his agency had requested assistance into the Marines United Investigation from their respective counterparts in the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.

Their participation, Mr. Curtis said, was not tied to expanding the Navy inquiry into other branches but as a means to exert all available resources into the investigation. That said, the allegations are “not just a Marine Corps thing,” Mr. Curtis said. Officials from Google and Facebook are also assisting in the NCIS criminal inquiry, he added.

As of Friday, NCIS investigators had identified 1,200 screen names from the defunct Facebook site tied to 20 victims, Mr. Curtis said. “We are opening investigations every day,” he added.

Investigators also have identified 17 websites, including pornographic sites, where the images could have also been distributed

Of those 1,200 names, 725 have been identified as active-duty Marines, 150 are Marine Corps reservists, 15 are active-duty Navy and the remaining 300 or so names have yet to be identified.

The NCIS inquiry is strictly focusing on criminal activities, including stalking and violations of “revenge pornography” laws, tied to the Marines United page. A service task force headed by Brig. Gen. James Glynn is handling violations of the Marine Corps codes of conduct and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

Mandatory adherence to the Corps’ new social media polices barring such activity were only one part of a three-pronged strategy that the task force is implementing, Gen. Glynn said.

Revelations of the image-sharing practices on Marines United, unveiled by former Marine Thomas Brennan, reignited the fierce debate regarding an alleged culture of pervasive misogyny within the Corps and general apathy toward repeated reports of sexual assault and harassment of female Marines.

Testifying before the House defense panel, Mr. Stackley compared the root causes of the Marines United debacle as a cancer with symptoms akin to an insider threat to female members of the Corps.

While acknowledging that the cultural change “will not happen overnight” and the Corps, along with the other services, faces a long road of institutional reform, if there was any branch up to the task it would be the Marines, Gen. Glynn said.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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