One year after the Marines United scandal leaped into the public spotlight, the Corps has armed itself with new policies and tools to go after perpetrators involved in revenge porn-related offenses and social media misconduct.
To date, the Corps has carried out 80 dispositions of cases linked to the crackdown on online-related misconduct during the past year. It includes seven courts-martial, 14 nonjudicial punishments, six administrative separations and 28 adverse administrative actions. In total, the investigation has identified 119 potential culprits ― 97 of whom are Marines ― in the wake of the scandal, according to Marine Corps officials.
“There’s been accountability, probably not to the satisfaction of some,” Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in January, when pressed about progress since the scandal broke.
Charges have ranged from nonconsensual posting of images, extortion, to distribution of filmed sex acts without knowledge of the victim.
For example, on Aug. 10, 2017, a lance corporal was convicted at a special court-martial of Article 127 for threatening to distribute sexually explicit photographs and video unless he received something valuable. The junior Marine was also brought up on a whole slew of other charges to include destruction of government property, theft and assault. He received a bad conduct discharge and was reduced to private.
On Sept. 26, 2017, a sergeant was convicted at a special court-martial for Article 80 for attempting to broadcast video a victim’s private area and Article 81 for conspiracy to distribute the recording. He pled guilty and received a bad conduct discharge, 90 days confinement and reduction to private.
On Jan. 31, a lance corporal was convicted at a special court-martial for Article 120C for filming and broadcasting of a sex act. He received a bad conduct discharge, 30 days confinement and reduction to private.
The details of the above special courts-martial cases were provided to Marine Corps Times from the Marine Corps’ Judge Advocate Division.
Marines United, a secretive Facebook page that contained sexually harassing comments and nude images of female service members and civilians, had roughly 30,000 members. In some instances, the posts resulted in the stalking of victims.
The site’s existence was dragged into the public sphere after a report in the online publication The War Horse. It forced the Corps to address the issue of sexual harassment across the Corps.
In the wake of the scandal, the Corps moved swiftly to enact new policies to help police social media misconduct. Sweeping changes to Navy regulations allowed Marine commanders to pursue cases involving nonconsensual distribution of intimate images.
And the top Marine released new guidelines on social media conduct and required Marines to sign a page 11 entry that they had read and understand the new policy, giving commanders new tools to punish Marines who violated the commandant’s directive. The Corps also introduced a tip line to go after offenders.
Those actions are bearing fruit, the Corps says.
Not all the cases are monolithic, and “it takes time, it takes a diligent investigation,” to bring perpetrators to justice,“ said Lt. Col. Iain D. Pedden, the branch head for Military Justice at Headquarters Marine Corps.
“The internet is a big place, that’s an ongoing challenge,” he said in an interview with Marine Corps Times.
Not every tip or accusation rises to the level of criminality. The Corps gets tips about incidents that are not always criminal in nature.
But those tips are “successful in helping us energize our effort,” Pedden said.
Nevertheless, there are more changes and tools coming to the Corps.
On January 1, 2019, the Military Justice Act of 2016 will take effect. The new law, signed by then-President Barack Obama, is intended to smooth out the UCMJ process.
The new law will give more authority to military judges to issue orders and warrants for some material protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
This will help facilitate the investigation of “offenses that involve some intersect with the web or social media.” Pedden said.
“Now we will be able to issue a warrant for that material without having to coordinate through the Department of Justice or federal civilian district courts.”
The Marine Corps is making steady progress since the fallout of Marines United and the problem doesn’t appear to be more pervasive, according to Pedden. But, “one incident is always going to be too many.”
Other courts-martial stemming from crackdown following the Marines United scandal include:
On May 2, 2017, a lance corporal was convicted at a special court-martial for posting images of a victim’s private area. He pled guilty and was sentenced to a bad conduct discharge, 12 months confinement, forfeiture of 2/3 pay for three months, a fine of $5,000 and reduction to private.
On Sept. 11, 2017, a lance corporal was convicted of Article 80, attempted wrongful viewing of a victim’s private area without consent. He received a bad conduct discharge, 12 months of confinement and reduction to private.
On Sept. 27, 2017, another sergeant was convicted at a special court-martial for attempting to distribute and broadcast a victim’s private area. He received a bad conduct discharge, nine months confinement and reduction to private.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.