She couldn't help her daughter escape the sex trade. Now, she's fighting for change
Jennifer Holleman is advocating for victims of sex trafficking after her daughter's death
It's been four years since her daughter died, but time hasn't made it any easier for Jennifer Holleman to come to terms with the circumstances surrounding her death.
Maddison Fraser died in a car crash at the age of 21, but Jennifer believes she lost her years before to sex trafficking.
"It breaks my heart. I miss her every day," she said, speaking from her home on the outskirts of Yarmouth County, N.S. "I wish I could have done more to help her."
She's now dedicated her life to raising awareness around forced prostitution and sexual exploitation — starting with getting to the bottom of what happened to her daughter.
Jennifer hasn't completely pieced the puzzle together yet, but she's discovered enough to get a sense of the picture. She would come to believe that the man driving the car the night Maddison died was a john. She would find clues in Maddison's belongings. Horrifying details in her phone.
Enough for Jennifer to suspect how Maddison was led down this path, but not enough to bring the people responsible to justice.
'A really good kid'
Jennifer, 49, remembers her daughter as outgoing, creative, and feisty when she was young. She liked going to the beach, listening to music and playing with her friends.
"She was a really good kid, and she just loved life," she said.
As she entered her teens, Maddison grew to love boxing. She started training at the age of 13 and soon became a two-time Canadian champion boxer.
In high school, Maddison stopped boxing as much. She started hanging around with different people, drinking, smoking weed, and skipping school.
At the time, Jennifer thought it was a rebellious phase that her daughter would soon grow out of.
When Maddison was 19, she did what a lot of young Nova Scotians were doing at the time — she packed up her life and moved across the country to Alberta.
Jennifer wasn't happy, but she couldn't stop her.
'It broke my heart that I couldn't protect her'
Shortly after Maddison's move, one of her friends sent Jennifer a picture from backpage.com — a now-defunct classified advertising website that was notorious for advertising escorts and sexual services.
Maddison was in it.
Jennifer confronted her daughter about it and she denied everything.
"But when you give birth to a child and you raise a child, you know what that child looks like," Jennifer said. "And even though I couldn't see her face in the initial pictures, I knew it was her."
A few months later, Jennifer got another picture. This one was of a girl, beaten beyond recognition. It took her a few moments to realize that she was looking at a picture of her daughter.
Jennifer was floored.
"It broke my heart that I couldn't protect her, that I wasn't protecting her," she said.
Jennifer tried to get Maddison out of that life, but the more she tried to get her daughter to come home, the more Maddison pushed her away.
On July 8, 2015, Jennifer got a call from her other daughter, Tori.
"She said that an RCMP officer came to the door and said that Madison was in a car accident out West, and she never made it," she said. The driver had been drinking.
Since then, Jennifer's been looking through Maddison's belongings, talking to her friends, and corresponding with police as she attempted to figure out how Maddison was lured into this life and what she went through in the months and years before her death.
She's uncovered some information on Maddison's phone: texts from her "clients," as well as a disturbing voice memo describing being beaten and tortured by a group of men. In the recording, Maddison gave multiple first names and one last name of the men who beat her. Jennifer believes one of them was her pimp.
This was a separate occasion from the time Jennifer got the picture, which meant that Maddison — a champion boxer — had been assaulted more than once.
Some of Maddison's texts indicated the man driving the car the night of her death was a john. But he died from his injuries a month after the crash, taking with him the answers Jennifer had been looking for.
Jennifer has passed along everything she's learned to police in both Nova Scotia and Alberta. The RCMP in Alberta has since conducted two investigations, but nobody has been arrested for trafficking or assaulting Maddison.
A larger issue
Maddison's story is one that's touched Pamela Rubin, a trauma counsellor who has worked with victims of human trafficking.
Public Safety Canada defines human trafficking as involving "the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/or exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour."
Not all prostitution is considered sex trafficking, though Pamela said prostitution in North America as a whole is "very dependent on trafficking." Given what is known about Maddison's story, Pamela felt that it "is not only one of trafficking, it's one of all sorts of misogynist violence."
It's hard to get a complete picture of sex trafficking because it's highly underreported. But Statistics Canada says police-reported human trafficking violations have been on the rise since 2011.
Pamela said traffickers tend to target young, vulnerable women. Victims are lured into it, often by pimps who make them feel wanted or special. Once they're in, they're trapped — by intimidation and isolation, as well as psychological and physical abuse.
"Pimps and traffickers are very good at taking advantage of psychological manipulation to confuse and paralyze their target," she said.
"They're like a horrible kind of psychological spider."
Jennifer has many reminders of Maddison. Photos of her on the wall. An old blanket of hers. A locket with her index fingerprint. A ring with her name.
But Jennifer's advocacy work is what's really keeping her daughter's memory alive.
Jennifer first began publicly speaking out about Maddison's story about two years ago, and since then, she's heard stories from young women across the country.
"I've had messages from girls that are still in the lifestyle, girls that couldn't get out of the lifestyle," she said.
Jennifer also recently began writing a book about her daughter's story. The working title is Forever 21 — the age Maddison was when she died.
Jennifer wants to see more laws cracking down on human trafficking and forced prostitution. Better enforcement. More education in schools about the dangers and warning signs. More exiting supports for victims. And she wants to see a recovery centre in Nova Scotia for survivors.
Those are some big goals, so in the short term, she'll keep doing what she does best: speaking out about this issue.
"I'm in it for the long haul now. I'll just keep rolling until we figure it out," she said.
"And I will figure it out."
Human trafficking resources
If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, the Canadian Human Trafficking hotline website has a referral directory, resources library, and tip submission tool. It also offers live chat.
To speak to someone, the 24/7 Canadian Human Trafficking hotline is 1-833-900-1010.
To hear the full documentary, tap or click the Listen link at the top of this page.
About the Producer
Alex Cooke is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia.
This documentary was edited by Acey Rowe. It was mixed by Julia Pagel.