Monica Lewinsky has called for greater compassion in society and online as she told how she almost took her own life.
More than 20 years since she was reluctantly catapulted to fame after an affair with then US president Bill Clinton that began when she was 22, Ms Lewinsky, now 45, spoke in Dublin about being one of the world’s first victims of cyber bullying.
Describing her experience as “a mistake in which I fell in love with my boss”, she spoke at length about the “slut shaming, body shaming and public humiliation” she suffered globally after the publication of the Starr investigation of January 1998.
The probe catalogued “without context or compassion” the details of her affair with the 42nd president.
“My mother sat by my bed every night and made me shower with the door open in fear that I would be finally humiliated to death,” Ms Lewinsky said.
“I couldn’t imagine showing my face again, when I read the Starr Report online, the mantra that continually went through my head was ‘I wanna die, I wanna die’.
“There were two Monicas, the real me and the public Monica, the Monica in headlines.
“She was created with not a lot of fact and a lot of fiction. I didn’t recognise her.
“It was easy to forget that that woman had a soul.”
Now an anti-bullying advocate, Ms Lewinsky said her parents and family suffered with her, and knew every detail of her pain, unlike many parents today who know nothing of their children’s experience with online bullying until it is too late.
“We are in a world of online harassment,” she said.
“The practice of cyber bullying has mushroomed and the power of humiliation is amplified and uncontained.
“Now we traffic in shame and desensitisation, and it’s a market industry we pay for and curate with our clicks.
“We need a cultural revolution, we need to remedy the compassion deficit and empathy crisis.
“I have seen some dark days and empathy has saved my life at times.
“We must consume and click with compassion and walk a mile in someone else’s headline.”
Adding that she too falls foul of gossip websites, Ms Lewinsky said: “I’ve done that too, I’ve read three articles about a celebrity divorce and thought ‘OK, stop, you don’t need to read a fourth’.
“We as a data-driven society need to drive that change. Clicks generate content and we need to be more empathetic with our clicks.”
Ms Lewinsky, who underwent a self-imposed media silence for decades, said she felt it was time to reclaim her narrative.
“I felt it was time to stop tiptoeing around my past,” she said.
“You can survive it and you can insist on a different ending to your story.
“Resilience is something that can be learned, it’s a muscle that we can grow.
“I wasn’t always resilient, but I was a pretty stubborn child and that comes connected to tenacity, it can be a pain in the ass quality, but you can see things through.”
On her hopes for the future, Ms Lewinsky said she can be some kind of inspiration to others.
“I hope I end up being a poster child for people going through shame and humiliation, who survive and create a different story, and that sharing your experience can help someone else.”