PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A year after a 15-year-old girl was caught working as a dancer in an Allens Avenue strip club, the Providence City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a sweeping ordinance that would close adult entertainment establishments if they are caught employing underage workers or allowing prostitution on their premises.
The new law is a slightly watered down version of Mayor Angel Taveras’s original proposal, which would have automatically revoked the licenses of any club anytime underage dancers were found or workers were caught soliciting customers. The ordinance approved Tuesday would close the establishment only if violations are a result of “gross negligence.”
Following the vote, Taveras told reporters he planned to sign the ordinance into law as soon as it was transmitted to his office.
“Every child deserves our fullest protection,” Taveras said. “This one strike ordinance takes action to make sure those responsible for any instance of child exploitation will be forced to close their doors. Providence has zero tolerance for child abuse and prostitution within any of the city’s adult entertainment clubs”
While the law was designed to address strip clubs, it would apply to any establishment where employees work nude or seminude. The mayor said the ordinance is similar to the one he proposed last year, but indicated that the city’s law office wanted to ensure that penalties would be upheld if they were ever challenged in court – hence the requirement that establishments must show “gross negligence.”
Taveras, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, proposed the law last November after Cheaters Gentlemen’s Club was fined for allowing a missing 15-year-old Boston girl to work as a dancer in July 2013. The club maintained that the woman had valid identification cards from the state of Delaware and Boston College.
Police arrested 51-year-old Troy Footman for sex trafficking of a minor in connection with the incident. Days later, another stripper was arrested and charged with prostitution after allegedly soliciting an undercover police officer.
The board slapped Cheaters with a 45-day license suspension and $5,000 fine.
In October 2013, Providence Police charged two women with propositioning undercover officers at the Satin Doll, the Aborn Street club located just blocks from City Hall.
As a response to the controversy, a group that represents five of the city’s most prominent adult entertainment clubs – Cadillac Lounge, Club Desire, Fantasies, Foxy Lady and Satin Doll – said in May that its members started using E-Verify to screen all potential employees in an effort to ensure that no one under the age of 18 is working in the clubs.
E-Verify is an internet-based program used by more than 500,000 employers nationwide that crosschecks employee background information with the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records. The program is normally associated with checking whether individuals are legal residents of the United States.
The Rhode Island Entertainment Association, which doesn’t include Cheaters, previously said it was opposed to Taveras’s ordinance, but a spokesman for the group said they consider the law “strict but workable.”
“Our goal has always been to operate our establishments properly and legally, and be good corporate citizens within the city,” Eric Robichaud told WPRI.com. “We understand the mayor’s position and can appreciate what he is trying to achieve. All we ever wanted was a fair and appropriate ordinance.”