Guest Blog: How My Sexting Scandal Turned Me Into An Anti-Bullying Advocate
She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and the biggest smile. She looked like the happiest girl in the world, but the television caption read, “Sexting Suicides.” The next picture was Hope Witsell’s, a beautiful brunette who looked no older than fifteen. All it took were the photographs of Jessie and Hope for me to know them and what they went through.
That news broadcast made me realize how beautiful, happy, young girls were committing suicide because of their sexting scandals and the bullying they endured because of it. It made me realize that I couldn’t keep quiet anymore. I had to tell my story in hopes that other girls would hear it and realize that pressing send could potentially ruin your life forever.
Deciding to go public wasn’t an easy decision. There were still very few people in my family who knew what had happened to me. I had denied the picture to everyone I knew, so coming clean meant that I had to admit to lying.
After sending out a mass email, the replies were overwhelmingly positive. But there were a lot of family members who were mad because they didn’t understand why I couldn’t tell them before. I never told out of shame. Admitting that I had lied wasn’t easy, but I was relieved that I didn’t have to hide my past anymore. The positive comments from everyone also helped me make my decision to go public.
I chose to film MTV’s “Sexting In America: When Privates Go Public” with a heavy heart. I knew I would get backlash, but I wanted to do it for the young girls who needed help. They needed to see that I had survived. While filming, I spoke with a strong voice and didn’t allow myself to cry, although I desperately wanted to. After MTV and over the course of the last three years, I’ve been interviewed by many national and local media outlets. I’ve worked with Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt on getting the NJ sexting law changed so that kids can receive therapy and not have to register as sex offenders if caught sexting.
People have claimed that I only want my “fifteen minutes of fame,” but the truth is that NO ONE wants to be famous for this. Whenever I’ve considered stopping, I’ve seen the face of a new suicide that has pushed me to continue speaking.
There isn’t a day that goes by without my picture coming to mind. I am constantly reminded by songs and articles, and the words “whore” and “slut” still make me cringe. To this day I cannot go to certain places in my town without being bombarded with hate. There have been fake Facebook pages dedicated to hating me, but for every negative there are ten positive. The letters I get from young girls who tell me I’ve saved their lives keep me going. More than once, the kids I’ve met have brought me to tears with their questions.
I will never forget the sixth grade boy who asked me, “Will you go to your high school reunion?” The tears rolling down my cheeks answered that question for him, but I know that the kids I speak to are learning a big lesson: bullying can ruin a person’s life and leave everlasting scars, but a bystander has the power to save someone if they only stand up.
Ally Pereira is a twenty two year anti-bullying advocate. Her experience in high school has inspired her to dedicate her life to preventing the abuse of others. This post is the second in a series.