The Navy & The Marines Have Made Revenge Porn Illegal — Here's Why

Photo: PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images.
Update: Following an update to the Marine Corps' Separation and Retirement Manual, Marines can now be kicked out for distributing revenge porn. The change was effective immediately and requires commanders to consider removing Marines involved in a "substantiated incident."
This story was originally published on April 20, 2017.
Following a huge nude photo scandal that rocked the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps in early March, revenge porn is now officially illegal under the U.S. Navy Regulations, The Navy Times reported. The new measure bans distributing an "intimate image" without the consent of the photo's subject.
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"The addition of Article 1168 'Nonconsensual distribution or broadcasting of an image' to Navy Regulations serves to underscore leadership's commitment to eliminating degrading behaviors that erode trust and weaken the Navy and Marine Corps Team," Rear Admiral Dawn Cutler said in a statement to The Navy Times.
She added, "It provides commanders another tool to maintain good order and discipline by holding sailors and Marines accountable for inappropriate conduct in the nonconsensual sharing of intimate imagery."
So, how did the Navy and the Marine Corps get to this point? Below, we break down how the nude photo scandal was uncovered, what measures are being taken, and why it's important.

The Secret Facebook Group

In late January, the nonprofit news organization The War Horse uncovered a secret Facebook page called "Marines United." The all-male, invitation-only group included active-duty and retired Marines, Navy corpsmen, and British Royal Marines.
But something dark started brewing among the 30,000 active users: Members of Marines United started soliciting, sharing, and linking to hundreds of naked photos of fellow female service members, veterans, and other women in early January. And all of this happened without the women's knowledge or consent.
According to Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting's arm that published the information uncovered by The War Horse, the women in the nude images were also identified by their full name, rank, and military duty station. The posts drew hundreds of obscene comments, and in many cases now-deleted Google Drive dossiers linked from the Facebook page to images of a sexual nature, including the personal information of the subjects.
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Many photographs seemed to have been originally shared in the context of a private exchange between two consenting adults. But other images also appeared to have been taken without the women's knowledge.
The distribution of these pictures was not only in bad taste, but also violated Facebook's terms of use. Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, who runs The War Horse, contacted the Marine Corps headquarters on January 30 with information about the Facebook page. According to Reveal, multiple accounts associated with Marines United were deleted within a day.

The Fallout

After Brennan flagged the Facebook page to the Marines' HQ, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation. In early March, Reveal broke the news that there was an ongoing investigation into hundreds of Marines and Navy men associated with the Facebook page.
The news quickly provoked outrage, mostly because it pointed out at a deeper culture of misogyny and harassment inside the armed forces. (There are less women in the Marines Corps than in other armed services, just 7% compared to the Army's 14%, per The New York Times. The corps also has the highest rates of sexual assault among the military branches.)
The Marines United group was shut down in January, but several copycat groups have surged ever since. The photos have even made it to the dark web, according to a report by The Daily Beast. And the situation seemed to sprawl through all military branches, going beyond just the Marines United group, according to information first reported by Business Insider.
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But the scandal has propelled several groups to take action, in an effort to change the culture of the military and prevent a situation like this from happening again.
In mid-March, advocates were lobbying for several health-focused policies for veteran women. Last week, an advocacy group for female Marines called "Not in My Marine Corps" wrote a letter to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, asking for Facebook to implement better policies to stop revenge porn.
And on Tuesday, the U.S. Navy Regulations were updated, effective immediately. According to The Navy Times, the revision bans Navy and Marine Corps personnel from sharing photos of intimate nature "if the person making the distribution or broadcast does so without legal justification or excuse."
It goes on to say sharing an intimate photo would be considered a violation if it's posted "with the intent to realize personal gain; with the intent to humiliate, harm, harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the depicted person; or with reckless disregard as to whether the depicted person would be humiliated, harmed, intimidated, threatened, or coerced."

Why All Of This Matters

It should go without saying, but the leaked photos put the service members involved at risk of blackmail. So yeah, this could put national security in jeopardy.
The nude photo scandal also points to a bigger issue inside the Marine Corps and the Navy: There has yet to be a culture shift in order for women to be fully integrated. It doesn't help that there's already a culture that celebrate brawls, heavy drinking, and sexual conquests. Add the rampant misogyny, rape culture, and indifference that can exist inside certain circles, and you get the perfect storm that developed in the Marines United page: 30,000 members and it took almost a month for someone to do something.
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Women should be able to enjoy their sexual autonomy without fearing that a partner will take advantage of them. And yes, that includes sending nude photos in a consensual, private setting. On the other hand, men need to understand once and for all that women's bodies don't belong to them — neither IRL or online.
There needs to be a change in the way we think about women, both in the military and society in general. Sharing intimate content without someone's consent is a violation. The U.S. Navy understood this and changed its regulations. Now, could we get a federal law protecting individuals from revenge porn, too?
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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