The change was announced in an all-service message signed by acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley as an interim update to the official book of Navy regulations. When a new edition of the document is printed, the prohibition against photo distribution will be included.
According to the message, prohibited behavior now includes physical electronic sharing of intimate photos without legal justification or cause and without knowledge of consent. These photos cannot be distributed with intent to realize personal gain; with the intent to humiliate, harm, harass, threaten, or coerce the subject; or with "reckless disregard" as to whether sharing the photos would have such an effect, the language of the new regulation states.
The regulation puts Marines and sailors who participate in what is commonly known as "revenge porn" in the crosshairs of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which makes it a prosecutable offense to violate a military order.
"The recent message from the Secretary of the Navy applies to all Marines," Capt. Ryan Alvis, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, told Military.com. "This means that the wrongful distribution or broadcasting of an intimate image by members of the Marine Corps may be punishable as a violation of a lawful general order."
The new regulation comes in the wake of a scandal involving a Facebook page, Marines United, whose members reportedly circulated a hard drive filled with compromising photos of female service members.
While the private Facebook group had roughly 30,000 members, Naval Criminal Investigative Service Director Andrew Traver told reporters earlier this month that the number of those found to have possibly engaged in prosecutable activity was much lower: about 27 individuals, half of them active-duty Marines. Another 29 Marines were referred to the Marine Corps for online comments that might warrant administrative punishment, but didn't rise to the level of prosecution.
Following the scandal, the Corps has taken action to update its social media policy, making clear that cyber-bullying and discriminatory posts are against policy and those who engage in these activities are subject to prosecution under Article 92 and Article 134, a general order.
But amid the investigation, some raised concerns whether there was sufficient language in the UCMJ and existing regulations to punish the photo-sharing activity that has transpired, particularly if it's difficult to prove the image was shared without consent, or if an intimate photo was taken willingly by the subject, but not intended to be shared widely.
More than 30 states have passed "revenge porn" laws aimed at criminalizing this behavior.
The UCMJ already prohibits "indecent broadcasting," which pertains to filming or photographing an individual's private areas, and then distributing the image or film. But this requires that the filming or photographing be non-consensual when it takes place.
A Navy official told Military.com the new regulation will provide additional options for prosecuting an alleged perpetrator.
According to the UCMJ, violations of a lawful general order are prosecutable under Article 92 by up to two years' confinement.