CBC Investigates

Mother haunted by recording of daughter describing how she was tortured by pimp

A Nova Scotia mother says she begged police for three years to help her daughter, to little avail. The young woman died last summer in a car crash, but not before recording a 46-second cellphone voice memo that described her suffering.

'They like burnt me with cigarettes and stuff and lit my hair on fire'

A Nova Scotia mother wants police departments across the country to try helping more human trafficking victims. Her daughter left evidence of severe abuse by her pimps on a cellphone that was recovered after her sudden death.

A chilling voice recording continues to haunt a Nova Scotia mother as she struggles to understand her daughter's destructive path into human trafficking and her ultimate death.

When she died last summer in a car crash, the 21-year-old woman's only possession was a cellphone that documented how she'd been tortured by her pimp and other men. 

"They like burnt me with cigarettes and stuff and lit my hair on fire and burnt me with the lighters," she said on a 46-second voice memo recorded on the phone prior to her death. 

Her mother, who had repeatedly begged police to help her daughter, to little avail, stumbled upon the recording about a month after the young woman's funeral.  

CBC has agreed not to name the victim and her mother, and has also agreed not to reveal certain details of the case for safety reasons.

For the family, the most disturbing part of the recording was the nonchalant tone.

"It was just like it was an old hat for her, you know. 'Oh I pulled through another one,'" the mother says.

Calls for help

Now that she has learned more details about her daughter's suffering, she is urging police and justice officials to try harder when family members call for help.

For three years, the mother says she contacted police departments in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta asking officers to intervene. She was repeatedly told nothing could be done to find her daughter, even after she would lose contact for weeks.

"It surprised me when I called police and they told me they couldn't file a missing person's report because they didn't know where she was or she didn't have a fixed address," she says. "It's surprising to me that they can do nothing."

The mother says she would speak to her daughter by phone, but rarely saw her in recent years. She says as a teenager, she was a free spirit who didn't like to follow the rules. In her teens, she started couch surfing and got involved with the "wrong crowd."

She suspects her daughter had different pimps who kept a hold over her for three years through manipulation and violence.

After her daughter's death, she obtained hospital records that showed she was sexually assaulted and severely beaten multiple times. During one visit, she was hospitalized for four days. Doctors indicated that if she had one more blow to the face, she would have died.

Awareness and support

Now the mother wants to protect other families.

"People just need to be more aware of it," she says. "It's a huge problem, and there's a lot of people that are doing it who are recruiting these girls and putting these girls on the streets."

Jade Brooks agrees more support is needed. As someone who was trafficked from Halifax to Toronto when she was a teenager, she now helps other victims of sexual exploitation.

"It's one thing to get out, but if you have people that want to retaliate against you, testifying against them, then who's going to help at that point?" said Brooks.

Challenges in court

To date, there hasn't been a single human trafficking conviction in Nova Scotia. There have only been a handful across the country since it became a criminal offence in 2010. 

The chief Crown attorney for western Nova Scotia, Ingrid Brodie, says the biggest challenge is convincing victims to come forward.

"To say that we don't have that many [cases] in the system speaks to how difficult it is to investigate these offences," Brodie says. 

"Secondly, the victims of these offences would be amongst the most vulnerable victims in terms of having any trust in coming forward. The sense of shame as well as the control that's been held over their lives for such a long period of time right down to 'am I living the next day?' That isn't easy to overcome."