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Provisions concerning field brothels for the troops of the Austro-Hungarian Army Copyright: Photo of an Austrian war brothel Copyright: Photo of a German war brothel Copyright: 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. During the First World War there was an increase in covert or unofficial prostitution. Women who only occasionally prostituted themselves and did not do it for a living were known in Austria and Germany as covert prostitutes. To combat the spread of venereal diseases, all registered prostitutes were obliged to undergo regular compulsory examinations.
Covert prostitutes were not registered and were hence not subject to medical check-ups. The police nevertheless endeavoured to identify women suspected of prostitution and to have them registered. Because of the growing number of soldiers suffering from venereal diseases, the military authorities called for stricter control of both registered and covert prostitutes.
Doctors and health officials were doubtful about the effectiveness of this kind of control and considered covert prostitution to be particularly dangerous. The Austrian military thus attempted to order regular examinations for women working in the hotel and restaurant business, whom they saw as a possible source of the spread of venereal disease.
The massive public protest prevented this measure from being implemented. Commercial prostitution was widespread at the front and behind the lines. There were separate brothels for officers and other ranks, which were controlled by army doctors and in some cases even operated by the military itself.