Kelsey Upton was just 15 years old when she received a terrifying text from a registered sex offender in another state. The middle-aged man had seen a pornographic image of another woman that had been posted online along with Kelsey's name, phone number and address in Oxford.
Her father, Randy, a retired law enforcement officer, contacted the district attorney and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but was shocked to discover that no law had been broken. Because the photograph was not Kelsey's, the image did not qualify as child pornography, and posting a minor's information on a porn website was also not illegal. The former classmate who initiated the cruel, dangerous prank went unpunished.
"That's the first thing everybody said, ‘you mean it's not illegal?'" recalled Randy Upton, speaking at the Capitol this week where he spoke in favor of a new bill that would close that loophole and make it illegal to identify a minor in an obscene depiction.
Randy Upton said felt helpless as he watched his daughter spiral into depression as unsavory rumors swept her school.
"Some girls confronted her [and said], ‘we heard you were making porn movies'," He said. "She started struggling with her classes, started having nightmares because she knew, and I knew, that there are sexual predators out there."
"Her biggest fear was the individual [who texted her] could have snatched her in the middle of the night, could have taken her," he added.
The Uptons decided to go on the offensive, telling their story in the local press and contacting lawmakers. Kelsey become on advocate for legislation to protect other minors from similar threats, and eventually graduated second in her class.
"There's cyber footprints all over the web, although its deleted, ten years from now someone could come up with that image and find her...that's why we went public with it," said Randy Upton.
Through their public activism, Randy Upton said he met parents of children who had committed suicide after being subjected to similar harassment.
"I know how helpless I felt as a father...so thank God for our representatives picking it up and running with it," he said.
Representative Pam Dickerson even came to Kelsey's school to offer the girl her support.
Five years later, Kelsey's Law, or HB103, is in the rules committee en route to heading to the floor of the House. Its sponsors include Representatives Dickerson, Dave Belton, Kevin Tanner, Chuck Williams, Allen Peake and Joe Wilkinson.
"I just wanted to make sure it got done," said Belton, who said it took several years to amend the language of the bill to make sure it did not infringe on first amendment rights. "We need to protect our children."