Ernst Joins Bipartisan Group of Senators Demanding Action After ‘Marines United’ Postings

Bipartisan group of Senators express deep concerns that posts of female servicemembers weren’t uncovered by Defense Department— request proactive steps to crack down on harassment online and in barracks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a combat veteran, has joined a bipartisan group of Senators calling on U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis to better combat sexual harassment in the military after the exposure of nude posts of female servicemembers online in the Facebook group “Marines United” – and demanding the Pentagon develop a proactive plan to eliminate intimidation, harassment, and reprisal online and in the barracks.

In addition to Senator Ernst, the letter was sent by Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“We write to you regarding reports that Active Duty and Reserve servicemembers posted degrading comments and shared nude photos of female service members on the internet,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “…We are disappointed that the Department once again must react to reports of online harassment. Despite the Pentagon’s attempts to crack down on this kind of behavior, it was not uncovered by Department of Defense personnel, but by investigative journalists… If it were not for the courage and willingness of the first reporter, a combat wounded Marine Corps veteran, the contemptable treatment of female service members would have likely continued unnoticed to the public. The lack of success of the Department of Defense’s efforts to curb servicemember involvement in these kinds of groups before it became a serious problem demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the way that military leaders view and address the problem of online harassment.”

The Senators’ letter continues: “As a result of our strong concern regarding this issue, we ask what proactive steps the Department of Defense will take to discover and eliminate all forms of servicemembers’ online harassment. We understand that this may be a daunting challenge, however you must agree that commanders bear the weight of attempting to address and remove all sources of intimidation, harassment, or reprisal whether online or in the barracks. The military, which instills values of integrity, courage, loyalty, and honor in all those who serve, has a responsibility to all servicemembers to eliminate degrading behavior online long before it affects unit cohesion and readiness. We appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your response.” 

Full text of the letter HERE and below:

 

March 22, 2017

Dear Secretary Mattis,

We write to you regarding reports that Active Duty and Reserve servicemembers posted degrading comments and shared nude photos of female service members on the internet.  We appreciate the commitment of military leadership to address this important issue; however, this is not the first time the Department has dealt with this kind of inappropriate behavior of service members. We are disappointed that the Department once again must react to reports of online harassment. 

Despite the Pentagon’s attempts to crack down on this kind of behavior, it was not uncovered by Department of Defense personnel, but by investigative journalists. Moreover, the online harassment recently perpetrated through Facebook groups like Marines United, and websites used by Navy personnel to share photos of female sailors from at least 12 commands, continue derogatory trends the Department should have addressed after witnessing them within the US Military Academy’s men’s rugby team email scandal and the Facebook group Just the Tip of the Spear.  If it were not for the courage and willingness of the first reporter, a combat wounded Marine Corps veteran, the contemptable treatment of female service members would have likely continued unnoticed to the public.  The lack of success of the Department of Defense’s efforts to curb servicemember involvement in these kinds of groups before it became a serious problem demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the way that military leaders view and address the problem of online harassment. 

Although the existence of online behavior dedicated to harassment and intimidation of females by their peers is a societal problem, in a military environment, it represents a clear threat to good order and discipline required by a highly successful military.  As a result of our strong concern regarding this issue, we ask what proactive steps the Department of Defense will take to discover and eliminate all forms of servicemembers’ online harassment.  We understand that this may be a daunting challenge, however you must agree that commanders bear the weight of attempting to address and remove all sources of intimidation, harassment, or reprisal whether online or in the barracks. 

The military, which instills values of integrity, courage, loyalty, and honor in all those who serve, has a responsibility to all servicemembers to eliminate degrading behavior online long before it affects unit cohesion and readiness.  We appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Claire McCaskill    

Jack Reed                                         

Deb Fischer   

Joni K. Ernst

Dan Sullivan                                                                    

Bill Nelson                                                                                           

Jeanne Shaheen                                                                                 

Kirsten E. Gillibrand 

Richard Blumenthal                                                                           

Tim Kaine

Martin Heinrich                                                                                 

Elizabeth Warren