WASHINGTON - Two female Marines came to Capitol Hill Wednesday to share their stories of being victimized by fellow service members in a nude photo-sharing scandal in the U.S. Marine Corps.
A small room in the Capitol complex was packed as the women told 15 lawmakers about the embarrassment they felt when they found private pictures of themselves shared in an online group of 30,000 members.
“Since speaking out, I have received backlash on social media,” Lance Cpl. Marisa Woytek told lawmakers of the backlash. “Within the past 24 hours alone, I have had former Marines harass me online and say and state that they actively look for sexually explicit pictures of me.”
Only two male members of Congress showed up at the meeting.
The Democratic Women’s Working Group hosted the event, which was not considered an official hearing because they could not convince a House Committee to host it.
“These two young women, I mean boy, what heroes, the courage it took to do what they did,” Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-California, one of the two male members who attended, said in a phone call on Thursday.
Republican Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, joined DeSaulnier and the female lawmakers to voice his support for the women and ask how the military can better prevent such behavior.
DeSaulnier said he was invited to the meeting by his female colleagues, and was reflective about the seeming resistance to address the issue by men in power.
“As a male, some of it is just 'We don’t get it;' and that’s not an acceptable excuse,” said DeSaulnier.
He said the meeting, behind an unmarked, closed door, sent a loud message about the “transformative times we’re in.”
“I thought the whole thing was an amazing message about institutional resistance to gender equity...I think people have a hard time giving up the past,” said DeSaulnier. “It’s the right thing to do to respect people regardless of their gender.
The victims who testified are represented by high profile civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred.
“This is widespread, this is pervasive and the question is what are the Marines going to do about it?” said Allred.
Senators summoned a top general last month to Capitol Hill for answers. Gen. Robert Neller said the Marine Corps does not condone such behavior, and that the corps is struggling to figure out who is responsible.
"I ask you trust the leadership of the Marine Corps to take action and correct this problem," said Neller.
Woytek doesn’t want the reputation of the Marines to be stained.
“The majority of Marines are intelligent, well-rounded and respectful people,” Woytek said. “The disgusting actions of a few do not define an entire branch.”
Rep. Frankel said she went forward with the panel despite not being able to make it an official hearing that would have garnered higher attendance from lawmakers.
“If we continue to keep the spotlight on this, then we can get to the right answer,” said Frankel.
Lawmakers on the panel pushed legislation that would change military law. The bill introduced by Rep. Speier would make it easier to punish service members who target women.
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