Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Michaela Scharf


Sexual assault in the First World War

The invasion of enemy troops was followed systematically by pillaging, destruction, deportation, rape and the execution of civilians. Sexual assaults by soldiers passing through or stationed in the occupied territory were part and parcel of daily life for the female population.


Prevention or punishment

The various military leaders pursued different strategies to prevent the spread of venereal diseases within the army.



Sexual relief for soldiers

The military in the belligerent countries used different strategies to prevent the spread of venereal diseases. Not everyone was convinced of the effectiveness of moral instruction and offered regulated prostitution as an alternative.



“Resist from the outset”

The First World War gave rise to a considerable increase in extramarital sexual relations, a matter of great concern to the government and military leadership. They feared a rapid spread of venereal diseases and a weakening of the combat capability of the troops.



Combatting venereal diseases in the Austro-Hungarian army

During the First World War there was a significant increase in venereal diseases. Before the war, 5.6 per cent of Austro-Hungarian soldiers suffered from a venereal disease. By 1915 the level had risen to 12.2 per cent.



Abstinence and satisfaction of needs

With the outbreak of war, there was a significant increase in premarital and extramarital sexual relations both in the army and the civilian population. The military feared the rapid spread of venereal diseases, and the sexual activity of the troops was therefore of interest to it.


State control and social stigma

With the outbreak of war, complementary gender roles were reinforced. The ideal of the active fighting soldier was complemented by the image of the passive, self-sacrificing mother. These models meant that extramarital sexual relations by women were socially stigmatised.



"Mobilisation of the cradle"

The birth rate dropped considerably between 1914 and 1918. In view of the loss of life caused by the war, the reproductive behaviour of the population became a matter of national interest.



Dwindling birth rates during the First World War

Since the turn of the century there had been a marked drop in the birth rate throughout central Europe. Because of the deteriorating supply situation during the war, the number of births dwindled even further between 1914 and 1918.