California Representative Jackie Speier introduced the Servicemembers Intimate Privacy Protection Act (SIPPA) that would make sharing illicit photos without consent punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The bill is in response to the ongoing investigation of the “Marines United” Facebook page in which tens of thousands of former and current military personnel were sharing illicit photos of female colleagues.
“This bill will broaden the legal prohibition of displaying and disseminating nude photos without the consent of the female,” said Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents two women who had their photos shared on the private Facebook group. One of Allred’s clients is Erika Butner, a former active-duty Marine who found out a photo of her had been shared on the Marines United Facebook page in August 2016. Butner and Allred appeared alongside Rep. Speier to announce the legislation on Thursday.
“(Women are) shouldering an extra burden that men don’t have to shoulder when they become United States Marines and that’s the extra burden of gender discrimination,” Allred said following the bill's announcement.
The “Marines United” Facebook page has since been shut down and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating. Maine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and faced tough questions about the military’s inquiry into the Facebook group.
“Who has been held responsible? Have you actually investigated and found guilty anybody?” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand asked Neller and other top Marine Corps brass who appeared before the committee.
Neller reinforced his commitment to changing the “culture” within the Marine Corps. “I'm committed to making this right and I need all Marines equally committed,” he said. “We all have to commit to getting rid of this perversion to our culture. Enough is enough.”
Neller’s testimony came one day ahead of an Associate Press report that sexual assaults increased at two of the three military academies last year. The data underscores the challenge facing the military and its academies in dealing with sexual harassment and assault. The AP report showed sex assaults at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York increased in 2016, while assaults decreased at Colorado’s U.S. Air Force Academy.
“I am furious, I am saddened and I am frustrated by how we got to this point,” Rep. Speier said at a joint press conference Thursday.
In additional to supporting SIPPA, Allred has called for both the Senate and House Armed Services committees to hear testimony from victims of the “Marines United” Facebook page. “We need Congress to hear from the victims of this scandal,” she said.
Allred has also asked for a meeting with Gen. Neller so her clients can discuss the issue with him. A statement from Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Christian Devine said Gen. Neller has accepted the offer to meet with them, but because of the ongoing investigation he has “respectfully requested that the interaction be held exclusively with his Marines.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.