Monica Lewinsky: 'The shame sticks to you like tar'

A photograph showing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky meeting President Bill Clinton at a White House function. Photo / Getty Images
A photograph showing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky meeting President Bill Clinton at a White House function. Photo / Getty Images

Twenty years after her infamous affair with then-US President Bill Clinton was revealed former White House intern Monica Lewinsky has opened up about her ongoing struggle for a normal life and her battle against bullying.

In a rare interview with The Guardian Lewinsky spoke about the shaming and harassment she has suffered over the last 20 years and her fear of hitting the headlines yet again.

Lewinsky and Clinton had, in his words, an "inappropriate relationship" while she was working as an intern at the White House in the mid-90s.

Lewinsky admitted that between November 1995 and March 1997 she and Clinton, a married man and father, had nine sexual encounters in the Oval Office.

The pair did not have sex, she said, but participated in other sexual acts.

Lewinsky told The Guardian that she suffered anxiety in the 20 years since her name became known around the world. She has been ridiculed and bullied online and spoke out to raise awareness of the situation.

She is now a leading anti-bullying advocate.

"The truth is I'm exhausted," Lewinsky said.

"So I'm worried I may misspeak, and that thing will become the headline and the cycle will start all over again.

"Destigmatising the shame around online harassment is the first step," she says. "Well, the first step is recognising there's a problem."

In a talk she gave last year she reflected on becoming a household name for all the wrong reasons in a speech to

Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide.

"Granted, it was before social media, but people could still comment online, email stories, and, of course, email cruel jokes," she said.

"I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, 'that woman'. It was easy to forget that 'that woman' was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken."

Lewinsky was 22 when she started as an intern at the White House. Her affair with Clinton began after she admitted to the older man that she had a crush on him.

Former US President Bill Clinton pauses a moment while being asked about former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Photo / Getty Images
Former US President Bill Clinton pauses a moment while being asked about former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Photo / Getty Images

In the wake of the affair going public Lewinsky was forced to testify before a grand jury.
Then, a 3000-page report which outlined intimate details of each of her nine sexual encounters with Clinton, was released to the public.

Lewinsky said having the transcripts made public was "horrific" but the situation became "excruciating" when audio of her conversations with Clinton that had been secretly recorded were aired on television and radio across the world,

"Life was almost unbearable," she said.

I felt like every layer of my skin and my identity were ripped off of me.

"You feel incredibly raw and frightened. But I also feel like the shame sticks to you like tar."

Lewinsky, now 42, said the last decade had been "desolate".

"I was really floundering. I could not find my way," she told The Guardian.

"I think it's fair to say that whatever mistakes I made, I was hung out to dry by a lot of people - by a lot of the feminists who had loud voices. I wish it had been handled differently. It was very scary and very confusing to be a young woman thrust on to the world stage and not belonging to any group. I didn't belong to anybody."

Monica Lewinsky departs from the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC on August 20,1998. Lewinsky was making her second appearance before the Starr Grand Jury. Photo / Getty Images
Monica Lewinsky departs from the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC on August 20,1998. Lewinsky was making her second appearance before the Starr Grand Jury. Photo / Getty Images

Lewinsky revealed that she is often approached by bullying victims.

"When I'm on the subway, in line for coffee, at dinner parties," she said.

"Sometimes they'll say, 'I went through this, but it's nothing like what you went through.' But I tell them that, if I drown in 60ft of water and you drown in 30ft, we both still drowned. You either know what it's like to be publicly shamed or you don't.

"To be able to give a purpose to my past, if I'm stuck with my past, feels meaningful to me," she says.

She said while stopping bullies was important, they way were treated along the way was crucial.

"Don't bully the bully. It doesn't move the conversation forward," she said.

"I see bullying as similar to cutting. People who cut are trying to localise their pain. I think with bullying, people are suffering for myriad reasons and are projecting it. Instead of cutting themselves, they're cutting someone else."

- NZ Herald

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