OCEANSIDE (CNS) - Two victims of a military nude-photo scandal joined high-profile attorney Gloria Allred Thursday in calling on military and political leaders to do more to punish those who have posted intimate images of military women online without consent.
Allred, who represents Camp Pendleton-based U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Marisa Woytek and former Marine Erika Butner, held a news conference at an Oceanside hotel to release a letter she had received about the "Marines United" scandal from Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
In response to a request by Allred to let her clients and other victims of the lurid online site testify before the committee, Thornberry, R-Texas, asserted that a hearing on sexual assault and harassment will be held in response to the allegations.
Thornberry wrote the session would focus on testimony from those women whose cases have been "fully investigated and adjudicated."
Allred and her clients criticized that restriction as a means of silencing victims and discouraging them from reporting their ordeals.
"His response, in my opinion, is an attempt to hide from the public the true facts about how the system has failed to protect female Marines, and how and why (it) is failing to promptly and fairly impose appropriate discipline and consequences on the perpetrators who have wrongfully denigrated women Marines by posting sexually explicit photos without the consent of the women," Allred said.
An undetermined number of nude photos of servicewomen were shared without their permission on a Facebook group titled "Marines United" before the site was shut down last month.
The online community had nearly 30,000 members, mostly active-duty U.S. Marines, USMC veterans and British Royal Marines, according to news reports.
During the news conference, Butner criticized military leaders and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for purportedly failing to conduct a good- faith investigation of the lewd postings, which subjected victims to harassment, including anonymous threats of rape, violence and death by "friendly fire."
Butner pointed out that the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Glenn Walters, had responded to the scandal, in part, by asserting that Marines should avoid allowing themselves to be photographed nude, stating, "I don't take those kind of pictures myself, and I think that's a pretty good place to be."
"When the leader of the very task force assembled to address this issue continues to assert that the mere existence of photos is the problem -- not the stealing, malicious sharing, denigrating women and calling for violence against women in the military -- it is clear that the investigation seems biased, and at worst a sham," Butner said.
Woytek -- who said an intimate photo of her posted on Instagram had been lifted and posted on the now-defunct Facebook page in September -- said other victims she'd contacted felt too intimidated by military and social pressures to report their stories.
"There's a handful of women that have reached out to me, whether it be personally or through social media, that have told me their stories in regards to how they're too terrified to come forward, the backlash they'll receive -- whether it be in person, their commands or social media," she said.
Butner said she knew of women who had gone to the NCIS, only to see their claims disregarded.
Allred urged military leaders to do right by the victims.
"It is not too late for the U.S. Marines and Navy to take meaningful action," Allred said.
"But if they do not do so, then certain male Marines may continue to bring dishonor to what should be a well-respected United States Marine Corps, and female Marines who bravely serve their country will continue to be placed unnecessarily in harm's way, because the Navy and Marines are intentionally failing to protect them from unnecessary risks they should not have to face as United States Marines who proudly serve their country."