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Marine veteran disappointed by commandant’s response to photo scandal

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller responds to an angry and skeptical Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March, 14, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Don’t call it a “nude photo scandal” in front of Marine Corps veteran Erin Kirk-Cuomo.

Kirk-Cuomo, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is the founder of Not In My Marine Corps, a group of active duty, retired and veteran Marines and civilians dedicated to ending sexual harassment and assault.

Kirk-Cuomo says she gets frustrated hearing it referred to in the news as a “nude photo scandal,” because many of the women in these photos that have been inappropriately shared on websites and through social media are fully clothed.

But sharing these photos of female Marines, often pictures taken as they go about their normal workday, targets these women for harassment by their co-workers, and they draw vile, vulgar comments and talk of sexual violence.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, telling senators that he intends to fix the misogynistic culture of the U.S. Marines.

Addressing male Marines who would see his testimony, General Neller asked: “What is it going to take for you to accept these Marines as Marines?”

But it’s not just the Marines.

In recent weeks, the scandal has spread to the other services, including the Air Force, the Army and the Navy.

Watching General Neller’s testimony, Kirk-Cuomo thought Neller was vague — and she was disappointed in his responses, which she believes showed a lack of understanding of the issues and their full extent. She also didn’t like his use of the term “generationally challenged.”

“I really don’t think that’s an excuse we should be hearing from the commandant of the Marine Corps,” says Kirk-Cuomo.

This week, the Marine Corps issued new guidelines for use of social media. They warn Marines to be careful, to think twice before engaging in questionable online activities and avoid any actions that threaten morale, readiness, or the public standing of their units, including defamatory, threatening, or harassing remarks based on sex or sexual orientation.

Kirk-Cuomo doesn’t think these new guidelines go far enough. She says the new policy doesn’t change what Marines were told about social media in the past.

She also says she doesn’t want these new guidelines to become just another check in the box as far as training goes — another power-point presentation Marines have to sit through every year.

In her eyes, the bad attitudes male Marines have toward their female colleagues begins in segregated enlisted basic training.

“When you have women that are held to different training standards in physical performance and physical PT tests, it creates a barrier between men and women, and they’re seen as not equal.”

What Kirk-Cuomo and her group Not In My Marine Corps would like to see is a review of basic enlisted training, with an eye on how segregating men and women leads directly to debasement of women.

She also encourages everyone to write to their congressional representatives and ask then to hold off on voting for any general officers presented in committee for nomination.

Kirk-Cuomo wants these members of Congress to strongly condemn the actions of those involved in inappropriate photo-sharing and pledge to get to the bottom of the issues that she sees as ongoing and unresolved.


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