Although the Marine Corps was quick to condemn the secretive "Marines United" Facebook group, the Corps' leadership has known for years about websites that encourage misogyny and cyber bullying of female Marines, veterans and other women.
Four years ago, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., warned then-Commandant Gen. James Amos that male Marines were harassing their female counterparts on Facebook pages.
"They were words — just words. I fear military leadership will say anything to placate Congress and an outraged public but then do nothing."
While the Marine Corps is moving rapidly to deal with the fallout from the scandal, it is unclear whether the Corps will have any more success than it has in the past in stopping cyber bullying and online harassment.
The latest revelations have sparked a criminal investigation amid allegations that Marines and others were posting "revenge porn" and encouraging sexual assault, potential violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The potential crimes were first reported by Marine Corps veteran Thomas Brennan and published by the Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal on March 4.
Speier is now calling on Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine general, to ensure that the Marines involved with "Marines United" face consequences for their actions.
"We intend to deliberately attack the problem while being mindful of an individual's right to self-expression," he said.
As Marine leaders were trying to tamp down the Corps' scandal, new reports emerged Thursday suggesting that the problem of misogyny online and public posting of naked female service members may be far more widespread and involve other services. The report from Business Insider suggested a vast network of military men actively requesting photos of women, in some cases using specific names and units.
One Marine spokeswoman said new reports are unsurprising.
"We fully expect that the discovery of Marines United will motivate Marines to come forward to notify their chain of command of pages like it. Things may seem to get worse before they get better; Marines will attack this problem head-on and continue to get better," Marine Capt. Ryan E. Alvis said in a statement Thursday.
A familiar problem
In May 2013, Speier and others focused criticism on Marine humor Facebook pages such as "Just The Tip of the Spear" and "POG Boot F***s" for denigrating women.
One image posted at the time on JTTOTS showed two female Marines, each with a black eye, along with the caption: "Should have made that sandwich."
"And what do we call a woman with one black eye?" a user commented. "That's right, a fast learner."
Four years ago, the Marine Corps acknowledged that it had received about half-a-dozen complaints about inappropriate content on Marine humor pages. But none had led to a court-martial, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Robert Raines, the Marine Corps' outgoing senior equal-opportunity adviser.
"I wouldn't call it a trend yet," Raines told Marine Corps Times in 2013.
"But it's definitely something that's trending toward another issue that DoD will probably have to get its arms around in any way that we can," he said.
Four years later, the problem has only gotten worse due to apathy from Marine Corps leadership, Speier said on Wednesday.
"It’s abundantly clear that this is not a few bad Marines; rather, it’s another example of a cultural rot," Speier said.
"It is a blight that infects not just the ranks of the enlisted, but also the officer corps. Military leadership have utterly failed in their responsibility to protect their troops, punish those involved and uphold the professed values of the Corps."
Will it be different this time?
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking at an unspecified number of suspects believed to have shared nude photos and videos of female Marines or advocated sexual violence on the "Marines United" Facebook page.
Officials say the probe, underway for several weeks, could include active-duty military personnel, veterans and individuals who are not affiliated with the armed forces. Beyond the Uniform Code of Military Justice, many states have "revenge porn" laws, with some considering the crime a misdemeanor and others a felony.
Some Marines involved could face UCMJ charges such as "indecent viewing, visual recording or broadcasting" and discrediting the Marine Corps, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said Wednesday.
"We're going to make sure that any active-duty Marines that are out there, if they were involved in this behavior, that we hold them accountable," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Thursday in an interview with National Public Radio.
Neller declined to say what punishments Marines might face because the investigation is ongoing.
"What could happen is something that I don't have the authority over right now," he said. "That's going to be part of the judicial process — or administrative process — that goes here."
Marine Corps leaders are plotting their next steps, which are expected to include force-wide messaging and a focused response to the growing calls from members of Congress who've demanded near-term accountability and a long-term strategy for addressing what's become a persistent problem in the ranks.
"Right now, this is an opportunity to remind everybody of what our responsibilities are, what your responsibilities are and what the consequences are and the potential pitfalls are out there on the web," Neller said.
It remains to be seen whether that will translate to new policies. In a video to all Marines posted on Tuesday, Neller directed commanders first to ensure they understand and enforce existing rules on social media conduct, harassment and abuse. "If changes need to be made," he added, "they will be made."
To truly tackle the problems manifested in the "Marines United" scandal, the Marine Corps needs to overhaul recruit training, where young adults, often right out of high school, are segregated for the first 13 weeks of their military careers, according to the Service Women's Action Network.
For many years, the Marine Corps has successfully resisted calls to fully integrate its recruit training, as the Army, Navy and Air Force do, though there have been efforts to raise the profile of women in leadership roles with hopes it will have a positive influence on male recruits.
"As a starting point, boot camp should be integrated," SWAN argued in a statement by Kate Hedricks Thomas, a board member and Marine Corps veteran. "Further, women should be fully integrated into all occupations and units of the Marine Corps, and Marine Corps leadership must take a more active role in promoting the capabilities and qualities that women bring to the fight."
Jeff Schogol is a senior writer for Marine Corps Times. On Twitter: @JeffSchogol.
With reporting by Military Times senior editor Andrew deGrandpre. On Twitter: @adegrandpre.