Woman says Marines sent nude picture of her

February 24, 2011 4:08:19 PM PST
The Marine Corps famous motto "Semper Fidelis" means always faithful, but an ABC11 I-Team investigation has revealed allegations that some Marines don't necessarily take their motto to heart when it comes to their personal relationships.

An angry North Carolina mom contacted ABC11 after she says her daughter was sexually exploited, harassed, and humiliated by Camp Lejeune Marines in what some call a "Marine tradition" of retaliating against women who leave relationships with them.

We agreed to protect the identity of the woman's daughter "Sally." She was engaged to a Marine based at Lejeune - a base in Jacksonville, NC that's home to 40,000 service men and women.

"I was crazy about him. I was very trustworthy with him. I trusted him with everything," Sally told ABC11.

She trusted him enough to snap a nude photo of herself and send it to him.

"I know that a lot of you think negative toward me for taking this picture. But when you actually are with someone, and you feel like they're your world, that you can trust them with anything, then why would it matter?" she said.

But when they broke up, Sally says her former fiancé and his friends circulated the photo on their cell phones.

Included with the photo was the message: "Meet the Marine Corps tradition. You cheated on your fiancé. Make her famous guys. Fwd it along to everyone you know. You guys know the drill." Sally's name and phone number was included.

"I was horrified, honestly, because I trusted him. I really didn't think that he would - because he was talking about how he loved me and all this - and I was just like, 'Wow, this is some love,'" said Sally.

Like most parents, Sally's mother was horrified that her daughter sent the photo, but she was even angrier at the Marines who circulated it.

"I can't believe that people of that immature nature would be in the Marine Corps serving our country," offered Lynn Lowery.

Sally says she knew about the "Marine tradition" referred to in the email. She says her fiancé received a similar photo and message about another woman.

"As I'm reading down further, it's talking about the Marine tradition - how she cheated on her man," Sally recalled.

Sally says she never cheated on her fiancé, but says that didn't stop her from becoming a victim of the alleged "Marine tradition."

"This was done as a revenge act against her for leaving and ending the relationship with him," said Lowery.

Even though Sally now realizes the consequences of taking that nude picture, her mother says the Marines should be punished for sexually exploiting her daughter.

"She's been humiliated and embarrassed. Complete strangers whom she's never met have seen these portraits of her," said Lowery.

Sally says other women have been hurt by the "Marine tradition."

"I know two girls that this happened to. I know it hurt them really bad, just like it did to me," said Sally.

"Somebody is going to pay for this. It has to be, a stop put to it. I was ready to get in my car and go to Camp Lejeune and confront them personally," said Lowery.

Lowery says she called Camp Lejeune twice and explained what happened, but no one returned her calls. That's when she contacted the ABC11 I-Team.

We called Camp Lejeune. Officers told us they've never heard of this "Marine tradition." But when we sent them the message in the email Sally received, they opened an investigation.

We went to Raleigh attorney Amanda Martin and asked if Sally took the nude picture and sent it to her fiancé, does that constitute her consent to let him do whatever he likes with the image?

"It's not her consent that he can do whatever he wants," said Martin.

"If she took the picture, then she owns the copyright. Owning the copyright means she has some right to restrict or control its dissemination," she continued. "That's a more likely legal claim that she might have."

Martin's advice is simple. Don't take nude photos and don't send them around.

"That's right. What may, at one point, seem like something that's going to be limited to two people, if things go badly in a relationship, you just don't know, and you can never control what other people do. And so the only thing you can control is what you do. And if you don't send it, then that can't happen," said Martin.

Duke law professor Scott Silliman is a former lawyer with the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. He told us distribution of the photographs is not a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"What this young Marine did is offensive, not only to the girl, but also to the very high standards that Marines are expected to meet," he offered. "It's a stupid thing to do, but that doesn't necessarily make it criminal."

Because it's not a criminal act, Silliman said a military commander could take administrative action against the Marine by writing up the incident for his personnel file.

"It would be available by review by promotion boards, for other bodies that would consider whether he could stay in the Marine Corps. And I think that's more probably what's happening or what's happened in this case," said Silliman.

Sally says her former fiancé told her he did not send the email. He said one of his friends did.

But, the investigation against the Marine remains open.

Lowery says the experience took an emotional toll on her daughter.

"It's ruined her life. She's depressed. She's seeking therapy so that we can move forward and start the healing process here. But until justice is brought forth to those young men that done this to her, she's not going to be able to heal because you have that sense of feeling like they got away with it," said Lowery.

"I wanted to get this out so that other girls will know that you can't, not to trust nobody, even with that sort of thing. It don't matter if you love them or not," said Sally.

Marine officials at Camp Lejeune would not tell us what action, if any, it may take against the former fiancé.

We filed a freedom of information act request to find out.

Camp Lejeune officials turned down our request for an interview, but gave us the following statement:

"Any allegation that there is a "Marine tradition" to the practice which you mention is patently false. It isn't a Marine tradition formally or informally."

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