What Monica Lewinsky Has to Say About Cyberbullying

March 8th 2015

Laura Donovan

It's been nearly 20 years since then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky's last romantic encounter with former President Bill Clinton, but the infamous political scandal still haunts her today. It wasn't until last year that she wrote her first public article on the impact of the affair, detailing feelings of immense regret and the problems she's had finding work because of her name. Lewinsky's situation came with its own unique challenges, but she can relate to the 52 percent of young people in America who've reported being cyberbullied.

A self-proclaimed social activist, Lewinsky says she was the first victim of cyberbulling, and only now is she comfortable publicly sharing her post-controversy experiences. On March 19, the 41-year-old is slated to present a TED talk titled Just and Unjust, in which she will divulge more about her continued struggle with harassment and mistreatment almost two decades after news of her relationship with Clinton became public knowledge.

"Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one," she said in a speech at last year's Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit. "[I was] the first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet. When I ask myself how best to describe how best to describe how the last 17 years have felt, I always come back to that word. Shame. That's what happened to me in 1998 when Public Monica, That Monica, That Woman, was born. The creature from the media lagoon. I lost my reputation. I was publicly identified as someone I didn't recognize and I lost my sense of self. Lost it, or had it stolen, because in a way, it was a form of identity theft. Today I think of myself as someone who, who the hell knows how survived?"

Time has helped Lewinsky heal on some level, but stories like hers remain difficult to stomach. In a Vanity Fair piece published last year, she revealed that Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi's suicide, which took place after his sexual encounter with another man had been recorded on his roommate's webcam, pushed her to eventually tell her own story. Lewinsky herself seriously considered ending her life in 1998, so when the Clementi tragedy hit the news cycle five years ago, it resurrected bad memories for Lewinsky and her mother.

"She was replaying those weeks when she stayed by my bed, night after night, because I, too, was suicidal," Lewinsky said of her mother. "The shame, the scorn, and the fear that had been thrown at her daughter left her afraid that I would take my own life — a fear that I would be literally humiliated to death."

Lewinsky said last year that she'd like to help other victims of online harassment to put a "purpose to [her] past."

The Clinton debacle didn't totally break her spirits or squash her sense of humor, but it's taken her awhile to make jokes about it. Most people are still figuring themselves out in their early 20s, but Lewinsky's character was already maligned by much of the world at 24, when her personal life and political future crumbled at the hands of a web writer. Lewinsky has the unique misfortune of being one of the first individuals targeted on the Internet, but all forms of cyberbullying can be harmful, and in some cases, deadly.