Lewinsky’s return to public life courageous

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By Annie Cohen, Staff Columnist

Monica Lewinsky is undeniably one of the most polarizing figures in contemporary American culture, and she has been unable to escape the consequences of her sex scandal with former President Bill Clinton. While the public has seemingly forgiven Clinton, viewing him favorably in polls, Lewinsky has been reduced to a vulgar punchline for nearly two decades. In recent weeks, however, she has strived to change her image. Armed with a newly minted Twitter account and a meaningful cause, Lewinsky has set out on an admirable journey to parlay her own notoriety into helping others who have been victims of what she has called a “culture of humiliation.” Her bold new stance is remarkable — in the face of shame and scrutiny, Lewinsky has chosen to use her personal pain to address the issue of cyberbullying.

Although Lewinsky’s return to the public eye has been met by some with a degree of skepticism, her willingness to manifest her personal demons into a worthy cause is incredibly courageous. She has been shamed for almost 20 years, paying for an incident that took place in her early 20s. Her ventures into public life have been met with scorn and judgment. In an Oct. 20 speech at Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit, Lewinsky declared herself Patient Zero of the cyberbullying phenomenon. Along with personal stories, she recounted the life of Tyler Clementi, a college freshman who committed suicide  in 2010 after his roommate secretly filmed him having sex with a man. Like Clementi, Lewinsky was subjected to a tsunami of cruelty driven by the Internet and media. Lewinsky also discussed the Clementi case in a June 2014 Vanity Fair piece. She said it gave her the clarity and confidence to finally break free of the restraints society had placed on her and speak out in order to give a voice to other victims.

Three days after the Forbes speech, more distressing details about the handling of the Clinton affair were released. The Washington Post obtained a sealed report that confirmed in 1998 Lewinsky was severely mistreated by investigators, who ambushed her at a mall before subjugating her into a 12-hour interrogation session. The rest became history. With Clinton’s presidency in jeopardy and a story that few could initially resist publishing, Lewinsky’s reputation as a dim-witted floozy was cemented. After being branded in this fashion for so many years, it is refreshing to see Lewinsky respond to those who ridiculed her and stand up for herself.

While it is unlikely that her name will be completely rid of stigma, Lewinsky’s decision to turn her infamy into a platform against cyberbullying is commendable. By giving context to her story, she can be a force for positive change.

 A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 3 print edition. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected]