The U.S. Marine Corps Commandant addressed Tuesday the investigation into the "Marines United" Facebook page and the posting of photos of female Marines without their consent, telling Congress that behaviors are "going to be different."
“The Marine Corps I have served for over 40 years has a problem,” Gen. Robert Neller said to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He asked the 15,000 active-duty female Marines to trust him to investigate the scandal. Approximately 1,500 of those women are officers.
"I know what you do for our Corps, for our team and to contribute," Neller said.
"To the men in our Corps," he said, "I need you to ask yourself, how much more do the females of our Corps have to do to be accepted?"
Neller then listed the women who have died in combat.
"What is it going to take for you to accept these Marines as Marines?" he asked.
The secret Facebook group involved tens of thousands of members. Users shared nude images of female Marines, veterans and other women, some of which were taken without their knowledge. Fewer than 10 victims have come forward so far, and Neller has asked more to do so.
“There’s no mystery that this has been going on for a very long time,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, adding that Neller's promise to tackle the problem rings hollow.
"If we can’t crack Facebook, how are we supposed to be able to confront Russian aggression and cyber hacking throughout our military?” she said.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D–N.H.) questioned Neller about why the USMC has the highest rate of sexual assault among the service branches.
“It’s hard to believe something is really going to be done when we hear this repeated again and again,” she asked. “Why should we believe it’s going to be different this time than it has in the past?”
Neller explained that since the USMC launched training to tackle sexual assault in 2013, they have not seen the number of allegations drop.
“We haven’t addressed the fact that all Marines are Marines,” he explained.
He added that it’s a very difficult problem and said it’s up to leaders within the USMC to establish expectations for behavior by setting an example.
“Is it going to be different? It’s got to be different,” Neller said.
He added that the recently launched task force will look into whether the UCMJ Code of Conduct needs to be more specific to help commanders address cyberbullying and online harassment.
Article 92 could cover those using social media inappropriately, Article 120 could be used to cover taking someone’s photo without consent and Article 134 may address lack of good order and discipline.
“We have not been able to find any incidents of government computers being used to access or post, but we are continuing with the investigation,” Sean J. Stackley, Acting Secretary of the Navy, testified.
Neither Stackley or Neller could tell the committee how many users of the private Facebook group were active duty military members.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) suggested veterans caught in this kind of activity should lose benefits.
Service members and civilians can discreetly and anonymously report a crime or pass information on Marines United to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at 1-877-579-3648 or on the website.