Alyssa Sutton

The Gilbert Center at Eastern Oregon University was filled with Union County’s public school seventh-graders Thursday as Allyson Pereira explained the dangers of teen sexting.

Pereira, who met with Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to former president Obama, to discuss bullying and sexting, received a “Rising Young Woman of Change” award from the New Jersey State House Assembly for her work in anti-bullying awareness and helping change New Jersey’s sexting law.

These accolades, Pereira told the seventh-graders, came after several difficult years. A native of New Jersey, Pereira was part of a sexting scandal as a sophomore in high school in 2006. She sent a naked picture of herself to an ex-boyfriend, and by the next week her photo had been circulated through three high schools, four middle schools and five elementary schools. After that, she began to be bullied, and the once straight-A student started skipping classes to avoid being seen in public.

“I was so scared and embarrassed,” Pereira said. “I thought there was no one I could go to for help.”

Pereira described the bullying that she experienced in the following months, including threats and a broken front door, and said she attempted suicide.

“Luckily for me, it was more of a cry for attention and help,” she said of the suicide attempt.

However, she told the story of an eighth-grade girl who did commit suicide after a similar incident, and a story of a young man who will remain on the sex offender registry because of his involvement in sexting.

Beyond the personal turmoil that can come from sexting, Pereira warned students of the legal consequences.

“I could have been charged with creating and distributing child pornography,” Pereira said, and her ex-boyfriend could have been charged with distribution of child pornography.

Federal laws haven’t caught up to current technology Union County District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel explained. The majority of laws regarding sexting were designed to convict individuals for purposely distributing child pornography or trafficking children. In 2015, Oregon Senate Bill 188 was passed to outlaw the practice of posting naked photos of an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend online. The bill outlawed so-called “revenge porn,” when naked photos collected during a romantic relationship are later posted online without the subject’s permission. According to news reports, only one person has ever been convicted under the bill.

“There are flaws (in the bill),” McDaniel said. “There are nuances in it that don’t apply to certain situations with kids, and that’s a huge problem.”

See complete story in Friday's Observer