The contribution explores the issues of rape and sexual violence during and shortly after World War I. Rape during World War I used to take place on all battlefields and was often directed and encouraged by the military authorities. Rape was not ascribed any greater role, as it was not seen as a serious crime worth persecuting. In comparison with the use of chemical warfare it was not deemed to be a true war crime. It was just an affront to honour without serious consequences. Doubt also resulted from the conviction that women experienced pleasure from submitting and subordinating to men, and thus rape was supposedly even a part of wartime experience that women secretly desired. Rape became part of the military strategy with the aim of demoralising the civilian population. The very manner in which such violence was committed attests to this: as a rule, it took place in public places, in the presence of neighbours and other family members. Thus sexual violence against women acquired a multi‑layered component, as it did not only affect the women who were raped, but rather their entire families or wider communities. Rape served as a means of degrading the men whose “property” these women were; and it was also planned and carried out in order to ensure forced conception. After the war, when the bulk of the returning soldiers had a very hard time adapting to the roles of husbands and fathers again and cases of domestic violence were commonplace, raped women carried an additional trauma and stigma. The men were humiliated, defeated, physically and mentally wounded and the wives were a convenient way of letting off steam and frustrations. The consequences were all the harder if women were impregnated during rape and, subsequently, gave birth to enemies’ descendants. Children born in wedlock but obviously conceived by rape needed to be removed from the families, as they ruined domestic happiness and represented an eternal reminder of the humiliation that had befallen the husband. The social environment imposed clear demands on women to get rid of these children, even by means of abortion or infanticide. Women often experienced this as a burden and another case of iniquity as they often fell victims to physical, psychological and verbal violence, perpetrated by their husbands as well as other family members.

About the author

Meta Remec is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Contemporary History in Ljubljana. Having obtained her BA in History and Italian language and literature, she gained her PhD in History in 2015. Through her post-graduate study, she has looked into different aspects of everyday life in Slovenia in the bourgeois era, raising awareness for a healthy lifestyle and hygiene among people and the struggle to fight contagious diseases. She focused on the problem of social diseases resulting from poor living and working conditions, tuberculosis, in particular, attitude to sexuality, masturbation, sexually transmitted diseases and diseases commonly associated to women, but also on the fight against bad habits, such as excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption. She has also dealt with the problem of hygiene and sexually transmitted diseases among soldiers and with the differences in the way these diseases were treated by Slovene authors and their Italian counterparts. She is the author of two monographs (Bakh, tobak in Venera: grehi in skušnjave v dolgem 19. stoletju, Inštitut za novejšo zgodovino 2016; Podrgni, očedi, živali otrebi: higiena in snaga v dobi meščanstva, Inštitut za novejšo zgodovino 2015) and several articles.