US & Canada

US military nude photo sharing scandal widens beyond Marines

Soldiers, officers and civilian employees attend the commencement ceremony for the U.S. Army's annual observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the Pentagon Center Courtyard March 31, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The nude photo sharing scandal appears to extend far beyond the Marines

US servicemen from all parts of the military have been sharing nude photos of their female colleagues online, it has emerged.

Reports last week uncovered widespread photo sharing by current and former Marines on Facebook, triggering a navy investigation.

But the BBC has seen a message board where servicemen from other branches have shared hundreds of photos.

The Pentagon said such behaviour was "inconsistent" with its values.

Male service members use a message board on an anonymous image hosting website to share nude images of their female counterparts.

They often first post clothed photos of female personnel taken from their social media pages, and ask if any members have nude photos, which they call "wins". Others then post photos.

Those posting sometimes provide names and other details of women, including where they are stationed. Lewd comments accompany many posts.

On Friday Pentagon chief James Matthis released a statement criticising the "lack of respect for the dignity and humanity of fellow members of the Department of Defense".

He said those who shared photos were guilty of "egregious violations of the fundamental values" of the military.

"We will not excuse or tolerate such behaviour if we are to uphold our values and maintain our ability to defeat the enemy on the battlefield," the former general said.

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The photo-sharing was previously reported confined to Marines on Facebook.

A Facebook group called Marines United with 30,000 members was recently closed down after the scandal erupted.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Marine Corps Commandant Gen Robert Neller said on Friday 'these allegations themselves, they undermine everything we stand for'

'Embarrassment'

The Marines' top commander described the revelations as an "embarrassment".

"When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don't think such behaviour is that of true warriors or war fighters," Gen Robert Neller said earlier this week.

On Friday he spoke at a Pentagon press conference to caution that "we don't want to be in a hurry" with the investigation.

"We want to make sure we're thorough and we're within the law," he said, adding that "this affects our entire organisation".

But the message board on the image-hosting website remains publicly accessible, and indicates that such practices extend throughout the military.

"Just heard [name redacted] and her bf [name redacted] broke up," a comment on 19 December from an anonymous user on a post that appears to involve personnel at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska reads.

"Maybe he would post some."

Another post from a different anonymous user on 12 September reads: "Any wright patt wins? I'll start off with some". The post refers to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The user then posts self-taken images of a woman in a bikini, and then topless. There are many more explicit images on the message board.

The US Department of Defense said in a statement that it had issued "policy guidance" to prevent and deal with "sexual harassment and hazing".

It is developing a new "comprehensive workplace harassment prevention and response policy", spokesperson Myles Caggins told the BBC.

"The alleged behaviour is inconsistent with our values."

Similar sites

Although the Marines United Facebook group has now closed, there are at least half a dozen similar groups or sites, Marine officials told CBS News.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is due to hold a hearing on the issue next week.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has launched an investigation and has asked whistleblowers to come forward with information.

On Wednesday, two women who said they were victims spoke out publicly alongside their lawyer, urging others to come forward.

"I can tell you that this exact behaviour leads to the normalisation of sexual harassment and even sexual violence," said Erika Butner, 23, who served in the Marines for four years until last June.

Marines United's activity was first uncovered by The War Horse, a non-profit news organisation run by Marine veteran Thomas Brennan.

Some of the photos are believed to have been taken surreptitiously. Other images are thought to have been consensual, but posted without permission.


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