More than two decades after the scandal that tore her life apart, Monica Lewinsky is still nervous about giving interviews.
After news broke of her affair with president Bill Clinton in 1998, she became the object of international scrutiny, shame, and ridicule.
“I felt like every layer of my skin and my identity were ripped off of me in ’98 and ’99,” Lewinsky tells the Guardian. “It’s a skinning of sorts. You feel incredibly raw and frightened. But I also feel like the shame sticks to you like tar.”
Lewinsky says that the trauma is still there, and that she’s afraid that she could “misspeak” and “the headline and the cycle will start all over again.”
In recent years, Lewinsky has refashioned herself as an advocate against online bullying, drawing from her own experience as the subject of one of the most humiliating political scandals of the past century.
Over a year ago, Lewinsky gave a TED talk about being the first person to be the target of a deluge of shaming on the internet, where overnight, she was transformed into a one-dimensional effigy.
At the height of the scandal, a 3,000 page report of the affair, including all 9 sexual encounters with Clinton, was publicly released, as were the audio recordings of Lewinsky recounting the affair to Linda Tripp, who had secretly recorded their conversations.
“I came very close” to suicide, Lewinsky said, even thinking through how it would be done. “I think some young people don’t see suicide as an ending, but as a reset.”
The fallout from the affair followed her wherever she went. In 2005, Lewinsky had enrolled in a master’s program at the London School of Economics (LSE), and was casually told by a friend that she shouldn’t stay in London because powerful people didn’t want her there.
In the days that followed that conversation, she couldn’t stop thinking about the time in how she was targeted by an FBI sting in 1998. But eventually, she found LSE a welcoming environment, from both her peers and professors.
This electoral primary, Donald Trump has said that if he were to face Clinton in the general election, he would consider details from the Lewinsky scandal “fair game,” but Monica is unfazed.
“I’m affected by what happens on the world stage. But I don’t let it deter me,” she said.