Allyson Pereira was a 16-year old high school student in northern New Jersey when a nude picture of her went viral. Even adults, ranging from teachers to friends’ parents to employers, made inappropriate and lewd comments about the image, all the while mocking her instead of holding the people who spread the image morally accountable.
Today, as a young adult, she speaks out about the dangers of sexting and the harm that can follow children and teens into adulthood. She has been featured on MTV: Sexting in America, The View, HLN, Good Morning America, Fox News, MTV: Disconnected Aftershow, Dr. Drew and is a member of MTV’s A Thin Line‘s Street Team.
A sincere thanks to Ally for sharing her personal story with CiviliNation, and for having the strength and courage to turn a painful experience into an opportunity to become a leading antibullying advocate and role model.
When I first started high school I was a straight A, fully-involved, popular girl. I grew up in a strict nuclear family and wasn’t allowed to date until high school. I wasted no time using that privilege, and had my first boyfriend my sophomore year. After my rocky relationship ended my sophomore year, I was heartbroken; I thought we were meant to be, were going to get married, and would live happily ever after. Two months after breaking up with me, my ex sent me a text: “If you want to get back together with me, send me a picture.” Impulsively and without thinking, I went into the bathroom, undressed, and had my best friend snap a shot. In the two seconds it took to press send, I never thought of the consequences or repercussions I’d face. Overnight my reputation went into the trash can, I was humiliated in public with people screaming “ho, whore, slut” at me, I received death threats from girls whose boyfriends had seen my picture, and people even vandalized my house by putting paint cans in my pool and rolling a tire into my front glass door. I even had my best friend’s father text me, inviting me over for chocolates and wine because he “liked my picture”. I was scared for my life and had never felt more alone.
Luckily, I had the best support system. When friends told me I was disgusting and they wouldn’t be there for me anymore, when I was disinvited from parties, and when I was mocked online, my family stood by me with high heads. We enrolled in family therapy and I thought my past was behind me.
Two years after the picture was taken, when I was eighteen and a senior in high school, I was working as a waitress when my boss told me he had heard about the picture. He told me he was going to have it sent to him, rate it, and he’d let me know what he thought. I volunteered for a local school committee and was eating lunch when a group of girls took out their phones and showed the picture to security guards. I hid in a corner while they all pointed and laughed.
My picture and the bullying I endured shaped every aspect of my life. I didn’t go away to college because I feared my dorm mates would find out about it and hate me. In fact, I rarely ventured far from home because I never felt safe. And when given the chance to tell my story on MTV’s Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public” I was scared. After seeing the suicide stories of Jessie Logan and Hope Witsell, girls who had been through the same thing I had, I knew that I had to tell my story in hopes of saving other girls.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.
Schools and officials need to stand up for what’s right. When I was in high school my principal told me to “come back if it got physical” when I reported my harassment. Once, after my mom called to tell him when I had received violent threats, he called down the girls and said “Ally’s mom called”. Needless to say, the bullying just got worse because I was now known as a tattle-tale. There were teachers who saw the bullying happening in class and did nothing, parents of kids in my grade who pointed me out in public and snickered to one another, and adults who sexually harassed me like a teacher who told me I could only use the pass if I swore not to take any more naked pictures in the bathroom. Children have the power to stand up and make a difference, but only if their older generations are being role models for them and making a good example.
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. So many times I’ve had to travel out of town to go somewhere with friends because I am screamed at, followed into bathrooms, and called names locally. There have been fake Facebook pages dedicated to hating me and spreading rumors 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.