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Navy's Top Officer to Commanders: 'We Have a Problem'

FILE PHOTO -- USS Arizona ship’s officer addresses the first all-female division in recent history at Recruit Training Command, Aug. 17, 2012. (U.S. Navy/Liza Swart/Released)
FILE PHOTO -- USS Arizona ship’s officer addresses the first all-female division in recent history at Recruit Training Command, Aug. 17, 2012. (U.S. Navy/Liza Swart/Released)

The Marine Corps has taken the brunt of the scrutiny for a scandal in which active-duty Marines apparently exploited and targeted female service members online. But in a message to Navy commanders Tuesday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson made it clear that the root cause of the bad behavior is the Navy's problem, too.

The message, which came just hours after acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley testified alongside Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Capitol Hill about their response to the scandal, challenged the notion that only a few bad apples were to blame for the uproar.

"I've heard hundreds of times that 'these actions are being taken by only a small minority,'" Richardson said. "Prove that."

The discovery of the offending Facebook pages had "shined a light" that a problem persists within the military, Richardson said.

"But we get reminders of it every day, when we disrespect women by crude jokes, wisecracks, sexual harassment, and in its worst manifestation, sexual assault -- a serious violent crime," he wrote in the message. "Despite a steady effort to get after this, we're not making progress."

He called on rank-and-file sailors to "become intolerant" and openly denounce sexist and degrading behavior, and do what they could to put a stop to it when they observed it. Commanding officers and other leaders, he wrote, should challenge their command leaders at the small team level to discuss what respect for fellow troops means in every setting, including online.

"Make it clear that individuals who can't live up to our professional standards in competence and character are not welcome in our Navy," he wrote. "Make it clear that our standards call us to a higher commitment than the law -- we are better than that."

It's not clear how many sailors may have been caught up in the current Facebook group investigation. It emerged in congressional testimony last week that Navy corpsmen were among the service members participating in the photo-sharing ring. But reports indicate that the activity has now spread to all service branches through a forum called Anon-IB, known for anonymous sharing of nude celebrity photographs.

Richardson's message was one of zero tolerance.

"There is no room in our Navy for toxic behavior," he wrote. "It makes us weaker, and cedes advantage to the enemy. Direct involvement of commanders and small unit leaders will help us stamp this out."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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