WASHINGTON — Months before the Marine nude-photo-sharing scandal erupted, servicemembers were complaining about a similar issue in an anonymous Defense Department survey on sexual assault and harassment.
In a report issued Monday, the Pentagon said that nearly 6,200 military members said that sexually explicit photos of them were taken or shared against their will by someone from work, and it made them "uncomfortable, angry or upset." And, across the services, female Marines made up the largest percentage of women who complained.
More than 22,000 servicemembers said they were upset or angry when someone at work showed or sent them pornography. And, again, female Marines represented the highest percentage of complaints from women.
The responses reflect a growing concern across the military about inappropriate social media behavior. The scandal came to light last month when sexually explicit photos of female and male Marines were being shared on a secret Facebook page. The revelation triggered a wide-ranging criminal investigation that now encompasses all the services, and has prompted changes and restrictions in military social media policies.
The latest survey results, however, make it clear that the issue has long been simmering in the military.
Nate Galbreath, deputy director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention office, said the results "tell us that this is a problem and we have to start having more conversations about social media behavior."
The survey was released as part of the annual report on sexual assault and harassment in the military. It found that reports of sexual assaults in the military increased slightly last year, and more than half the victims reported negative reactions or retaliation for their complaints.
Two social media questions were asked for the first time in last year's survey, Galbreath said, because the issue was becoming more of a concern.
According to the data, 1.3 percent of military women said someone took or shared explicit photos of them against their will. When divided according to military service, 2.3 percent of female Marines made that complaint, compared to 1.5 percent of female soldiers, 1.6 percent of female sailors and .5 percent of female airmen.
On the pornography question, 4 percent of military women said someone showed or sent them sexual explicit material that made them upset or angry.
Six percent of female Marines had that problem, compared to 5 percent of female sailors, 4.5 percent of female soldiers and 2.1 percent of female airmen. The percentages of men complaining were much smaller overall.
The Marine Corps is the smallest military service, so while the percentages were the largest, the actual numbers of people affected were likely smaller than the other services.
On retaliation, it found that 58 percent of victims last year said they faced some type of "negative behavior," but only 32 percent described circumstances that could legally be described as retribution. This includes professional retaliation, administrative actions or punishments. In 2015, 38 percent reported such actions.
Retaliation has been a difficult issue to sort out, and the Defense Department has been adjusting its measurements for several years. It seeks to differentiate between more serious workplace retribution and social snubs that, while upsetting, are not illegal.