U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) has fired off a letter to the Secretary of Defense, bringing his attention to what she called a "disturbing Facebook page," which includes many negative comments and photos denigrating women in the Marine Corps.
NBC Bay Area is not showing all these photos because they are inappropriate, but one shows a woman's breasts and her fingers flipping someone off in an image that is labeled "F'N Wook," and another shows a female Marine putting a colleague in a choke hold with the words, "This is my rape face." Speier said she did not know who the Facebook page belonged to, and she was tipped off to it by a whistleblower. The page has since been taken down.
Speier's letter (PDF) and accompanying Facebook screen grabs was dated May 8, and sent to Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos and Principal Deputy Inspector General Lynne Hal brooks. Her letter comes as the national uproar over sexual assaults in the military following a Pentagon report this week saying that 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted last year.
"Many of the pictures imply women only advance professionally by performing sexual favors," Speier wrote. "And otherwise promote the idea that women are inferior and only useful as sexual objects and sandwich makers."
In a statement on behalf of the Marines received by e-mail on Wednesday, Capt. Eric Flanagan said that in general, "We have identified active Marines doing inappropriate posting on social media and they have been punished."
In some cases, Flanagan said that Marines have faced "office hours" as "non judicial punishments" for unsavory comments posted online.
He said the men have been both active duty and reserve Marines and have been referred to commands for "appropriate action," though he was not specific about what that action was. Flanagan's comments were not necessarily made regarding the "F'N Wook" page, specifically highlighted by Speier.
Flanagan also issued some general facts about the Marines and their social media policies. Marines are responsible for all content they publish online, for example, and there is "no tolerance for discriminatory comments."
Violations of federal law and Department of Defense regulations or policies may result in disciplinary actions, which includes posting "any defamatory, libelous, abusive, threatening or ethnically hateful or otherwise offensive or illegal content."
When the Marines do receive a complaint regarding derogatory comments made online, Flanagan said that his military branch has notified companies such as Facebook about it. However, Flanagan said in an e-mail that "there are difficulties" in finding out the Marine who did it because people use fake accounts and pseudonyms. Social media sites, he said, are not obligated to divulge personal information to the Marines.
His statement added that the Marine Corps has been dealing with social media complaints "over the past ten years."
According to Speier, Amos has been aware of this specific Facebook page and monitoring it for three years. And despite the monitoring, the "cyber retaliation against those who complain about the website's content continues unabated," Speier wrote.
On her website, Speier called for "Hagel and Marine Leadership to Respond," and said that this type of vulgar "humor" seems to "encourage sexual assault and abuse."
Speier has worked long and hard to end what she calls an "epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military," and has authored three pieces of legislation to change the military's justice system's treatment of cases of rape and sexual assault.
NBC Bay Area's Joe Inderhees and Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.