Prostitution in America

Two-hour Diane Sawyer special examines the world's oldest profession.

ByABC News
March 19, 2008, 11:25 AM

March 19, 2008 — -- In a rare and intimate look at the oldest profession in the world, Diane Sawyer goes inside both the legal and the underground businesses of prostitution in America.

From expensive New York penthouses to Nevada's legal brothels to the tough streets outside Philadelphia and Reno, Sawyer speaks candidly with America's "working girls."

Who are these women, what drives them to sell sex for money and what is it like to work as a prostitute? Sawyer also speaks with experts, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, to examine the state of prostitution today.


The world of high-end, high-priced prostitution has been in the news lately because of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's scandal involving an alleged high-priced escort service, but this kind of service underrepresents what prostitution in America really is. Behind the "Pretty Woman" image is a world of vulnerability, danger and fear.

For more than two years, "20/20" cameras documented the daily risks of streetwalkers and expensive call girls. The report captures the realities of who these women are and how the law deals with them compared to their male clientele.

The program follows women -- whether a single mom, a college student, a housewife, a school teacher or a drug addict -- who have ended up in places they never planned to be. Some are lured by the dream of a flashy lifestyle and fast money, others to feed their drug habit and just to survive, but almost all struggle with the challenge of how hard it is to get out of the profession.

Whether the women are making $20 in five minutes or $20,000 in one night, the program follows the grim spiral of dependence these women often fall into.

One working girl named Jessie says,"We believe money buys happiness. And it doesn't. But it does for a while." Another says she makes as much in one day at a legalized brothel than she would make as a nurse working for two weeks. What would it take for them to change their lives?