Photo Scandal Hurts Effort To Change Marine Corps Culture

Preparing for change with U.S. Marine Corps Integration Education Plan

Major Misty Posey leads a 2016 class for Marine Corps leaders about integrating women into combat roles. Credit: Lance Cpl. Harley Robinson/U.S. Marine Corps

My colleague with the American Homefront Project, Jay Price,  reports on efforts to change the culture within the Marine Corps after revelations that hundreds of Marines shared lewd photos of women.

The Marines are famous for their close-knit team spirit, a cohesion that Marine leaders say the Corps’ recent photo sharing scandal has undermined.

Photographs of female Marines, some of them explicit, were passed around on social media by male Marines and veterans. Some of the women apparently did not know they were being photographed. The images were shared in a Facebook group which has more than 30,000 members.

The existence of the photos was revealed by Thomas Brennan, a North Carolina investigative journalist.

In a video posted by the Pentagon after the revelations, Marine Commandant General Robert Neller was blunt.

“We are all-in 24/7,” Neller said, “and if that commitment to your excellence interferes with your ‘me time,’ or if you can’t or are unwilling to commit to contributing 100 percent to our Corps’ war fighting ability by being a good teammate and improving cohesion and trust, then I have to ask you, ‘Do you really want to be a Marine?'”

But comments posted under online stories about the scandal make it clear that some Marines disagree, like this one in the Marine Corps Times:

“How bout giving homage to a female that takes care of her body and looks good? We can do that anymore?” Continue reading

Military Sexual Assault Report From The Academies

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

There’s a bit of good news, but more not-so-good news in this year’s Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies just released by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The good news comes from the Air Force Academy “which received 32 reports of sexual assault (15 Unrestricted and 17 Restricted Reports) down from 49 reports in academic program year 2014-2015” according to the report.

But there were increased incidents from both the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy:

The Military Academy received 26 reports (20 Unrestricted and 6 Restricted Reports) up from 17 reports and the Naval Academy received 28 reports (20 Unrestricted and 8 Restricted Reports) up from 25 reports in academic program year 2014- 2015.

Another conclusion by the report, 89 percent of cadets and midshipmen who experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination report it was committed by another academy student. The full report in PDF is available here.

Researching Military Sexual Assault Prevention

Diane Price-Herndl, chair of the USF Women and Gender Studies and the Women's Status Committee.

Diane Price-Herndl, chair of the USF Women and Gender Studies and the Women’s Status Committee.

One in every five women and one in every 100 men have told the VA that they experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military.

Those numbers have both the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs working on solutions for treatment and the prevention of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

The head of the Women and Gender Studies and the Women’s Status Committee at the University of South Florida, Diane Price-Herndl, thinks her academic expertise can help with healing and prevention.

“This is a place where academics have not done our due diligence,” Price-Herndl said. “We’ve got men and women in the service who are suffering. And they are suffering from things that ostensibly my discipline studies and works on.”

She said Women and Gender Studies has done a lot of research on sexual assault in the general population that might prove helpful for the problem in the military.

Credit: Iowa VA

Credit: Iowa VA

So, Price-Herndl is starting that discussion at a one-day symposium on Military Sexual Trauma planned April 8 at USF Marshall Student Center in Tampa.

The idea is to share strategies and research across disciplines and agencies. Researchers from Bay Pines VA and James A. Haley VA will join USF academics from nursing, theater, and other departments. Each will present their current research on MST and there will be a chance to brainstorm.

One session will explore a project Price-Herndl is developing, The Witness Project. It hopes to archive and use the written and oral stories of military sexual trauma survivors as teaching tools for prevention programs developed for the Department of Defense.

Additionally, a round-table is planned at the conclusion of the symposium will take up the problem of sexual assault among the general population on college campuses.

For details on “USF Responds to Military Sexual Trauma: A Research Symposium,” contact Diane Price-Herndl at .

Congress Hears Military Sexual Trauma Testimony

Credit: Iowa VA

Credit: Iowa VA

More mental health programs are needed for male veterans who are living with Military Sexual Trauma (MST) according to a top psychologist and researcher from Bay Pines VA Health Care System.

Dr. Carol O’Brien, chief of the Bay Pines VA Post Traumatic Stress Disorder programs, testified Friday before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Health subcommittee. The hearing was titled: Safety for Survivors: Care and Treatment for Military Sexual Trauma.

O’Brien, who started the first residential program specific to military sexual trauma, said the VA is making progress treating PTSD linked to sexual trauma.

“But, we need programs to specifically address the complex family problems, behavioral issues, and co-occurring disorders that are typically seen in this group of veterans,” O’Brien said.

She also suggests providing earlier treatment in the VA as well as for active-duty military for those who have experienced military sexual trauma.

Three veterans, each a victim of military sexual assault, also  testified Friday. Their testimony was so powerful it evoked sympathy and apologies from the members of congress sitting on the panel.

The House members also expressed frustration with what they perceive as a lack of urgency from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Defense Secretary Attends Military Sexual Assault Panel

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel served in the senate from 1997-2009 representing Nebraska. Photo credit:

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel served in the senate from 1997-2009 representing Nebraska. Photo credit:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made clear “that his goal is to eradicate the crime of sexual assault from the military, and that he is open to all their ideas on how to accomplish this objective,” according to a readout from the Pentagon.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little provided the written comments about the secretary’s meeting with the panel today.

The Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel is charged with conducting an independent review and assessment of the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault and related offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It will develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of those systems.

Hagel believes the panel’s findings and recommendations will play a critical role in ensuring that the department, working closely with Congress, makes well-informed decisions to improve sexual assault response and prevention — considering all the options on the table.

“The Secretary asked the panel to work deliberately and carefully, based on thorough research and analysis, but also emphasized the importance of acting quickly.  He pledged the department’s full support for the panel’s efforts,” according to the Little press readout.

“In addition to today’s meeting, Secretary Hagel continues to hold regular weekly meetings of the top civilian and military leadership of the department focused solely on sexual assault prevention and response efforts.”

Air Force Trains Advocates for Sexual Assault Victims

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

The Air Force has taken a page out of the civilian court handbook by creating advocates for victims of military sexual trauma (MST).

The hope is by providing an advocate – Special Victims’ Counsels (SVC) – victims will be more willing to report assaults and testify in military court according to NPR’s Larry Abramson.

“We know 85 percent of our victims don’t report,” Lt. Gen. Richard Harding says. “Maybe if they understood the value of an SVC, some of them might feel a little bit more comfortable about reporting.”

That’s the long-term hope for the Special Victims’ Counsel program, which is currently limited to the Air Force but could expand to other services. The immediate goal is to train around 50 lawyers who will help victims get through the legal process.

You can listen to the full NPR story here.

The Department of Defense has a three-part Safe Helpline campaign to help any military member who has been the victim of military sexual assault. Continue reading

Military Sexual Trauma: How Cable News Reports on MST

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

Military sexual trauma (MST) and how it’s reported on cable news caught the attention of Media Matters for America especially after a recent Pentagon report that estimated there were 26,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2012.

The cable news was measured between May 6 and May 19, 2013 during a time period that included the release of the Department of Defense MST report, a major announcement by the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and accusations of sexual misconduct against some high profile military members involved in military sexual trauma prevention programs.

Media Matters measured during those two weeks how much time three major cable news channels devoted to coverage of military sexual trauma:

According to a Media Matters analysis, Fox News devoted 18 minutes, 42 seconds to covering military sexual assault since May 6, when the month’s first sexual assault case was reported. CNN and MSNBC spent 1 hour, 36 minutes and 4 hours, 56 minutes on military sexual assault stories, respectively.

Media Matters also produced a video compiling comments from Fox News show hosts about women. These are “selective” news clips, so be cautious with your assumptions.

Yet, it is telling that an individual would have the temerity to say some of these things on a national broadcast or any broadcast.

The video is only 1:17 long and worth watching if for nothing else but to gain a perspective on how “cavalier” some attitudes are toward women even when they are guests of that cable show.

Women Veterans: Military Sexual Trauma and Resources

womenVetsFlorida has an estimated 142,000 women veterans and many likely had their eyes on the Pentagon this week.

First, there was the deadline for the services to submit plans on how to integrate women into combat units or explain why women should remain banned. Many women already are serving in units exposed to combat but aren’t officially acknowledged.

And there is more news related to the growing problem of military sexual trauma.

We talked with an Air Force woman veteran, Larri Gerson, who now serves as a claims examiner with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and is a member of the federal, VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

“I’m glad to talk about how important right now the topic of military sexual trauma (is) because if we had this year 29,000 cases, they estimated suffer from military sexual trauma, that’s going to be too much to wait for next year to talk about it,” Gerson said.

Recently allegations of sexual misconduct have been brought against two military members who are part of the military sexual trauma prevention programs.

Gerson said congress is taking testimony and considering legislation

She said the issue of women in combat also is important but is being addressed over a longer period of time.

Gerson provided several resources for women veterans and contacts.

For Florida women veterans issues, contact Florida’s State Women Veterans’ Coordinator Cynthia T. Brown at

For national women veterans issues, contact Larri Gerson at


Taking on Questions About Allowing Women in Combat

Kayla Williams, an Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne Division, being promoted to SGT/E5 in Tall 'Afar. Photo credit: "Love My Rifle More Than You"/Facebook

Kayla Williams, an Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne Division, being promoted to SGT/E5 in Tall ‘Afar. Photo credit: “Love My Rifle More Than You”/Facebook

It was January 24th, just a few weeks ago, when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced he was lifting the ban on women serving in combat.

While many women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan argue they’ve been in combat for years, they welcomed the news as yet another step in getting rid of gender-based barriers in the military.

But that announcement didn’t automatically open up all roles to women.  Some units, for example the Navy SEALS, can apply for an exemption and  have until 2016 to decide whether or not they want to include women.

Women in Combat: The Changing Roles of Women in the Military” was the online forum sponsored by the Center on National Policy in Washington D.C.

It featured Kayla Williams, a sergeant and Arabic linguist with 101st Airborne, who served almost a year in Iraq. She went on foot patrols with the infantry, yet wasn’t even given the protective plates for her flack vest because as a woman she was not considered in combat.

More than 280,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan where there are no more traditional battle lines and everyone is exposed to combat conditions.

“I know I don’t have the right haircut, but I also went to war,” Williams explained when asked by an audience member if women had a harder time transitioning to civilian life. “Feeling invisible, having people ask me if I was allowed to carry a gun because I’m just a girl, having other people ask me if I was in the infantry when that is still not authorized. It really made it harder for me to transition back into a society that had no conception what so ever of what I’ve been through.” Continue reading

Military Sexual Assault: A film, a Survivor and Support

Photo courtesy of

A total of 3,192 sexual assaults were reported in 2011 involving military personnel as victims or subjects according to the 2011 Department of Defense Sexual Assault Report released earlier this month:

“Sexual assault has no place in this department.  It is an affront to the basic American values we defend, and to the good honor of our service members and their families,” said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

A Free Film Screening

“Uniform Betrayal Rape in the Military,” a documentary, is scheduled for a free showing open to the public on Monday, Tampa April 23, 2012, at 11 a.m. It will be followed by a panel discussion at the WUSF TV studios, 4202 E. Fowler Ave, and appearances by the filmmakers, Jennifer Molina and Sarah Pusateri.

Continue reading

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