Against the backdrop of today’s political battles, it is worth revisiting the so-called “Lewinsky scandal” that shocked American politics in the early 1990s. At that time, there were many speeches by politicians and two impeachments. However, the real victim of this scandal was the young White House intern.
A disastrous infatuation with the boss
Monica Lewinsky started her internship at the White House in 1995 at the age of 21. Understandably, she was in frequent contact with one of the most powerful men in the world. The attention Monica received was not what she might have expected.
The young and inexperienced intern was seduced by the President and their secret affair lasted for two years, from 1995 to 1997, until everything was revealed to the public in 1998.
The scandal was made public thanks to a friend
There is no telling how the affair between Monica and President Bill Clinton would have turned out if she hadn’t disclosed this to her friend. Monica told Linda Tripp about her affair with her boss. Linda secretly recorded conversations with Monica about her sexual relationship with the US President, which she later passed on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The dress was intended to be a sentimental memory
Monica also told her friend Linda about her blue dress, which has a President’s semen stain on it from her and the President’s sexual relations in the Oval Office. Later on, the Oval Office was referred to as the “oral” office.
Monica Lewinsky told her friend Linda that she was going to clean the dress she kept as a souvenir and wear it to a family event. In an effort to preserve the clue and to immunize her friend and to accuse the President of an illicit relationship, Linda dissuaded her from doing so, throwing a major trump card by telling Linda that the dress was really fattening for Monica and that she should not wear it in public again.
The dress was thus preserved and became a very important “trump card” in the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
A powerful president or a coward?
When the conversations between Lewinsky and Bill Clinton came to light and the investigation into the famous novel began, Clinton persistently denied everything. “I did not have a sexual relationship with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,” he insisted on television.
It was only with irrefutable evidence, such as the blue dress, that the President finally testified before the Grand Jury and finally confessed to having intercourse with a young intern.
“In truth, I had a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate”, he said.
Thanks to prosecutor Kenneth Starr, a report was made public revealing all the details of meetings between Monica and the President.
Though impeachment was imposed on the President in the House of Representatives for obstruction and lying, he was later acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial of Clinton.
Furthermore, during the Lewinsky scandal, his wife Hillary was always by his side, showing support for her unfaithful husband and improving his image in the eyes of the public, and in the impeachment trial that followed, the President was acquitted and regained his popularity, with his wife’s support.
Monica’s encounter with reality
After the scandal reached the public, Monica has been dragged through mud. She was seen as a young mistress who had seduced a President loyal to his wife.
The fact that the public was indiscriminately condemning Monica and not the President is evident from the name of the scandal, the “Lewinsky scandal”, which was centered on a woman, not the President, being “crucified”.
“I fell in love with my boss at the age of 22 and suffered crushing consequences at 24. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of this mistake, and I regret it very much,” said Monica.
Yet the US President was almost 30 years older and could have ended Monica’s career as a White House intern at any time. Monica called her relationship with Bill Clinton “an abuse of power”.
Monica said she does not know how the global condemnation would have ended for her had it not been for the support of her family.
“I was lucky to survive and come from an upper-middle-class family that could support me… but even then, I lost more than a decade of my life,” she wrote on Twitter.
Difficult attempts towards recovery
After the scandal shocked the US public, the President continued to appear on TV with his wife, while Monica tried to get on with her life.
In 1999, she launched a line of handbags and in the same year became spokesperson for the weight-loss company Jenny Craig. Lewinsky has also made several television appearances and hosted the Fox dating show Mr. Personality in 2003. The handbag line did not gain much popularity, the ridicule continued to haunt the girl and any attempt to get a job was unsuccessful, with employers shutting the door on her without remorse. Thus, she made the decision to escape the public gaze and move to London. She went to the London School of Economics and graduated with a Master’s degree in Social Psychology.
Speaking up about sexual harassment
The #MeToo movement encouraged Monica to speak out again about the bullying she experienced. “To all the women who share stories of sexual abuse and harassment, thank you for your courage to speak up. You are not alone. #MeeToo”.
Describing the loneliness and fear she experienced during the litigation, Monica wrote: “That I have made mistakes, we can all agree on that. But swimming in that sea of loneliness was terrifying.”
She says she wouldn’t feel so alone if it happened today, citing the #MeToo movement.
Today, one can only admire Monica Lewinsky’s strength: she has had to endure universal bullying, condemnation, and insults. Her family and her move to another country helped her to recover. Now, she can proudly say that she is not alone; there are many women in the world who have experienced “abuse of power” and sexual abuse, and millions of women support and understand her.
“One thing I know for sure: part of what has allowed me to recover is that I am no longer alone. And for that I am grateful,” Monica wrote on her social media account.
Monica, a victim of abuse herself, became a viable anti-bullying advocate, arguing that her own reputation and identity had been completely trampled online.
“Overnight, I went from being a private person to being publicly humiliated in front of the whole world. I was “patient zero”, losing my personal reputation. Maybe by sharing my story I can help others in their darkest moments of humiliation”, said Monica.
She was motivated to become an active campaigner against cyber-bullying by the tragic incident of a young man’s suicide after material about his affair with another man was made public.
She gave a powerful speech on the topic at the 2015 TED conference. Since then, Ms. Lewinsky has been actively involved in the anti-bullying charity Bystander Revolution.
In 2018, Monica Lewinsky was in Vilnius for the Login Technology and Innovation Conference.
“The more people who dare to speak publicly about their experiences or fears, the easier it will be to destigmatize the issue. In this way, more and more people will share their experiences of bullying instead of suffering in silence. It is the cases where people suffer in silence and in solitude that I find the most horrible, the most disturbing. It is very important for the victims or targets of bullying to realize that it is not their fault. It has nothing to do with their true self. I urge those around me not to stand by and passively watch, but to act and report. Write a positive comment online or use an anti-bullying emoticon. If a victim of bullying feels supported in some way, that is a step forward, a positive change”, said Monica Lewinsky at the conference.
Hopefully, Monica Lewinsky’s example and speaking out about her experiences of bullying will help other victims of bullying to find the strength to speak openly about their experiences, rather than resorting to suicide, or withdrawing from the world of psychiatric institutions, or ending up with a sadder solution to their lives.