The commandant said Wednesday that the nude photo scandal that has rocked the Marine Corps in recent months will ultimately help the Corps and the women who serve in it.

"I think this whole thing, as disturbing and as difficult as it has been, has actually been a benefit," said Gen. Robert Neller during testimony at a defense subcommittee hearing for the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I think it's been a benefit to our Corps because I think it's brought up a very simple point — it's really not about social media, it's about how we view women in our Marine Corps."

The four-star general then said that the Corps has not fully appreciated the contribution and sacrifice of female Marines or given them the credit they deserve for their service.

Neller was responding to questions from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The senators called the scandal in which nude photos of female troops, veterans and civilians were shared through the Marines United Facebook page "appalling," "shocking" and "unacceptable."

Naval Criminal Investigative Service is in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and is tracing the sources of more than 150,000 individual images to identify who posted them and whether they are currently serving, said Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley.

Stackley said investigators are taking those charges through the adjudication process.

Neller said the investigation that began more than two months ago has identified 50 to 60 alleged perpetrators.

Murray continued the discussion by asking what steps the Navy and Marine Corps have taken to prevent sexual assault and harassment.

Stackley said that yearslong efforts to reduce such behavior have resulted in fewer occurrences of sexual assault and higher reporting rates, which he saw as signs of success.

The approach is to build a safe haven for the victim to file a report, identify the perpetrator and then hold the suspect accountable.

Neller said that beginning in the recruiting phase and throughout all phases of a career, Marines will be reminded of the rules and consequences.

"This is what the rules are and if you fail to abide by these rules then you will be held accountable," Neller said.

But in his answers, the general kept his responses realistic.

"This isn't going away," Neller said. "I would like to tell you like with sexual assault, like with suicide ... that we're going to get to zero. I can't tell you that."

He said commanders are critical in the process and have a range of options to deal with these incidents. The one option they don't have, he said, is to do nothing.

"I think the great majority of Marines I've talked to, male Marines, they understand that and I think we're now on a path to make everybody understand that this behavior is not acceptable, that as a Marine, once you earn that title you don't have to earn it again," he said.

"And if you're not going to be part of the solution then you're going to have to go somewhere else."

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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