The Gender Security Project
This case note is a part of our series of case notes that document the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. The case note contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
The term Marocchinate is used to refer to mass rape and murders committed during World War II, after the Battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy (Baris, 2007). These crimes were mainly committed by Moroccan Goumiers, the colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps. Commanded by General Alphonse Juin, these crimes mainly targeted civilian women and girls, and a few men and boys, in rural areas around Naples and Rome, Lazio, and the Ciociaria. During this time, mass rapes continued to take place across most parts of Tuscany.
The Goumiers were irregular troops that constituted the Goums Marocains, or company-sized units that grouped in battalions and regiments. There were regular Moroccan troops in Italy, too, but they were often held under tighter discipline, under a larger number of officers. On May 14, 1944, the Goumiers set out to help the British XIII Corps of the Eighth Army to break the Gustav Line and proceed onward to the Hitler Line. Some reports suggest that General Alphonse Juin called for his troops to be “absolute masters” of what they would “find beyond the enemy,” saying that no one would punish them for what they would do or ask them what they were doing (DVAC, n.d.).
Monte Cassino was captured by the Allies on May 18, 1944. The night after that, thousands of Goumiers and a few other colonial troops scoured the towns and villages in the region – and it was on this night that sexual violence and rape took place.
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
According to several Italian victims’ associations, such as the Associazione Nazionale Vittime delle Marocchinate, as many as 60,000 women aged between 11 and 86 years were targeted with violence, as the Goumiers moved from one village to the next. They also suggested that over 7,000 civilians including children were raped by Goumiers. Baris (2007) indicated that 12,000 women were raped, as quoted by the Communist Women’s Organization, Unione Donne Italiane. According to the Italian Ministry of Defense, around 2,000 to 3,000 women were targeted (The Telegraph, 1997). However, incomplete reports and inadequate documentation makes a precise number impossible (Baris 2007). According to the Mayor of Esperia, in Frosinone, 700 women (out of a total of 2500 inhabitants) were raped (Studi Cassinati n.d.).
Strategic Use of Sexual Violence
Though there are claims calling in question the official sanction for such crimes, the absence of sufficient documentation, the number of incidents and the manner in which they were carried out suggest a deliberate motive permitting such conduct. Rape and sexual violence appear to have been used to target civilian populations with violence, and to intimidate, humiliate, and terrorize civilian populations in the regions they entered. It may have also been carried out with the intent to destroy the social fabric of the enemy, to assert dominance and affirm power after entering the region as the Allied powers. The absence of any accountability mechanism – and possibly official sanction with the possibility of a promise of immunity for those involved – may have paved the way for systemic sanction for opportunistic rape.
A total of 207 soldiers were tried for sexual violence. However, 39 were acquitted for lack of evidence, and 28 soldiers who were caught in the act were executed (Tortolici 2005). In January 1947, France also authorized the payment of compensation to as many as 1,488 victims of sexual violence for crimes committed by French colonial troops (Tortolici 2005). However, the Italian government gathered information on the victims until 1944, but by December 1948, although 30,000 cases were submitted, funds were scarce as Italy had to pay France war indemnities. The incident also became a bone of contention between Italy and France, and obstructed the restoration of diplomatic relations (Patriarca 2018). Thus, Italy rejected several claims for compensation on the ground that victims had to prove permanent physical damage to claim compensation (Holland 2008).
Baris, Tommaso. (2007). The French Expeditionary Corps in Italy – Violence of the "liberators" during the summer of 1944. Cairn International Edition.
DVAC (n.d.) War Crimes in Ciociaria. http://www.dalvolturnoacassino.it/asp/doc.asp?where=Lettura&id=019
Holland, James (2008). Italy's Sorrow – A year of war, 1944–45. London: Harper Press.
Patriarca, Eliane (2018). La colpa dei vincitori. Edizioni Piemme.
Studi Cassinati, “Parliamentary Acts Chamber of Deputies, Night Sitting.” April 7, 1952 www.cassino2000.com/cdsc/studi/archivio/n07/n07p09.html
The Telegraph, Issue 716, May 11, 1997
Tortolici, C. Beatrice (2005). Violenza e dintorni. Armando Editore.