DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Rebekah Charleston, who now goes by "Bekah," said receiving a full pardon from President Donald Trump is a gift.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Charleston told CBS 11. "To finally have it happen the day before Christmas Eve is just surreal. It is amazing. It means that now, nothing will hold me back anymore."
Charleston is a sex trafficking survivor who helps other victims and has traveled across the country to share her story.
She served 13 months in federal prison after being convicted in 2006 of conspiracy to commit tax evasion.
She was trapped in a prostitution ring run out of this Denton house, which was first reported by the CBS 11 I-team's Ginger Allen.
Charleston said inside the house, her pimp regularly beat her.
"In my case, I wasn't guilty of tax evasion, because it wasn't my money. I was only taking the charge out of fear of death, right out of fear of violence."
In its announcement, the White House said the IRS case agent supported the full pardon and that "...Ms. Charleston has become a champion for survivors of all crimes, particularly sex trafficking. She obtained a master's degree in criminal justice and has worked tirelessly to give a voice to the voiceless victims of sex trafficking..."
Charleston said, "It just makes me cry, it makes me cry to be recognized. Starting over from nothing and finding my voice along the way and getting healing for myself, but then being able to turn around and help so many other people."
She credits her attorney, Leigh Goodmark with helping her through this process.
They first applied for the Presidential pardon in 2017.
Charleston said, "It has been three years of questions, every time they come back, it's, you know, two or three more pages of questions. And until finally, this year, they came back and said, okay, the FBI is going to investigate you. And that's kind of a scary thing."
The good news she said came suddenly. "I feel like now I can volunteer at my son's school, I can, you know, maybe lead his soccer team as a as a volunteer code. You know, those things that you don't think about when you have a criminal record that really holds you back."
Charleston served as Executive Director for Valiant Hearts, the same organization that helped her.
Now she is the Strategic Initiatives Director at the Jensen Project in Irving. "I get to work with an amazing woman, Janet Jensen, who is our founder, and she is a survivor of many forms of violence herself and is now a philanthropist that decides to fight sexual violence. We launched our grant tank this year. We are funding $2 million in anti-trafficking organizations that have housing programs or economic empowerment programs."
She is also trying to advocate for a bill in Congress that would vacate certain federal felony convictions for trafficking victims.
Though Charleston said for many years she felt helpless, she never gave up hope.
"Hope changes everything. I think having hope in yourself having hope that things can be different that you can start over," she said.
WATCH FULL INTERVIEW HERE:
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