Sex for Hire: Real Stories of Prostitution in America

For more than a week, Americans have been fascinated by the revelation that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was a client of a high-end escort service called "The Emperors Club."

"The last time I saw him, he had asked me to write about prostitution and his work on the field," said The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof. "It's just such an astonishing act of bravado and chutzpah considering what we know of him now."

What we know now is not just a tale of one man's political fall from grace, but one that represents the lives of thousands of women collecting money in return for sex in the U.S. every day.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT ORGANIZATIONS WORKING TO HELP WOMEN ESCAPE THE SEX TRADE.

Long before the Spitzer scandal broke, ABC News had been investigating the multifaceted world of sex for hire, from women selling themselves to support a drug habit to closed-door negotiations in Nevada's world-famous Bunny Ranch, one of the nation's few legal brothels.

For more than two years, ABC News' Diane Sawyer and her producers met with prostitutes as they walked the streets, spoke with the johns that pay and learned firsthand what keeps this underground culture hidden from view and yet completely available to those who seek it.

'You Can't Be Nice'

Jessi, a platinum-blond 22-year-old, walks the streets in Reno City, Nev., most days and nights. She grew up on an organic farm in California and dreamed of becoming a firefighter but said her home life was unstable and caused her to leave. She said her happiest times were when she joined the Navy at 17, and the saddest times began when she was later diagnosed with epilepsy and discharged.

Soon Jessi was homeless and began using drugs. "I was shooting up 50 times a day," she said. "Toward the end, I was using methamphetamines."

It was her drug dealer who suggested she prostitute herself to make money.

"With the females, most of them don't have residence here," said Sgt. Dave Evans of the Reno Street Enforcement Team. "They're homeless, and they're balancing from place to place. Very few of them have valid IDs. They don't have jobs, so they don't qualify for citations, so they go to jail."

"Most girls here make an average of $20 -- $20 for half and half, which is both: oral and physical sex," Jessi said. "You can't be soft, you can't be nice, you can't be sweet. You have to treat everyone like they're going to f**k you over. Because they are."

Growing tired of working the streets, Jessi explored expanding her business to cyberspace.

Today, women advertise themselves in the online red-light district under various aliases.

"You could go to Craigslist, you could open your yellow pages, you could see pages and pages of ads, escort agencies and massage parlors," explained Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls' Educational Mentoring Services of New York City, a group that specializes in rescuing underage girls who enter the sex world.

Hiding in plain sight are hundreds of thousands of individuals both seeking and selling sex.

"The nice thing about this site is the women in the pictures are all wearing suits," Jessi said. "And so when you first get to it, you can't really tell what kind of site it is. Most of my clientele that I've met are married, and they don't want a little girl in that little red mini dress and sky-high heels to walk up to them in a bar if that's where they're meeting."

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