• Jennifer Elizabeth Peace

Call the Marine nude photo scandal what it is: sexual assault

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

This op-ed originally appeared on The Washington Examiner

Photo by Warrant Officer Bobby Yarbrough

" A nude photo scandal has shaken the entire Marine Corps," reads the headline on Marine Corps Times. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called it "degrading behavior" in a statement Monday morning.

If you read the comments from current and former Marines, male and female, you'll see dozens of posts like this one: "Don't want nude photos shared don't take them, that simple." What do all these have in common? They are massively underplaying the dangerous behavior that is not a "scandal," but in reality is sexual assault.

Former Marine Thomas Brennan broke the news on The War Horse over the weekend that hundreds of Marines are being investigated for sharing nude photos of fellow services members. But it's not just "sharing photos of nude service members," which itself, when shared without that person's permission, is assault and illegal in many states. But taking photos without permission, sharing the name, rank and duty location of the females and commenting that these women should be raped while being videotaped. These photos were shared via a Marine United Facebook group of more than 30,000 members and stored in Google Drive.

According to The War Horse, comments on the Facebook page where the photos were shared included: "I know one of these chicks, her name is… Check her out boys."

It's because I'm married to a Marine that I can tell you not every Marine, or every man, is a sick pervert who think it's funny to sexually assault women.

But it's also because I myself am former military that I can tell you, from my own experiences, the military has not only created this misogynist culture, but has tried to minimize many incidents of sexual assault, thereby allowing them to continue. During my time in the Air Force, I personally encountered this problem with senior leadership after being sexually harassed and inappropriately touched by a fellow airman.

I echo the sentiments of Julia Pierson, the first woman to be appointed as director of the U.S. Secret Service that this is beyond "boys being boys." But I disagree that this is a new kind of attack. When Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., brought concerns to the media's attention about this type of behavior in 2013, she was mocked by service members on social media, much like the ones commenting now, rather than being applauded for wanting our military to be a place where female services members were free from harassment and rape. In fact, Brennan himself is now receiving death threats for reporting the story and his wife and daughter are being threatened with rape.

Where are the Marines who took an oath to protect and honor? Look at the comments on Marine Corps Times Facebook page today and you'll see most of the comments look like this one: "Most wooks don't even look good naked, so who cares? It's just more attention for them and a way to get meritorious promotions."

Thankfully, there are Marines willingly to publicly speak out against sexual assault, like this former Marine:

"…I find what these Marines did was NOT in line with the ethics and dignity of the Marine Corps! Totally disgusting! A real Marine doesn't act or behave in a disrespectful manner towards women, especially a Marine sister!"

But the majority of the vocal anger on social media that I have seen is aimed at the victims for "putting themselves in that position" and at Brennan for "turning on his fellow Marines."

What is most disturbing to me are the Marines who are defending the group for all the "good" they did. That means there are thousands of Marines who knew this was happening, saw these pro-rape posts, saw these photos being shared without these women's permission, and turned a blind eye because it's okay to threaten to rape someone if you also try to talk a fellow Marine out of ending his own life.

You can do something good without overlooking the bad.

The fact remains that rape, against women and men, is the most underreported crime in the U.S. From the comments by these Marines, it's not hard to see why. Victims of sexual assault are often blamed for what they wore, who they slept with previously, how much they drank and whether or not they took a nude photo meant only for their significant other. We have seen this time and again with military officers receiving light sentences for sexual assault or in the case of the rape victim at Stanford. Her rapist was out of jail in a few short months and she was blamed for drinking too much alcohol.

Every 98 seconds, someone in America will be sexually assaulted, and that's not counting online incidents like this. As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women and 2.8 million men have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

About 94 percent of those women who are raped will have PTSD within two weeks. About 30 percent will suffer from PTSD nine months later. Roughly 33 percent of women who are raped will contemplate suicide and 13 percent will attempt to commit suicide.

But according to 30,000 Marines, those lives aren't worth saving and it's okay to contribute to their suicides as long as you try to save the life of a fellow brother.

While online incidents of sexual assault may seem innocent to some, in many cases these online stalkers turn into physical stalkers. One female Marine told Brennan she was being physically stalked but didn't know why until she was told her photos were shared in these groups.

I think it's time we call this what it is. It's not just a scandal. It's not just bad behavior. It's not boys being boys. It's sexual assault and it's illegal. This is not an issue of liberals and "cry babies" making a big deal out of nothing. It's dangerous behavior that contributes to the rape of women across the country.

But then again, if you don't see those facts, you're likely not one of the 20 million Americans who has been a victim of sexual assault and you likely won't care until it happens to your sister, your wife or you.

As one former Marine told me when this story came to light, my hope is the Corps takes this seriously and pursues all 30,000 to the full extent of the UCMJ and beyond, if necessary and applicable. Anything short of that signals the Marine Corps condones this behavior and supports violence against some of their own.

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