HALIFAX, N.S. – Jennifer Holleman scrolls through her phone, showing dozens of messages from women thanking her for speaking out about the harms of prostitution.
“There are messages from girls that have randomly reached out who’ve said, ‘I know this person, or this person, this is what’s happening to me,’” Holleman said. “It’s just girl after girl after girl.”
Holleman tells the story of her daughter, Madison Fraser, who was killed in 2015 in a car accident after being trafficked into the sex trade.
Madison was a two-time national boxing champion, a big sister, a mother, a friend. They were a middle-class family. Holleman was involved in her daughter’s life. But that didn’t stop Madison from getting wrapped up in a world of abuse and selling her body for money.
“When I initially found out what she was doing, I was embarrassed,” Holleman said. “At first I didn’t want to talk about it, but . . . I realized the more I spoke and the more awareness I brought people.”
Holleman wants her daughter to be remembered as more than the girl from Yarmouth who became a prostitute. During a public forum on sex trafficking and prostitution held Monday, June 18, in Halifax, she shared a video of images from Madison’s life.
Pictures of Madison as a child, as a boxer, as a mother and her gravestone flashed across the screen. She did this to show that anyone, even those who have a home, who live a “normal life” can end up in that world.
“I just want people to know who she really was,” Holleman said, her voice breaking.
“She was a beautiful, beautiful young woman. She had a heart of gold, she loved her child. She called me and told me we had to come and get (her child) or somebody else would take her. She knew what she had to do for her baby.
“She had a family that cared about her,” she said.
Madison was 21 when she died in a car accident. She started selling her body for sex at the age of 18.
After Holleman started telling her story publicly in 2017 she was contacted by dozens of women who wanted to talk about their experiences.
“I save these so I can see how they’re making out or keep in touch with what’s happening with them now,” she said of messages from the women. “Some are just sending love and respect and say ‘One day, you’ll make a change.’ Some girls are still involved and can’t get out, but want me to keep talking, to be their voice.”
She shows a picture of her daughter, face bruised and beaten, eyes swollen shut, taken while she was working in the sex trade. Doctors informed her that one more hit to the face would have killed her daughter.
She also found a voice memo on Madison’s phone after her death describing having her hair set on fire, being burned by cigarettes, and other forms of torture she endured before she died.
The forum held at the Halifax Central Library focused on abolishing prostitution.
“Even general awareness is a lofty goal. There’s a lot of myths out there about prostitution: that it’s a positive choice and that it doesn’t harm and that it’s the oldest profession instead of the oldest oppression,” said Bernadette MacDonald, former executive director of the Tri-County Women’s Centre in Yarmouth and one of the main organizers.
Speakers at the forum included people who have been involved with and impacted by prostitution, as well as academics and advocates.
MacDonald said having a public forum in Halifax on the topic is like breaking ground.
“We haven’t had this before,” she said. “Social change is a process. We have to change our society so that women are not a commodity.”
In MacDonald’s mind there’s no room for legalization because it would continue to lead to harm, adding that sex trafficking and prostitution are interconnected.
“This goes right to the core of women’s inequality,” she said. “If we do not get a handle on human trafficking and prostitution, women will never, ever achieve equality.”
Former prostitute speaks out
Trisha Baptie is a citizen journalist and former prostitute from British Columbia. She was forced into the trade at the age of 13 and left at 28. She told the crowd of more than 100 people that the sex industry is inherently anti-feminist and anti-consent.
“Men who purchase sex are paying to rape women. I don’t think you can buy consent,” Baptie said. “Consent has to be freely given and it has to be a mutual relationship that benefits both parties. At best what men buy is complacency.
READ ALSO: Jennifer Holleman shared her daughter's story with the Tri-County Vanguard in March after the mother had the opportunity to give a presentation to a federal committee on human trafficking. Read: Being Maddison's voice.