Ugly World of Modeling: Drugs, Rape, Predators, Isolation

Young model's death unveils the soul-destroying underbelly of fashion.

ByABC News
July 2, 2008, 11:05 AM

July 2, 2008 — -- One eyewitness at the scene of model Ruslana Korshunova's plunge to her death in New York City told the tabloids that her blood-splattered body looked beautiful -- "even lying in the street."

The green-eyed, baby-faced girl -- just four days shy of her 21st birthday -- was, in the end, just a commodity in a city of hundreds of stunning models, many of them immigrants.

Even though police ruled Korshunova's death a suicide, and friends claimed she was "on top of the world," blogs from Britain's Daily Telegraph to the Los Angeles Times circulated theories that the Russian mafia had killed the highly paid model because she wanted to leave the fashion industry.

But the mob -- which has been linked to kidnappings and shakedowns of rich Russian National Hockey League players -- may be only one of the many dangers in the predatory world of young models.

That world, say industry insiders, is a pressure cooker populated by a nefarious cast of self-serving agents, promoters and photographers.

"The industry has a see-no-evil approach," said "Tatiana," a 19-year-old model who writes the anonymous "Modelslips" column for

"Another model told me she'd already heard a stylist on a shoot talking about how unfortunate the [suicide] was in the same tone of voice he used when he talked about another model's 'tragic' recent weight gain," she told

Korshunova, nicknamed the "Russian Rapunzel," followed a typical career path for eastern Europeans -- leaving home at the age of 15 and sending money to her poor family back home. She even bought them a house with her earnings.

While still in her teens, she had graced the covers of Vogue Russia and Elle Paris, and had been featured in ads for DKNY, Vera Wang and Christian Dior.

"It's really tragic," said Noel Ashman, a big player in New York's nightlife scene and owner of the Plumm. "Everyone wants a piece of them."

"The girls get preyed on by everybody, and everyone has their own agenda," the former promoter told "Most come from other countries, from small towns and have never been here before."

Judging by poetry Korshunova had posted on social networking sites, the Kazakhstan-born model was likely a "very young girl who has discovered that romance often fails to live up to its promise," according to Tatiana.