Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who became a household name after her illicit affair with then-President Bill Clinton was made public, was bullied, mocked and humiliated for years afterward.
The “slut shaming, body shaming and public humiliation” was so bad that it nearly drove her to the brink of suicide, Lewinsky revealed during a speech in Dublin last week. “In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity and I almost lost my life,” she recalled.
Public humiliation made her suicidal
Two decades later, Lewinsky is now traveling the world as an anti-bullying advocate. She described the “mistake in which I fell in love with my boss” that led to her intense public humiliation, much of which came from the mainstream media, not to mention supporters of the then-embattled President Clinton.
The bullying Lewinsky received ramped up following the publication of independent counsel Ken Starr’s investigation into Clinton. Starr’s report explicitly exposed the details of the affair “without context or compassion,” Lewinsky said.
“My mother sat by my bed every night and made me shower with the door open in fear that I would be finally humiliated to death,” Lewinsky recalled.
“I couldn’t imagine showing my face again, when I read the Starr Report online, the mantra that continually went through my head was ‘I wanna die, I wanna die,’” she continued.
“There were two Monicas, the real me and the public Monica, the Monica in headlines,” Lewinsky added. “She was created with not a lot of fact and a lot of fiction. I didn’t recognize her. It was easy to forget that that woman had a soul.”
Pushing back against the bullies
Lewinsky now hopes to provide inspiration and support to others who are going through the same sort of public shaming and humiliation that she had to deal with.
“The practice of cyber bullying has mushroomed and the power of humiliation is amplified and uncontained,” said Lewinsky. “Now we traffic in shame and desensitization, and it’s a market industry we pay for and curate with our clicks.”
She spoke of a current “compassion deficit” and “empathy crisis,” and said, “I have seen some dark days and empathy has saved my life at times. We must consume and click with compassion and walk a mile in someone else’s headline.”
“I felt it was time to stop tiptoeing around my past,” she said as to why she was speaking out now. “You can survive it and you can insist on a different ending to your story.”
“I hope I end up being a poster child for people going through shame and humiliation, who survive and create a different story, and that sharing your experience can help someone else,” Lewinsky added.