Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand blasted military leaders on Tuesday over a pornography scandal involving thousands of marines sharing nude photos — some of active servicemembers and veterans — in a private Facebook group.
“Who has been held responsible? Have you actually investigated and found guilty anybody?” she asked leaders of the Navy and Marines at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“Where’s the accountability for failure? Who is being held accountable for doing nothing since 2013? Who? Which commander?”
Gillibrand likely mentioned 2013 because that’s the year she tried to push through a bill that would have taken the ability to deal with sexual assault cases from military commanders and handed it to military prosecutors. Though the bill didn’t pass, Gillibrand became known as the Senate’s most vigorous defender of the military’s victims of sexual assault.
Before that, the New York senator didn’t seem convinced big changes were on the way.
“When you say to us, ‘it’s got to be different,’ that rings hollow,” Gillibrand said. “I don’t know what you mean when you say that. Why does it have to be different? Because you all of a sudden feel that it has to be different?”
This latest scandal was broken open earlier this month by journalist Thomas Brennan, who reported that a 30,000-member Facebook group known as Marines United had circulated nude photos of women, some of whom are active-duty marines. The group quickly deteriorated after it was revealed, but the images are stored on Google drive folders and have since spread to other Facebook groups and websites such as Pornhub.
The leaders of the Navy and the Marines were chastened.
“I can’t protect people necessarily on social media,” Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller said at Tuesday’s hearing. “Our ability — and this is not an excuse — our ability to manage what happens on social media … is an issue.”
Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley tried to offer some reassurance by saying, “we will get at the root underlying issues to eradicate this cancer.”
Gillibrand has heard it all before. In 2015, the latest year for which military sexual assault data is available, more than 6,000 sexual assault cases were reported. That, of course, is far from the actual number. Only 10 percent of men report their sexual assaults in the military, and only 40 percent of women do the same. That’s because the military is home to a documented culture of payback.
According to a Human Rights Watch report released in 2015, the rate of retaliation for reporting a sexual assault in the military is 12 times higher than the rate of a report resulting in a conviction for the perpetrator.