Marines United Survivors Testify in Democratic Women’s Hearing on Nonconsensual Pornography

Bipartisan hearing includes testimony from victim advocates, Attorney Gloria Allred, Marine veteran and journalist James LaPorta.

April 5, 2017

Washington, DC – The Democratic Working Women’s Group hosted a hearing today to address the ongoing issue of nonconsensual pornography within the United States military. Though this issue has been most recently highlighted by the Marines United case, it has long existed in all branches of our armed forces, including in the Marine Corps dating back to at least 2013.

Today’s hearing was hosted by Congresswoman Lois Frankel (Fl-21), DWWG Chair; Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), DWWG Vice Chair; and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), DWWG Communications Chair and Ranking Member on the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. Testimony was provided by two survivors of the Marines United attacks – USMC veteran Erika Butner and Lance Corporal Marisa Woytek, who is an active duty Marine – and their attorney Gloria Allred, a nationally renowned women’s and victims’ rights lawyer. Testimony was also provided by advocates for servicemembers who have had their careers and personal lives destroyed by sexual violence and harassment, including Miranda Peterson, Executive Director of Protect Our Defenders, Elizabeth L. Hillman, President of Mills College and a renowned legal expert and law professor with expertise on sexual assault who  has advised the Department of Defense on these issues; and James LaPorta, a former Marine and journalist with the Daily Beast who has covered this issue extensively and who entered a statement from a victim into the record. You can read her statement here.

Comments from the DWWG Leadership and witnesses are listed below.

DWWG Chair, Congresswoman Lois Frankel: “I am outraged that so many brave Marines were subject to such egregious sexual harassment and exploitation while serving our country. As the mother of a Marine, I know first-hand the selfless sacrifices of those who put on the uniform. What we heard at today’s hearing is a threat to the morality, integrity, and sustainability of the institution, and we have much work to do to ensure the safety of ALL our servicemembers.”

DWWG Vice Chair, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence: “Our service members must have confidence that their brothers and sisters in uniform always have their back. There simply is no room for behavior that humiliates and degrades fellow women service members. The revelation that non-consensual nude photographs of service members were posted to social media, accompanied by lewd comments, is both repulsive and unacceptable. This offensive behavior strikes at the very heart of the Marines, undermining the trust and confidence that Marines have in each other, and compromising the respect the American public has for the Marines. Congress must act and we need to learn more so that we can be a part of a constructive solution.

DWWG Communications Chair, Congresswoman Jackie Speier:“I want to thank Erika and Marisa, the brave survivors who testified today. They have given voice to the thousands of women and men in our armed forces who have seen their careers and personal lives destroyed by groups like Marines United. I also want to commend our other witnesses, whose contributions will be key to stopping the culture of rot that has pervaded the U.S. military. The courage of all the witnesses is to be commended, and stands in stark contrast to the conspicuous absence of military leadership from today’s proceedings. Finally, I want to assure every servicemember who has been unjustly victimized by nonconsensual pornography that I and my colleagues in the DWWG will not stop until we ensure justice for all survivors.”

Attorney Gloria Allred: “Women are not footnotes to history. We are the majority, and we have a right to respect and dignity and to have our voices heard. There can be no meaningful change without hearing from victims whose lives have been endangered by posts which suggest that they should be killed ‘by friendly fire’ or that they should be raped or sexually assaulted. [The] bill which was introduced by Representative Jackie Speier, the Servicemembers Intimate Privacy Protection Act, is long overdue and we look forward to testifying in support of it,” – Gloria Allred

Marine Corps Veteran Erika Butner, Marines United survivor: “Nonconsensual photo sharing, publishing of contact information, and inciting of sexual violence among service members and veterans online must be addressed with legislation. Misogyny and objectification of women in the Marine Corps have gone unchecked for far too long. The Marine Corps must decide whether to stand up for the women who have given their lives for our Nation, or cast them aside in spite of it. I beg of you, as a Marine, and as a woman veteran, please pledge your support.” – Erika Butner

Lance Cpl. Marisa Woytek, Marines United survivor: “I enlisted…because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself … to follow in my fathers’ footsteps, who served honorably in the Marine Corps. We must remember that the Marine Corps in as is an institution that prides itself in honor, courage, and commitment. Most Marines practice these values every day, and those who do not bring dishonor to themselves and to the United States Marine Corps.”

Elizabeth L. Hillman, President of Mills College: “No environment is free of potential risk of harm, and our armed forces operate in spaces with far more than an ordinary level of risk. In such extraordinary situations, the disrespect and demeaning attitudes toward women exposed by the extensive posting and sharing of private sexual images is especially troubling. Social media creates many opportunities for “Marines United”-style postings that sexualize and trivialize women. We should all welcome legislative and regulatory efforts to strengthen the negative consequences of posting private sexual images. Deterring this misconduct will help to improve the operational effectiveness and gender equity of the U.S. armed forces.”

Miranda Petersen, Executive Director Protect Our Defenders: “Protect Our Defenders has heard directly from service women and civilians whose private nude pictures were taken and distributed by male service members without their consent. In addition to feelings of shame and betrayal, they spoke of the ways in which these incidents undermined their ability to perform their duties and inflicted lasting trauma. These women’s dignity and privacy were violated and yet their commanders did nothing to prevent further harm or hold the perpetrators accountable. It is shameful that women who want nothing but to serve their country are forced to endure such humiliation in silence and are afforded so little recourse.

James LaPorta, Marine Corps Veteran and Journalist: “Some of my reporting on Marines United noted commendable work from the chat room, such as helping members seek gainful employment and preventing others from potentially committing suicide. However, these are not justifications for the dishonorable behavior imposed on their fellow Marines, wives, girlfriends or unsuspecting American citizens. Simply put, my reporting partner — Rory Laverty and I — have found multiple examples of extortion, revenge porn, non-consensual photo sharing, death threats and online harassment, that targets not just the women, but their friends and family members. We've reported on social media companies failing to purge this type of behavior from their networks. Both civilian and military prosecutors have told us that due to limits in both law enforcement investigations and current legal authorities, some of the individuals suspected of sharing the photos might never be held accountable.”