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Women Learn to Endure Sexual Harassment During Boot Camp: Veteran

“They were preparing us to have thick skin because it is so ingrained in this culture that they don’t know how to change it, so they go with the grain”

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    The U.S. Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, speaks on the investigation into the nonconsensual posting of photos of female service members on a private Facebook page called "Marines United." (Published Tuesday, March 14, 2017)

    The culture of misogyny in the U.S. Marine Corps that spawned the type of behavior exposed in the Marines United Facebook page traces back to boot camp, where women learn to put up with sexual harassment from their supposed brothers in arms, a former Marine veteran said Wednesday.

    “We’re taught to go with the flow and accept the culture as is, or else we face repercussions,” Erika Butner testified at a Democratic Women’s Working Group hearing, according to the Marine Times.

    Butner and Lance Cpl. Marisa Woytek, both of whom had their images posted without consent to the closed Facebook page, appeared at the hearing to explain how female Marines have been targeted, exploited and endangered by the scandal.

    The secret Facebook group had a following of over 30,000 male service members. Users shared nude images of active duty female Marines, veterans and other women, some of which were taken without the victim's knowledge and shared without their consent. It is not known how many service members were involved or are under investigation.

    The photos, Butner said, prompted obscene and lurid descriptions of “all the unspeakable things they’d do to me."

    The 23-year-old, who served in the Marine Corps for four years until June 2016, said she learned from her recruit training drill instructor that male Marines would consider her one of three stereotypes: "A b----, a w---- or a lesbian,” she told lawmakers Wednesday, the Times reported.

    “I’m not blaming the drill instructors,” Butner said. “They were preparing us to have thick skin because it is so ingrained in this culture that they don’t know how to change it, so they go with the grain.”

    Asked about Butner’s testimony, a Marine Corps spokesman said that any such conduct by drill instructors would not be tolerated.

    “Bottom line: Any Marine that would express the type of attitude expressed in that statement is dead wrong,” Maj. Clark Carpenter said.

    The scandal prompted an investigation into hundreds of Marines and the U.S. Marine Corps' top general vowed to prosecute those found responsible for posting photos of naked female service members on social media and other image-sharing boards.

    "We all have to commit to getting rid of this perversion of our culture," Gen. Robert Neller said at hearing before a House Armed Services personnel subcommittee in March. "We will take action to remove this stain on our Marine Corps."

    In the wake of the scandal, the Marine Corps issued a detailed social media policy that lays out the professional and legal ramifications for service members culpable of online misconduct. The new policy makes it clear how existing rules and the Uniform Code of Military Justice can be used to prosecute offensive, indecent or disrespectful online activities.

    But some lawmakers say tackling the issue as a social media problem isn't enough because the problem is "cultural rot" that has spread and thrived within the military. 

    "This is about service members deliberately trying to degrade, humiliate, and threaten fellow service members. They encouraged stalking, distributed stolen intimate photos, and have reduced their comrades to a collection of parts," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told the military officers during the subcommittee hearing.

    Speier has criticized the Armed Services Committee for not holding a full committee hearing on the issue and on Tuesday, her office said the Marine Corps leadership backed out of attending Wednesday’s hearing.

    A representative for the Marine Corp was scheduled to attend Wednesday's hearing on the scandal, according to Speier. Speier tweeted, “Last week, when I called the #Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Neller, I was assured a rep would be here to stand with these brave survivors.”

    On Tuesday, Speier’s office received a letter from Neller’s assistant offering to meet members of the Women’s Caucus individually.

    A spokesman for the general denied allegations that Neller or the assistant commandant withdrew from the hearing. “I believe it is true that Rep. Speier invited the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, but I do not believe he ever agreed to attend this working group’s session,” Lt. Col. Eric Dent said.

    Rep. Lois Frankel (D. Fla.), the chair of the DWWG, said in a press release announcing the hearing that while the issue of nonconsensual pornography has been most recently highlighted by the Marines United case, it has long existed in all branches of the U.S. armed forces, including in the Marine Corps in 2013.

    "Misogyny and objectification of women in the Marine Corps have gone unchecked for far too long," Butner said Wednesday. "The Marine Corps must decide whether to stand up for the women who have given their lives for our Nation, or cast them aside in spite of it.”

    The women's attorney, Gloria Allred, also testified at the hearing. They were joined by Miranda Peterson, Executive Director of Protect Our Defenders, Elizabeth L. Hillman, President of Mills College, and James LaPorta, a former Marine and journalist with the Daily Beast.