"You see it on a daily basis on Craig's List, pictures of girls with hourly rates," said Major Thomas Oates, who is in charge of the Providence Police Department's investigative unit. "It's about as open as you can get."
But a 16-year-old cannot drive without an adult in the car, and those under 18 cannot buy pornography or alcohol. It is also illegal to photograph or film minors in sexually suggestive ways.
Oddly, an 18-year-old can sit at a bar, but not drink, according to Oates.
"I am 53 and a native and it's gotten a lot quirkier over the last 10 or 15 years," he told ABCNews.com. "Just from a law enforcement point of view, we have been complaining about the disparities for years."
The General Assembly, which is not currently in session, has stalled on other legislation that would ban prostitution and sex trafficking.
Giannini introduced her bill to ban minors from stripping after learning about the 16-year-old who was working in one of the Providence clubs. She equated her bill with other legislation that addresses human trafficking.
"It opened a can of worms," she told ABCNews.com. "The girl's family had been looking for her and she had been brought here by a 40-year-old."
Police confirmed the teen had been held against her will.
"She had been beaten and her pocketbook was open," Giannini said. "When she offered the rescue worker money, condoms fell out."
A rescue worker called police and found she had been wanted as a runaway by an FBI task force that targets people who prostitute children.
"If there's one case, it's one too many," Giannini said. "If there are other cases, they need to be rooted out, and we have to make sure the right laws are in place."
The case created outrage across the city and state.
"Bringing in a child at such a young age when they are vulnerable is a recipe for disaster," said Peg Langhammer, executive director for Day One, an organization that addresses sexual assault. "And it's important not just for girls, but for boys. It affects all our kids."
She cited research that shows between 60 and 80 percent of nude dancers were raped or sexually abused as children. Sexualization is also linked to mental health problems, low self esteem and depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
Police said that after the runaway incident, they have investigated all the city's strip clubs and found no other juveniles.