Without opposition, the House approved a bill on Wednesday making it a crime for U.S. service members to distribute nude or otherwise intimate images of people without their consent.
The measure was a direct response to a nude-photo sharing scandal that has rocked the military in the wake of the exposing of an online group that shared intimate images of female service members — some including obscene or violent comments about those depicted— without their consent.
Lawmakers voted 418-0 to pass the bill, called the "Protecting the Rights of IndiViduals Against Technological Exploitation Act" or the "PRIVATE Act," on Wednesday, the bill’s author said.
The measure would still need to be passed by the Senate and then signed into law by President Donald Trump before becoming law.
Republican Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, the bill's sponsor and a retired Air Force officer, called the nonconsensual sharing of nude photos online "repugnant behavior" that is unacceptable.
She said the "Neanderthals" who posted the photos aren't emblematic of the vast majority of U.S. troops. But she added that the idea that anyone in uniform would think it acceptable to upload or comment on nude photos of their fellow service members is a serious problem that must be fixed.
"Our service members should not have to watch their backs among the individuals who are supposed to be their teammates," McSally said in a statement Wednesday after the bill passed the House.
"The military needs to clean this up," she added, praising the House for swift action.
The measure, which has more than 100 co-sponsors in the House, would ban service members from sharing intimate images of someone without first getting their consent, even if the individual consented to create those photos or videos.
It makes it a crime for service members to "knowingly and wrongfully" distribute or broadcast "an intimate visual image" of a person who is identifiable either by the image or comments about the image and "does not explicitly consent" for that image to be shared.
The measure also says anyone found in violation of the rule would be "punished as a court-martial may direct."
The "Marines United" Facebook page and shared drives where the photos were distributed came to light last month after it was reported by the War Horse, a nonprofit news organization run by Thomas Brennan, himself a Marine veteran, and published by the Center for Investigative Reporting on March 4.
That revelation has prompted an investigation across approximately 200 different websites involving all four branches of the military and the Coast Guard, according to the Associated Press.
Investigators have since opened 21 criminal cases, with 16 suspects that include active duty Marines, Marine reservists, Navy sailors, a Navy reservist and a civilian, according to the AP.
The bill that passed the House on Wednesday was introduced on April 6.
Also last month, the Navy and Marine Corps officially banned the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images with the addition of an interim revision to Navy regulations.
McSally said the bill passed by the House would strengthen the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibitions against sharing non-consensual photos by clarifying intent, and give commanders more flexibility to prosecute offenders.