An undisclosed number of U.S. Marines are under investigation after it was revealed they shared hundreds, possibly thousands, of nude photos of female service members in a private Facebook group.
The allegations, first investigated and published by The War Horse and the Center for Investigative Reporting, were revealed Saturday. The reporter who wrote the story, Thomas James Brennan, served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps and received the Purple Heart.
The group, Marines United, consists of nearly 30,000 members, most of whom either currently serve or are veterans of the Marine Corps, according to the Marine Corps Times. In that group, hundreds of members shared or posted links to photos of naked service members with their full name and rank included, per The War Horse.
On Jan. 5, women joined a Marine infantry unit for the first time in history, per CNN. Not long after that, the nude photos started appearing, per The War Horse, and other members began posting sexually explicit and obscene comments about the women. According to Brennan, who spoke with several of the women in the photographs, the pictures were either leaked by former romantic partners or obtained by stalking the women.
Brennan contacted Marine Corps headquarters on Jan. 30 about the photos, and since then military officials have been attempting to investigate the incidents and delete the accounts that shared the photos. However, more pictures have continued to be shared, and the ones that were already posted continue to pop up. Meanwhile, the military’s attempts to shut down the group have been stymied.
“Whoever runs it kept moving it, making it hard to even find what the scope of it was,” a military official told CBS News.
Senior Marine Corps officials have privately circulated a 10-page document detailing elements of the scandal and informing officials of the Corps’ planned media response to the allegations. Copies of that document have been obtained by The War Horse and the Marine Corps Times.
“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website,” the Marine Corps’ prepared statement reads. “This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual. The Marine Corps does not condone this sort of behavior, which undermines our core values. As (General Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps) said in his recent Message to the Force, the Marine Corps’ success in battle depends on trust, mutual respect, and teamwork.”
The document also includes talking points emphasizing supporting the victims and demanding accountability. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has opened an investigation into the matter.
However, Brennan has received death threats for reporting on the pictures, with others calling for him to be waterboarded or for nude photos of his wife to be leaked as well, according to CBS News.
Brennan told the Marine Corps Times that there is a “bounty” on nude photographs of his daughter and that some have said his reporting is grounds for his wife to be raped.
Defenders of the group claim it is a resource for Marines suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, per the Marine Corps Times. However, critics point to the page as another example of the military’s problem with sexual assault, as well as the fact that the Marine Corps has the worst rate of sexual assault among all military branches, according to 2014 data.