January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In light of this observance, Governor Abbott recently pardoned Robbie Ann Hamilton, a survivor of sex trafficking, with a unanimous vote from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. By this action, Texas has shown that they believe not only in swift justice but also merciful redemption.

Victims of sex trafficking are accustomed to drugs and violence and are often forced to commit crimes while under the control and manipulation of a trafficker. Hamilton was 15 years old when she was lured into sex trafficking and a life of petty crime.

Pardoning victims of sex trafficking is a big deal because a criminal record makes it challenging to escape a life of exploitation and start a new life. Victims with a criminal record will often stay with their exploiter or be led back into exploitation just so they can have the necessities of life (a roof over their head, clothes, food, etc.).

Hamilton found sobriety. Even better, she found God. She was baptized in jail and spent time getting to know Jesus and the Bible. She was sponsored for pardon by the 12 Step Program. Now, Hamilton speaks on the sex trafficking industry’s dangers and addictions and is a member of a church that helps people who were just like her. Staff from the program she completed, called “New Friends New Life,” have testified that she didn’t just “find religion” in jail but “continues to help guide adolescent girls to make decisions based on Biblical principles and to avoid the pitfalls of drugs and sex.” Natalie Nanasi, Assistant Professor and the Director of the Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, states, “Hamilton has been a model member of society and has worked tirelessly to help other women.” Eight letters of support were submitted on Hamilton’s behalf to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

It is good to see our justice system working to view survivors of sexual exploitation as victims and not merely criminals, as it should. We need more Christian-based programs that rescue, advocate for, re-educate, and restore those harmed by sexual exploitation. The story of Robbie Ann Hamilton exemplifies what victims of sexual exploitation need—to become recipients of practical alleviations—so that they can be given the opportunity to help other victims “value human dignity [by] applying a biblical sexual ethic, inspiring women to see themselves as made in the image of God—with strength, worth, and dignity.”

Thank you, Gov. Abbott.