A former Marine and an active-duty Marine came forward Wednesday to say photographs taken of them were secretly posted online without their consent along with nude photos of other servicewomen that have led to threatening replies and a military investigation.
Former Marine Erika Butner, whose image was posted without consent to a secret Facebook page, said that the excuse that "boys will be boys" must stop.
Butner, 23, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years until June 2016. She appeared at a news conference in Los Angeles Wednesday along with U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Marisa Woytek to applaud the investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Serivce into the "Marine’s United" Facebook page.
Through the page, users shared nude images of female Marines, veterans and other women, some of which were taken without their knowledge. Users of the group included active-duty and retired Marines, Navy Corpsman and British Royal Marines.
Woytek and Butner each said they learned that photos of themselves in clothing were posted without their consent. Butner said she learned her photo was posted to the Facebook page in August 2016.
Butner said she contacted investigators in January and told them there was an online storage drive that contained "indecent photos of women from all military services, organized by name, rank and even where they were stationed."
The women's lawyer, Gloria Allred, said there may be hundreds of such postings and that they prompted pornographic and violent replies, including some recommending that female Marines be raped or shot.
Butner and Allred said some women who have spoken out have been attacked in what they called "victim shaming."
"Victim blaming and the excuse that some are giving that ‘boys will be boys’ needs to stop,” Butner said. "It is an excuse to justify the perpetrators' behavior and normalizes aggression towards women.”
"I encourage all victims of this incident to come forward. You are not alone," she said.
Butner served as a radio operator with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) from Las Vegas, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The photographs have been taken down and U.S. Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller has spoken to troops directly regarding the Facebook group.
"When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don't think such behavior is that of true warriors or warfighters," Neller addressed troops by video on Tuesday.
He added that Marines must be focused on becoming more lethal "to stay ahead of potential adversaries." There is no time off for Marines, Neller said.
"If you can't or are unwilling to commit to contributing 100 percent to our corps' warfighting ability by being a good teammate and improving cohesion and trust then I have to ask you, 'do you really want to be a Marine?,'" he asked.
It's not clear how many active-duty Marines and other service members were involved or are under investigation.
However, an internal Marine Corps document obtained by The Associated Press said a former Marine maintained the Google Drive where the photos were shared, and that it had a following of about 30,000.
Meanwhile, a former Marine, Erin Kirk-Cuomo, said servicewomen have been reporting websites like "Marines United" for more than 10 years but were ignored. She said the issue was "laughed off by military leadership and members as harmless, expected, or invited."
"This behavior is not harmless, and we demand an end to it," said Kirk-Cuomo, who recently co-founded the group Not In My Marine Corps, dedicated to sharing incidents of sexual assault and harassment.
When contacted regarding the previous reports of misconduct, NCIS told NBC 7 the agency does not discuss the details of ongoing investigations.
The investigation was first reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The activity was revealed by The War Horse, a nonprofit news organization run by Marine veteran Thomas Brennan.
The CIR report said that more than two dozen active-duty women, officers and enlisted, were identified by their rank, full name and location in the photographs on the secret Facebook page. Other photographs of active duty and veteran women were also posted and linked through Google Drive.
The social media accounts behind the sharing have been deleted by Facebook and Google at the Marine Corps' request.
Service members and civilians can discreetly and anonymously report a crime or pass information on Marines United to NCIS at 1-877-579-3648 or on the website.