As a Marine recruit at Parris Island, Erika Butner learned from her drill instructors that her supposed brothers in arms would treat her as one of three stereotypes: “A bitch; you’re a whore or you’re a lesbian,” she told lawmakers on Wednesday.
“I’m not blaming the drill instructors,” she said at a Democratic Women’s Working Group hearing. “They were preparing us to have thick skin because it is so ingrained in this culture that they don’t know how to change it, so they go with the grain.”
Wednesday’s hearing focused on allegations that male service members and veterans have posted nude pictures of female troops, veterans and civilians on the “Marines United” Facebook page and other websites. Moreover, some members have allegedly threatened to kill and rape women who are clearly identified in those pictures, lawmakers said.
Butner testified along with Lance Cpl. Marisa Woytek, both of whom have been harassed online. During Butner’s time in the Corps, pictures of her fully clothed were stolen from her social media accounts and shared on websites with captions such as, “Smash or pass?” which meant “would you have sex with this woman or not?” she said.
Later, her pictures and contact information were shared on the Marines United page along with lurid descriptions of “all the unspeakable things they’d do to me,” she said.
The culture of misogyny toward women that begets this type of behavior traces back to boot camp, where women learn to put up with sexual harassment form male Marines, Butner said on Wednesday.
“We’re taught to go with the flow and accept the culture as is, or else we face repercussions,” she said.
When asked about Butner’s testimony, a Marine Corps spokesman said that any such conduct by drill instructors would not be acceptable.
“Bottom line: Any Marine that would express the type of attitude expressed in that statement is dead wrong,” said Maj. Clark Carpenter. “Every Marine is critical to our mission and any behavior meant to demean or degrade a fellow Marine is not tolerated.”
But Butner’s comments are not the first time this issue has arisen. In 2012, a Marine veteran told Stars and Stripes that she had a similar experience at boot camp, where she and other female recruits were told to decide whether they were a “slut, a dyke or a bitch.”
“You are told that pretty much any contact with male Marines makes you a slut,” Katie Appeldorn told the newspaper. “It is automatically assumed she is sleeping around. Dyke isn’t necessarily a lesbian, but she is thought to be. Bitch is what you are told to be. It basically means you don’t give the men around you an inch.”
No Marine Corps leaders attended Wednesday’s hearing. Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller testified at a separate hearing Wednesday morning about how another temporary spending measure could hurt readiness.
Assistant Commandant Glenn Walters initially told Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., that he would attend, but he was later advised against it because it was technically a caucus meeting and not a formal committee hearing, Marine Corps Times has learned.
Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., contended that Wednesday’s event was indeed a hearing and she regretted that Marine Corps leaders did not attend.
“We would have loved them to be here with us and I’m sorry they declined,” said Frankel. “Hopefully, we’ll have some follow-up with them.”
All of the lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing were Democrats except one: Rep. Walter Jones Jr., a Republican whose North Carolina congressional district includes Camp Lejeune.
“What would be the best thing I could do to help your pain?” Jones asked Butner and Woytek.
“I think it would be to start holding people accountable,” Butner replied. “I think they need to start making examples out of people who are condoning this behavior. I think that would help the victims to come forward