The tale of Ashley Alexandra Dupre's path to prostitution is a typical one, current and former escorts say.
Dupre, the infamous escort whose $4,300 date with New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer cost him his political career, left a broken home in a small town on the Jersey Shore to pursue a singing career in Manhattan. But she ended up abusing drugs and selling her body as one of the high-priced escorts available through Emperors Club.
Dupre was not available for comment, but other escorts were willing to discuss their experiences.
"I'm not doing this forever," Haley, an escort who advertises herself as a 5'6" brunette, told ABCNews.com. "But the money is too good."
Originally from Long Island, Haley says that she came to New York several years ago, where she did some acting and modeling before a friend introduced her to the world of prostitution.
"I had all kinds of debt and I was in a bad space," she explains. "One of the other models told me about this service and I started working there. It wasn't easy. I got beat up once by a guy after he started haggling over money…. Believe me, I'm not happy about it. I'm not telling my kids about this stuff ever."
Others have no such qualms about their profession.
Veronica Monet, now retired and working as a sex counselor, says that she started escorting when she was 29 and enjoyed doing it for 15 years.
"In 1989, I was living in Santa Clara [California] and I was working corporate jobs as a marketing consultant for a radio station. I was driving a Honda and living in a studio apartment. And a friend of mine, she was driving a Mercedes and living in a mansion. She got me into the business."
Monet was working as an escort when she met her husband. She says that although the first two years of their marriage were shaky, "he realized that it doesn't change anything and he accepted it. We had a normal suburban life, sitting at home, renting a Blockbuster movie."
For Monet, the money was the draw. She went from earning $25,000 in her previous job to earning six figures as an escort, charging up to $1,350 an hour. "We lived in a million-dollar neighborhood and I got to travel around the world going scuba diving."
Monet says that she could make over $5,000 a day and that one wealthy client once flew her out first-class to New York, put her up in an expensive hotel and wrote her a check for $16,000.
Monet's experience is a cut above the typical rank-and-file prostitutes who work the streets, many of whom are mentally ill and prone to suicide, experts say.
When she was arrested a few years ago and spent time in jail in San Francisco, she listened to street walkers tell their stories.
"Their lives conformed to the stereotype. Their pimps beat them … As long as we have haves and have-nots, some will live violent and desperate lives. It's more about racism and poverty than about the practice itself."
Monet's suggestions for women who are getting into the escort business: get an education. "Do a 'My Fair Lady.' You won't get the high-end escorting gigs unless you're able to use the right fork, know how to cross your legs. You have to have a wardrobe."
Other prostitutes have had a much more difficult time. One escort, who declined to be named, says that she had to psychologically prepare herself for her clients by adopting protective denial of her prostitution.
"I worked the streets. I worked massage, I worked to escort myself, and I also worked hotels and I drove in my car," she told ABC News. "And when people try to say working escort services is safer than working the street, I have to tell them that is not true."
"Even on the escort service, I saw women who were stabbed multiple times trying to escape. I saw women walking into hotel rooms to be raped, to be beaten, to be robbed and they justified all of this by the amount of money they were getting."
Such experiences mirror those of many of the estimated 100,000 prostitutes around the country, according to health researcher John Potterat, who looked at street walkers in Colorado Springs over a 30-year period.
Prostitutes are 18 times more likely to be murdered on the job as other women of the same age, race, socioeconomic status, Potterat found.
"[Kristen] was not too different from stereotypical prostitute I've seen for the last 40 years," he says. "Coming from an abusive environment and that she was a drug abuser."
Potterat says that many of the women have profound psychological problems, either an anti-social personality disorder and disassociation, and that helps drive them to get into prostitution.
"In the third world, it's based on economic needs. Here it's more characteriological. They're attracted to the high life and the easy money."