On tonight's premiere of "One Bad Choice," college student Miriam Weeks, aka Belle Knox's secret identity as a pornographic actress is discovered by her classmates at Duke University, and she is slut shamed and harassed to the point of depression.
Slut shaming is a real issue. It happened to Belle, and it happens to countless women who are victims of revenge porn -- which is when someone steals private, often sexual photos, and puts them on the internet without consent. It's a cruel violation of privacy, and can cause serious ramifications for everyone involved.
This is exactly what happened to Allyson Pereira in high school, and it's an event that's shaped much of the rest of her life.
MTV News asked Allyson, now an anti-bullying and sexting expert, to share in her own words her experience, its aftermath, and what advice she can give to anyone - celebrity or otherwise - going through the same thing.
By Allyson Pereira
I remember what it felt like to wait up all night praying that my parents wouldn’t find out what I had done. I remember the crushing feeling when I realized my ex-boyfriend had forwarded my topless picture to everyone in his contact list. And I remember the shame; the deep, gnawing regret that I had done the unthinkable. I remember this clearly because when my ex-boyfriend forwarded my topless picture, I spent the whole night sobbing. I didn’t eat, I didn’t talk to anyone, and I felt completely and totally alone. But the feeling that was the worst of all, was realizing that everyone I knew and complete strangers had the potential of seeing me naked and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop them.
Almost immediately the harassment began in school. I was screamed at, spit on, and called horrible names like “ho, whore, and slut.” Students weren’t the only ones making my life a living hell. I had a teacher who told me that I could only use the hall pass if I “promised not to take anymore pictures in the bathroom.” My best friend’s father invited me over for chocolates and wine because he “liked my picture.” Even my boss told me he was going to find my picture and let me know what he thought about it. The officials in my school, who I went to for help, told me to come back when it got physical. Beyond being mortified, ashamed, and self-conscious, I felt completely alone and even contemplated suicide. The biggest problem was that I was only 16-years-old, a sophomore in high school, and terrified.
When a sexting scandal happens, society automatically blames the person (usually a woman) for taking the photos in the first place. Without looking at the facts, who the woman took the pictures for, how the pictures were leaked, or what the pictures are of; society brands that woman a “slut” and claims she “got what she deserved.” In my case, I was a naïve teenager willing to do anything to earn the love back of an ex. The picture I sent my ex was meant only for his eyes and he betrayed that trust in showing others with only the intent to harm me. I take total responsibility for taking and sending my naked picture, but I didn’t deserve to be treated like an animal and reminded of a mistake I made day in and day out for the rest of my high school career. And I certainly by no means was a “slut.” One moment I will never forget is when in 2011, while accepting an award Reese Witherspoon said:
"When I came up in this business, if you made a sex tape, you were embarrassed and you hid it under your bed. And if you took naked pictures of yourself on your cell phone, you hide your face, people! Hide your face!"
At the time, Blake Lively was dealing with a sexting scandal but unbeknown to Reese, I was watching that award’s show and cringing because it brought back the horrible memories, the shame, and I wanted so badly to crawl back into my room and hide my face because of her speech.
After refusing to talk about my sexting scandal for years, I finally chose to open up on MTV’s Sexting In America after hearing about the suicides of Jessie Logan and Hope Witsell who had both been dealing with sexting scandals. Since appearing on MTV, I have been on multiple news programs, interviewed for magazines and newspapers, and helped change New Jersey’s sexting laws. In the past, a teenager caught sexting could face federal child pornography charges. Luckily in New Jersey, these laws have changed. Because of my work I was honored at the NJ State House as a Rising Young Woman of Change and invited to The White House to meet with President Obama’s Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett to talk federal sexting laws. I also travel nationwide to warn students about the dangers of sexting and bullying.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get over what happened to me. I do know that the whole ordeal has helped shape me into the person I am today. It helped me realize that true unconditional love exists; to be a better person; and it helped me find my voice. As long as bullying is going on in schools, as long as people are contemplating drastic measures because of the abuse they’ve endured, and as long as naked picture scandals are still happening, I will continue to use it. To those women involved in the sexting scandal; Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and all others; my heart goes out to you. Please take this time to take a look at your state’s laws, to reach out to those young women dealing with the same shame and embarrassment, and do not ever allow yourselves to be bullied into silence or victim-blamed because what happened is not right and as women it is about time we join forces instead of tearing each other apart and take a stand.
Allyson Pereira is an anti bullying and sexting expert whose public speaking & media work has been recognized by The White House, NJ House, and PA Senate.