Women of Courage: Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky: Compassion Crusader

Imagine you’re twenty-two years old and you’ve just made a mistake. You were impulsive, you misjudged someone, you hurt someone, you were selfish. Look, you don’t need to imagine—who hasn’t screwed up?

Now imagine your mistake ignites a national scandal and your name will forever be a dirty joke in low-brow circles. Imagine everything about you is considered public property, and people everywhere feel free to comment on every aspect of your person.


I’ve seen some very dark days in my life. It was empathy and compassion from friends, family, coworkers, even strangers that saved me. Empathy from one person can make a difference. Compassionate comments help abate the negativity.

Even if you’re too young to remember the sex scandal that rocked Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1998, you may have heard her name in rap songs.

Monica Lewinsky was just twenty-two years old when she landed an unpaid White House internship. Not long after, she embarked on a regretful affair with one of the most powerful men in the world. Three years later, every explicit detail of the affair was broadcast around the globe. And, as if twenty-four hour television coverage was not enough, the press had a brand new medium: the internet. In 1998, Monica Lewinsky became the self-described patient zero in the cyber-bullying epidemic.

How She’s Courageous

A less courageous woman might have changed her name and lived a life of quiet anonymity. In Iceland. But courage has nothing to do with living a perfect life. Lives are messy, people stumble, people make mistakes. The majority of us have the luxury of doing it with a modicum of privacy.

In 2010, after more than a decade teetering in and out of the public eye, Monica was deeply affected by the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi. It was then she began to realize how her painful experience could be used to help others. In a landmark essay published in Vanity Fair in 2014, Monica took charge of her narrative and launched a campaign to support victims of internet shaming.

How Her Courage Affects Others

Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: You can survive it…you can insist on a different ending to your story. Have compassion for yourself. We all deserve compassion, and to live both online and off in a more compassionate world.

Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber-threats online. Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet. And it’s growing. There was an 87% increase in calls related to cyber-bullying from 2012 to 2013 alone.

As an anti-bullying activist, Monica travels to universities and schools spreading a message of compassion. Her TED talk has been viewed over 12 million times. In October of last year, she launched a PSA which concisely illustrates how people behave differently online versus face-to-face. Last fall she launched a #BeStrong Emoji keyboard app so users can support those experiencing online harassment.

How She’s Affected Me

Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.

As a writer obsessed with the impact of technology on society (and the author of a book on cyber-bullying), I find Ms. Lewinsky’s insights into the perils of media spot-on. While these pitfalls are the playground where my books happen, the forward-thinking Monica is working to shape privacy guidelines, as well as standards for responsible media consumption, for the coming years.

I had the pleasure of seeing her speak in person last October. The next day, as I read the online commentary on the news article, I realized the ongoing abuse she must still endure. The comments were filled with vitriol and personal attacks. As a person who often struggles to summon the courage to hit publish on a blog post, I am humbled by breadth of her courage and the depth of her compassion as she steadfastly champions her cause.

Learn More

Also, don’t miss her PSA below:

Originally published on KarenLeeRawson.com.

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