WASHINGTON — More than a year after a nude-photo-sharing scandal rocked the Marine Corps, the service has investigated about 130 individuals for online misconduct, ranging from sexual harassment and bullying to revenge porn. Nearly 60 faced some type of punishment.
Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told reporters Wednesday that he's trying to create a cultural change in the Corps, but he acknowledged the challenge.
"Are we where we want to be? No," Neller said. "It's been a year. We're trying to change a culture that didn't start a year ago."
Neller's comments came on the heels of a Pentagon report that said sexual assaults across the Marine Corps increased by nearly 15 percent last year, compared to 2016.
He noted that many believe that increased reporting shows confidence in the chain of command and a belief that there is less of a chance of retribution for a complaint.
But, he added, "If that number continues to go up ... we have to decide if that's because we still can't improve our behavior and our discipline."
As of April 18, the Marine Corps has investigated 108 Marines and 22 civilians for online misconduct. Some cases were related to the online nude-photo-sharing scandal and others were not. So far, seven people were convicted in court-martial proceedings, 16 faced non-judicial punishments, 28 faced other administrative actions and seven were discharged from the Marine Corps.
The photo-sharing scandal came to light early last year, when nude photographs of female Marines, veterans from across the military and other women were shared on the Facebook page Marines United. Comments and posts under some photos included obscene and threatening comments.
An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service determined that the overwhelming majority of the photos were selfies or were posed for and then voluntarily shared, which is not illegal even under military code. As a result, only a small number of military members faced charges or discipline for their participation on the website. The scandal, however, prompted the military services to revise and more strongly enforce online behavior, including on social media websites.
Neller said the discipline isn't about "hanging scalps" but rather about teaching Marines that they are held to a higher standard of behavior.
But he flatly rejected any changes in how the Marines keep male and female recruits separate for portions of their boot camp.
The segregation has faced criticism and calls for change from Congress members who say the recruits should be completely integrated as they are in the other services.
The Marines assign female recruits to their own platoon and argue that keeping them separate, particularly for the first three weeks of training, better enables them to become more competitive.
Neller said that the male and female platoons do 65 to 70 percent of their training together, including rifle training, swim qualifying, fitness tests and battle skills training.
"This is the way we believe is the most effective way to make a Marine. We don't do it for any other reason. We don't do it to disadvantage women. Quite frankly, we do it to advantage women. We want them focused on learning how to be a Marine," Neller said. "Am I considering any changes right now? No."