Saint-Laurent, Rue/Sint-Laurensstraat
   The rue Saint-Laurent served as the center of legalized prostitution in Brussels until World War II. Prostitution in the city originated with the public baths (étuves, stoeven) that appeared on the Stoofstraat (Steam Bath Street), one of the city's oldest thoroughfares, in the Middle Ages. The baths, which served both sexes together, were equated with brothels among many of the public and regulations were enacted at an early date. Though not particularly stringent, city ordinances forbade solicitation after the sounding of the evening bell and placement of lights in brothels. Beginning in the 15th century, the public executioner (bourreau de Bruxelles) was charged with controlling the trade. Stricter regulations were drafted during the Burgundian regime, but the need for such a service was acknowledged and few were punished.
   In the 18th century it was estimated that one out of six women in the city were engaged in the trade. During the French regime, prostitutes were compelled to undergo mandatory examinations in hospitals at regular intervals. In 1844, they were issued identity cards and had to undergo medical examinations twice a week. A vigorous campaign against the white slave trade was begun in the 1880s when, in the so-called affaire des petites Anglaises, it was discovered through court cases in Great Britain that young English girls were being lured to Brussels by promises of jobs in nightclubs and bars.
   The regulatory regime lapsed in the late 1940s when it was largely viewed as discriminatory against women. Prostitution remains legal in Belgium, although soliciting and pimping are both liable to prosecution.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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