The Reason the Military's Revenge Porn Problem Hasn't Gone Away

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Here's a hint: it's not because the Pentagon can't enforce new rules.

Perhaps predictably, the military has yet to adequately address their sexual harassment epidemic. In the spring of last year, Congress passed a law outlawing the “nonconsensual” posting of intimate photos online by anyone affiliated with the U.S. Military. This action followed March 2017 news of an image-based sexual abuse scandal—referred to popularly as “Marines United”— involving hundreds of Marines who used social media to post naked photographs of female service members and veterans.

The Pentagon quickly closed several social media accounts and online message boards rampant with degrading comments and images. In response, many of the same groups popped up on new accounts, now listed privately and using code names.

However, an investigation by VICE News reveals that the current digital climate wouldn’t satisfy even the laxest of law enforcement. Their review of these new social media pages found that:

Amid banter and workplace humor, there are photos and captions degrading service women and equating their promotions to how often they perform sexual acts. One disturbing photo of a naked, broken female mannequin carries a caption that reads, “A perfect example for why women don’t need to be in the #infantry.”

The users defend their pages, saying the groups are not meant to be “rampant, savage, sexual rape culture” but instead promote bonding between members. But an exclusively male membership and disparaging comments about women in the military lead us to believe otherwise.

As VICE News reports:

“I could go online right now and find three or four pages alone” of content outlawed by the Pentagon, said Scott Jensen, a retired Marine colonel and the CEO of veteran advocacy group Protect Our Defenders. “Right now, it points to how toothless the DOD’s policies are.”

The problem of sexual harassment in the military is on NCOSE’s radar. In April 2017 Executive Director Dawn Hawkins noted that the military’s meager efforts to improve were “only a few steps removed from political theater.” And it’s true. Keeping up with abusive social media accounts, while necessary, is getting to the real heart of the problem. To really make an impact on sexual harassment and violence within its ranks, the military needs to take a step back and examine the attitudes towards women as a whole, rather than trying to fix one symptom of a bigger issue.

“The reality is that military personnel (or anybody for that matter) cannot engage in sexually objectifying and exploitive behaviors toward women in one context (i.e., visiting strip clubs, viewing pornography) and then work alongside women in another context without it impacting their attitudes and behaviors,” Hawkins explained.

For this reason, NCOSE has proposed that the U.S. military take steps to ban military personnel from strip clubs and sexually oriented businesses, and encouraged the military to adopt training on the harms of pornography, including its connection to sex trafficking. NCOSE has repeatedly written to Department of Defense leadership about these matters, and is continuing its efforts to address the causes of sexual harassment and abuse in the military.

You can learn about NCOSE’s proposals to the military in the paper, “Inextricably Bound: Strip Clubs, Prostitution, and Sex Trafficking,” by NCOSE board member, Dan O’Bryant.

By Meghan Hart. Photo by Israel Palacio.

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