Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled military leaders on the latest scandal to plague the armed forces following a history of harassment and assault against female military members by their male counterparts. First reported by journalist and former Marine Thomas James Brennan, the existence of a Facebook group comprising of 30,000 current and former Marine Corps members circulating nude photos and videos of women, including active service members, sparked a national outrage. The female members of the committee, in particular, expressed skepticism and frustration over the lack of accountability in the past years for similar incidents of sexual harassment and assault.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand most fiercely rebuked Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller for the culture of sexual assault and misogyny that top military members have failed to rein in. She pointed out that the Marines have been aware of allegations of online victimization and exploitation since 2013, but have failed to make any changes.
"When you say to us, 'it's got to be different,' that rings hollow. I don't know what you mean when you say that. Why does it have to be different? Because you all of a sudden feel that it has to be different?" Gillibrand asked. "Who has been held responsible? Have you actually investigated and found guilty anybody?"
The New York lawmaker pushed leaders on their lack of action in spite of their insistence on handling similar incidents internally. "But where is the accountability for failure?" she pressed. "Who is being held accountable for doing nothing since 2013? Who? Which commander?"
Gillibrand has emerged as a champion for sexual assault survivors over the years. In 2013, she fought hard for a bill she crafted with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz that would remove military commanders' power to decide how rape and sexual assault cases are handled and place that responsibility in the hands of an independent military prosecutor. The bill didn't make it through, but Gillibrand gained respect and prominence for her efforts.
At the Tuesday hearing, she asked the military members to create a specific plan to address the culture of misogyny and assault that apparently thrive in their services. Gillibrand said:
It is a serious problem when we have members of our military denigrating female Marines who will give their life to this country in the way they have, with no response from leadership. I can tell you, your answers today are unsatisfactory. They do not go far enough. And I would like to know what you intend to do to the commanders who are responsible for good order and discipline.
Neller had no good answers, and acknowledged as much. "As you clearly and rightfully state, this is a problem with our culture and I'm still...I don't have a good answer for you. I'm not gonna sit here and duck around this thing, I'm not. I'm responsible, I'm the commandant," he told Gillibrand. "We're going to have to change how we see ourselves and how we treat each other. That's a lame answer, but ma'am, that's the best that I can tell you right now. We've got to change, and that's on me."
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