A few years ago, Marisa Woytek, a lance corporal in the Marines, decided to help other women deal with a problem she’d already dealt with several times herself. She was going to get their photographs removed from private Facebook groups like Just the Tip of the Spear. (The name refers both to a ploy to coax a woman into having sex and to a military tactic.) Woytek didn’t consider herself a feminist, but she was sick of military sexism. The Marine Corps is the only branch of the armed services that still segregates basic training by gender; in 2014, nearly eight per cent of female marines reported having been sexually assaulted within the previous year. On Just the Tip of the Spear’s Facebook page, underneath the screenshot of a uniformed marine named Erika Butner, there were typical comments. “Would smash,” one male marine wrote. Another asked, “Who has her nudes?” Woytek messaged Butner and offered to help. She contacted the group’s secretive administrators, who, by then, had become used to her take-down requests. They agreed to pull Butner’s photo.
Woytek and Butner became friends. In the fall of 2016, they learned about a new Facebook group, called Marines United. In this one, men weren’t only reposting pictures of female colleagues but also plundering them—hacking social-media accounts, trading nude images from past and present relationships. The group had nearly thirty thousand members; many of the women in the photographs were identified by name, rank, and posting. Under a photo of a female drill sergeant, an active-duty marine wrote, “10/10 would rape.” In January of this year, Woytek called a Marine Corps tip line to report the group, and Butner e-mailed the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Neither heard back. The group continued to grow.
On March 4th, a veteran of the Marines named Thomas Brennan broke the story on Reveal, the Web site of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Nearly every national news organization picked it up; Woytek spoke to the Washington Post the next day. “Even if I could, I’m never reenlisting,” she told the paper. Her e-mail and social-media accounts were flooded with threats. Her father, a cop in San Bernardino, e-mailed the attorney Gloria Allred. “His favorite saying is ‘Don’t start the fight, finish it,’ ” Woytek told me recently. “He’s a big Gloria fangirl.” Allred called her the next day. Two days after that, Woytek and Butner flew to Los Angeles, and held a press conference in Allred’s office. It was International Women’s Day, and Allred was dressed in red for the occasion.
This was the first step in what Allred calls “creative lawyering.” There was no litigation on the table. Instead, she was aiming to influence the court of public opinion by getting the victim’s perspective in the news. Lately, not a day goes by without Allred’s name being mentioned in the news somewhere, as my Google alerts can attest. (Allred also receives these alerts; in the past few months, she has occasionally forwarded them to me, with the note “Please see below.”) The approach attracts criticism from people who say that Allred is more interested in the spotlight than in justice. It also works.
Read more at The New Yorker.