Aug. 5, 2009 -- In a bow to public outrage, 10 strip clubs in Providence, R.I., have signed a pledge to stop hiring girls under the age of 18 while officials scramble to plug a legal loophole that made it legal for kids too young to drink to do the bump and grind in bars.
Board of Licenses Chairman Andrew Annaldo distributed the pledge, although some say it may not be legally binding, according to the television affiliate ABC6.
An executive order was also issued by Providence Mayor David Cicilline prohibiting the issuing of licenses for adult entertainment to clubs that hire teens under 18.
The inconsistency came to light while police were investigating a 16-year-old runaway who had been working at one of Providence's notorious strip clubs. Police discovered that they could not prosecute, because there were no local or state laws barring teens from working in the city's thriving adult entertainment business.
"To think that any minor could just as easily be employed as a stripper is mind-boggling," said Elizabeth Roberts, Rhode Island's lieutenant governor.
In other parts of the country, even in Las Vegas, there are age limits on strippers, according to the report.
"It's an outrage that we would ever have allowed this to happen -- that anyone would hire a young person we are meant to protect," Roberts told ABCNews.com.
"Everyone was completely shocked to learn it wasn't against the law," she said. "None of us was aware of it."
Strip Club Described as 'Dark and Dirty'
The 16-year-old runaway had been working at Cheaters, described by the Boston Strip Club Directory as "dark and dirty."
Cheaters refused to comment to ABCNews.com.
"You get more contact here talking to a woman at the bar than you do in most clubs during a lap dance, and in the private rooms, anything goes for probably half the women working there, and the others will still make sure you leave happy," reported one of its customers.
Notorious Strip Clubs in Staid New England
Now, amidst the embarrassing publicity in a state that has one of the highest unemployment rates and a reputation for corruption, Roberts is supporting a bill introduced by state Rep. Joanne Giannini, D-Providence, that would close that loophole.
Providence's seven or eight strip clubs are notorious around otherwise staid New England.
When the Fraternal Order of Police comes to town for their annual convention, buses were hired to transport members to the strip clubs, according to local social historian Scott McKay.
When NFL teams come to the Patriots' Foxboro, Mass., stadium, they stay closer to Rhode Island so they can have evening entertainment, according to McKay.
Founded by religious dissidents, some say the state -- which is not really an island -- is quick to forgive. During his three-decade tenure as mayor Providence, Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, served two prison sentences.
Teen Prostitution, at Least Indoors, Not Illegal
Inconsistencies in Rhode Island law would allow teens to turn to prostitution, providing it's done indoors -- in a hotel room, club or private home. Prostitution is only illegal when the solicitation is done outdoors.
"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.
Bill to Ban Teen Strippers Introduced
"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.