MONICA LEWINSKI RECLAIMING HER STORY?

More than a decade later, Chris Cuomo apologized to Shelley Ross for inappropriately touching her sixteen years ago. When is enough, enough, or apology accepted? Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment. There appear to be new guidelines evolving all the time. “Victim” as a subject is subjected to being re-defined all the time. But Monica Lewinsky has taken it to a new level. She took “Fifteen Minutes of Shame” to Fifteen Years of Fame? Monica Lewinski wants to give the appearance of having been bullied, but she has spent her adult years making money off of it.

In the case of Chris Cuomo, teasing, making offhand comments, and acting out in an isolated incident indeed violated civility codes. Still, it should be challenging to convince people Mr. Cuomo was attempting to harass his former boss sexually. Before we tar and feather the guy, let’s look at a few other facts, Ms. Ross was at the party with her husband, who sat behind her “on an ottoman sipping his Diet Coke” as she spoke with work friends. “When Mr. Cuomo entered the Upper West Side bar, he walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock.” It hardly seems he was trying to get her in a compromising situation. Instead, he was crude and silly. Her keeping his apology a decade or so is a little bit weird.

BILL CLINTON DOES NOT OWE MONICA LEWINSKI AN APOLOGY

Monica Lewinsky doesn’t need an apology from Bill Clinton because he doesn’t owe her one. We understand she was a young intern approximately 22 years of age when she became “enamored with him, like many others.” The concept “intern” has been used to give Ms. Lewinsky a defense for her actions that contributed to the affair and allow President Clinton’s critics to turn a blind eye to Ms. Lewinsky’s contributory negligence. To continue negating that Lewinsky was not a proximate cause of the events that transpired simply promotes the willingness to reject both individuals’ responsibilities. No one can deny Bill Clinton was blameworthy and subsequently became answerable to the people of the United States.

Lewinsky stated on the Today Show, “He should want to apologize in the same way I want to apologize any chance I get to people my actions have hurt.” When then is that regret to be given? The people of this country are long overdue.

Her choice to engage in a liaison with the President of the United States continues to serve as a reference point for American politics that insulted our political identity. Empathy should not replace an objective evaluation. Objectivity is clearly intended for observable prosocial behavior which should promote social acceptance for the cause of one who clearly has no part of the effect. The effect is broad and serves to impact future evaluation of similar situations and how the victims who have given no consent are viewed.

Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. On average, there are 463,634 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. Sex trafficking has devastating consequences for the individual. Victims suffer from long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, malnutrition, and social ostracism, and 10% commit suicide. Unlike Ms. Lewinsky, they do not gain international celebrity status. They are not the beneficiaries of financial backing to engage in various ventures that included designing handbags under her name, being an advertising spokesperson for a diet plan, and working as a television personality.

Monica Lewinsky now says she “let go of the shame and found the courage to reclaim her story and to examine the power differential between the most powerful man in the world and an unpaid intern less than half his age.” It’s about time, wouldn’t you say? The first time it was a less powerful man bit it took her five years to let go of that shame and enough time for two lifetimes to reclaim it. Shouldn’t she have dealt with these complexities a long time ago? And what will the financial derivatives be this time? Millions. Her past does not deserve a pity party. It never did. Her stepfather is Peter Straus, a media executive and former director of the Voice of America under President Jimmy Carter. She was privy to a prestigious education which included Sinai Akiba Academy. For her primary education, she attended the John Thomas Dye School in Bel-Air, then Beverly Hills High School for her first three years before transferring to Bel Air Prep.

After her high school graduation, Lewinsky attended college and worked for the drama department at Beverly Hills High School and a tie shop. In 1992, she began a five-year affair with Andy Bleiler, her married former high school drama instructor. In 1993, she enrolled at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Afterward, the office of White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. Lewinsky moved to Washington, D.C., and took up the position in July 1995. She moved to a paid position in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs in December 1995.

“Victim” is a term used for a person who suffers adversity beyond their control that eliminates choice because choice indicates you had a decision. A victim is terrorized by the inability to make a decision. The general experience of past fear is why the injured knows that despite the disgust of an intruder’s touch, the crudeness of his tone, the revulsion of his reach, made you a victim who was not capable of making a decision. You don’t give to claim the victim status when you have spent five years having an affair with a married man before Clinton. The kind of tutorial and for that length of time is enough to teach you there is no “happily-ever-after.” There is another take, an affair might be like a habit that a person cannot do without, and once they are forced to, they cannot stop talking about it. In short, we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to identifying the real victims. The excessive weight of media attention given to Monica Lewinsky, as opposed to sexually harassed students, undocumented workers, single mothers, and women of color, shows there is a danger that the pendulum is swinging too far in her direction and not the other way. It threatens the painstaking work invested in informing the public and our government institutions to recognizing sexual harassment for the very real criminal threat it is.

Monica Lewinski and Bill Clinton made a decision. She must account for her share. By rummaging through his stock of failures is a blatant refusal to admit her own. To place herself among those who did not possess her options is wrong, and it is offensive to those who are currently suffering from psychological and physical abuse. Those women whose lives are being spent every day undergoing the struggle of their lives fighting for their rights as human beings, without the benefit of leverage.

THE REAL VICTIMS OF SEXUAL OPPRESSION

America is still singing its songs in an “exceedingly monotonous show of false heroes,” running to protect the damsels in distress. At the same time, the unrecognized victims who remain captive are ignored by television critics and viewers, including the “Me Too,” The movement has failed to recognize sexual oppression and stigmatization of poor, desperate black and brown women. It has failed to constructively address the impact of sexual assault on immigrant women. Not only have the most defenseless minority victims have been left out of the conversation but they were never invited into the room. If the door were open, we might be able to address real issues that continue to be ignored like V.A.W.A. (Violence Against Women Authorization), which is suppose to protect women from domestic violence. Some cases have been lingering for over five years. Counseling is still rejected by mental health services because the victims are not eligible for any government assistance. In fact, it backfired. The provision of the 1994 Crime Bill sponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden has contributed to mass incarceration and state violence. Cases that were supposed to be processed were purposely held back by Stephen Miller’s racist plan to eliminate the adjustment of status of foreign residents despite the eligibility. Nobody seems to give a damn.

The pervasiveness of sexual assault on the most defenseless. Part of the way in which a desperate woman saves her sanity and maintains the life of her children is to refuse to submit her mind, despite the attack to her body, as much as she can. This not only keeps a woman in an intimate relationship with her condition, but it also underlines the fact that she has the responsibility for attending to those she loves. That is a human condition that cannot simply be handed over to anyone else. One, therefore, can barely breathe when she considers what she has to endure. One begs for merciful intervention for so long that they do it in their sleep that tomorrow will be different.

“ME TOO” IS NOT HER

The Lewinsky incident is not now, nor has it been for some time, about victimization. It has become a political companion of the Right; ways that are reflective of an instructive political experience, founded by the brute force of partisan politics that keeps this nation from moving forward in advancing social justice, reducing global warming, better education, and coalition building.

If we continue to look backward, we become the products of partisan machinery- machinery where this nation’s citizens are being bulldozed into a narrow vision and disfigured by the defeat of puppet-masters of the grand American machinery — machinery that too many Americans “had been mauled and mangled by — and then diminished into inescapably products built by the coercive physical force of political fiction. If the radical right does not set the terms or topics, they will do whatever they can to garner the capacity to redirect where that conversation goes and alter the language in which that conversation takes place. Monica Lewinsky is a small piece of a broken puzzle. If we are going to move forward, then we must stop looking at the insignificance of Bill Clinton’s personal mistakes yesterday. That moral dispute is one for the history books but not for the progressive movement that demands our attention now. Political defection has emerged as an important part of affecting our moral reasoning. When politicians come under fire for failing to deliver, they often rely on the propaganda of trying to shift the focus onto others. They lay their failures at the feet of others or they may try to change the debate entirely. Turbulent movements have given expression, in a multidimensional and contradictory way, to a longing for democracy when the outcome they long for is social injustice. Their lies include a false idea of democratizing the entire world order. It becomes a powerful socio-political force when we focus on tricks instead of truth. The right to the truth today is what counts: We have a right to be told the truth and to be informed about matters that significantly affect our choices for the future and who we stand behind.

Battling racism and battling sexism and battling poverty share the same urgency inside the victim as an unstoppable victimizer. None of these struggles are ever easy, and even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Each victory must be applauded because it is so easy to become overwhelmed and not to battle at all. And all power is relative. Recognizing the existence as well as the limitations of these individuals’ power, and accepting the responsibility for using it in their own behalves, should involve all of us in direct and daily actions that advocate on their behaves and give them as much refuge as we can. Our power lies in more than watching a made-for-television show. You can make a choice of how you wish to use your power. Your intention can give what you do a tremendous amount of energy in believing in belief in your task as well as in a vision of how you want this earth to be for the people who are here now and who will come after. Even if it means calling the White House comment line at 202–456–111 and telling President Biden that the Vermont Service Center has had VAWA Petitioners subjected to delayed processing and many waiting in homeless shelters for years.

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Dr. Khalilah Sabra, LL.M, (@khalilahsabra): Muslim American Doctorate in International Law, Executive Director (MAS Immigrant Justice Center)

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Khalilah Sabra

Khalilah Sabra

Dr. Khalilah Sabra, LL.M, (@khalilahsabra): Muslim American Doctorate in International Law, Executive Director (MAS Immigrant Justice Center)

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