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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 43
Monica Lewinsky takes on cyberbullying
Section One
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Monica Lewinsky takes on cyberbullying

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On Monday, Monica Lewinsky broke her decade-long silence, claiming she was the first victim of cyberbullying.

In announcing her new campaign to end cyberbullying to a crowd at Forbes' inaugural '30 Under 30' summit in Philadelphia, Lewinsky called herself 'Patient Zero.' 'The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet,' she said.

Lewinsky was referring to the online harassment she received in the late 1990s after the news of her affair with then-President Bill Clinton was released.

In June of 1995 Monica Lewinsky, 21, came to the White House as an unpaid intern in the office of then-Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. By November Lewinsky and Clinton had begun a sexual relationship. In the summer of 1996 Lewinsky told career government employee Linda Tripp of her relationship with Clinton. In the fall Tripp began taping conversations she had with Lewinsky in which she detailed her affair with the president. News of the affair broke in January 1998. At first President Clinton denied the affair; but then, on August 17, 1998, Clinton became the first sitting president to testify before a grand jury investigating his conduct; after the questioning at the White House was finished, Clinton went on national TV to admit he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Later that same year, a House Judiciary Committee considered a resolution to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Clinton.

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, was impeached by the House of Representatives on two charges, one of perjury and one of obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998. Two other impeachment articles, a second perjury charge and a charge of abuse of power, failed in the House. Although Clinton was acquitted of both charges by the Senate on February 12, 1999, the scandal followed him politically and, obviously, personally for the rest of his presidency.

Former Secretary of State, then-First Lady of the nation, Hillary Clinton did not divorce the president. However, when she ran for the United States Senate in New York in 2001, the scandal involving her husband and Lewinsky resurfaced in the media. Still, Clinton went on to win and serve as a senator from New York until January 2009, when President Obama selected her as his administration's Secretary of State. Currently, Hillary Clinton has not yet confirmed if she will run for president in 2016 but already some of her possible opponents, like Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a likely 2016 GOP White House contender, continues to call the Lewinsky scandal a liability for Democrats and says that he does not consider the subject off limits in a political bid for the White House.

On Monday, Lewinsky teared up when describing her life during the months after gossip website the Drudge Report broke the news of the affair. During that time of her life she says her mind was plagued with thoughts of suicide.

'I wanted to die,' she revealed.

Too often, she says she looked online at what people were saying about her.

'There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then,' she said. 'But there were gossip, news and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails which could be forwarded. Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial up. Yet, around the world this story went. A viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly 'social media.'

Lewinsky said she hopes to soon launch a 'cultural revolution' against the forms of online harassment, joining Twitter with a tweet with the hashtag '#HereWeGo.'

Since joining Twitter to start the admirable anti-cyberbullying campaign, Lewinsky has literally only sent out two tweets, despite her 30,000 (and counting) followers. As one would imagine, the Twitter trolls have come out by the dozens to hurl slut-slurs at her. The response to her campaign, and personal attacks that she has endured on Twitter (which Seattle Gay News chooses not to republish out of respect for the victim) are jaw-dropping.

In the years following her affair with Clinton and the fallout from the scandal, Monica Lewinsky has said she 'deeply regrets the affair for many reasons, not the least of which because people were hurt, and that's never okay.'

Lewinsky has also described herself at the time of the affair as 'more than averagely romantic' saying, 'I fell in love with my boss. In a 22-year-old sort of way, it happens. But my boss was the president of the United States. That probably happens less often.'

On May 8, Lewinsky told her story in an essay for Vanity Fair saying it 'might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation.'

The reason she gives for writing the expose might surprise you.

When Tyler Clementi, the Gay 18-year-old Rutgers freshman who was secretly streamed via Webcam kissing another man, committed suicide in September 2010, Lewinsky says she was brought to tears, but her mother was especially distraught.

'She was reliving 1998, when she wouldn't let me out of her sight. She was replaying those weeks when she stayed by my bed, night after night, because I, too, was suicidal,' Lewinsky wrote in her Vanity Fair piece. 'The shame, the scorn, and the fear that had been thrown at her daughter left her afraid that I would take my own life - a fear that I would be literally humiliated to death.'

Lewinsky clarifies that she has never actually attempted suicide, but had strong suicidal temptations several times during the affair investigations and during one or two periods after.

Lewinsky says that following Clementi's tragedy 'my own suffering took on a different meaning.'

For Lewinsky, the question became: 'How do I find and give a purpose to my past?'

On June 20, at the Forbes' inaugural '30 Under 30' summit in Philadelphia, she may have found the answer as the audience gave her a standing ovation at the conclusion of her speech about fighting against cyberbullying. And aside from the attacks she's received on comments sections in entertainment and news blogs, Twitter, and other social media, she has also gained a lot of supporters who feel that the former fresh-out-of-college unpaid intern of the Clinton White House had never really been given the chance to tell her side of the story, clear her name, and live a somewhat normal life.

'It's time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress,' said Lewinsky.

'I, myself, deeply regret what happened between me and President Clinton. Let me say it again: I. Myself. Deeply. Regret. What. Happened,' she added.

CYBERBULLYING CAN HAVE NEGATIVE IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH
According to www.stopbullying.gov, a government website dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of any kind of bullying to ultimately eliminate it from our lives, cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology.

Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and blog or websites.

Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.

Cyberbullying, as was the case with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, also includes gossip published online or the comments that people make in response to news articles published online.

So why is cyberbullying so devastating? Bullying is bullying, right?

Well, not exactly.

People who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior because cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a victim even when they are alone. It can, and does, happen any time of the day or night. Also, cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience and it can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source. Sadly, deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent. As the saying goes, 'Once something is on the Internet, it is there forever.'

According to StopBullying.gov, whether it is experienced in person or through technology, the effects of bullying are similar; however, there is a great deal that remains unknown about the impact of cyberbullying on a child or throughout an adult life. Research on cyberbullying is growing, but due to the fact that as a society, our use of technology has changed so rapidly, it is difficult to design surveys that accurately capture trends, say experts.

CYBERBULLYING FACTS SUMMARIZING WHAT IS CURRENTLY KNOWN
Over the last decade, www.cyberbullying.us surveyed nearly 15,000 middle and high school students in ten different studies from over 97 different schools throughout the United States; and researchers find that, overall, about 25% of the students surveyed over the last eight studies have been cyberbullied at some point in their lifetimes. About 9% said they were cyberbullied in the 30 days preceding the survey. Similarly, about 16% of those surveyed admitted that they had cyberbullied others at some point in their lifetimes (about 6% in the most recent 30 days).

In data reviewed from 73 articles published in peer-reviewed academic journals about bullying, cyberbullying.us report 51 of the articles included cyberbullying victimization rates and 42 included cyberbullying offending rates.

'Rates across all of the studies ranged widely, from 2.3% to 72% for victimization and from 1.2% to 44.1% for offending,' said researchers. 'The average across all of these studies was remarkably similar to the rates that we found in our work (about 21% of teens have been cyberbullied and about 15% admitted to cyberbullying others at some point in their lifetimes). Taken as a whole, it seems safe to conclude that about one out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying, and about one out of every six teens has done it to others.'

Based on recent research, adolescent girls are just as likely, if not more likely than boys, to experience cyberbullying (as a victim and offender).

Cyberbullying.us researchers report cyberbullying is related to low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, anger, frustration, and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems as well as being linked to 'real world' issues including school problems, anti-social behavior, substance use, and more.

'Those who are bullied at school are bullied online and those who bully at school bully online,' say researchers. There are only two studies that exist that explore cyberbullying experiences over time.

The first analysis was conducted at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire where by examining the three waves of the Youth Internet Safety Survey (2000, 2005, and 2010), they find a slight increase in cyberbullying behaviors over that time period (from 6% to 9% to 11%).

The second data source is the School Crime Supplement of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). In 2011, 9% of students said they were cyberbullied compared to 6.2% in 2009. Since the NCVS data is weighted to represent the entire population of 12-18-year-olds enrolled in grades 6 through 12, researchers estimate that about 2.2 million students experienced cyberbullying in 2011, up from about 1.5 million in 2009; revealing a slight increase in cyberbullying behaviors over the last few years.

The reason for the increase? Currently, teens use technology at an increasingly higher rate than generations past. Data collected by www.cyberbullying.us in October 2013 from 400 students at one middle school (ages ranged from 11-14) in the Midwest finds that 97.5% of respondents had been online in the previous 30 days, 63% have a cell phone, 45% are on Facebook, 42% are on Instagram, 1.5% report they had been the target of cyberbullying in the previous 30 days (boys: 6.8%; girls: 16.0%) and 3.9% have cyberbullied others in the previous 30 days (boys: 0.6%; girls: 6.9%).

LGBT youth and those perceived as LGBT are at an increased risk of being bullied.

CYBERBULLYING NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR KIDS
Cyberbullying is not just an adolescent problem. Still, Seattle Gay News found it alarming to learn that Cyberbullying.us officials say they receive more inquiries from adults than teens.

'We know that cyberbullying negatively affects adults, too,' said Dr. Justin W. Patchin, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, the organization that runs www.cyberbullying.us, who admits, 'It's just that we spend the majority of our efforts studying how this problem impacts school-aged youth due to their tenuous developmental stage.'

That said, Patchin took some time to give the adults who have been or currently are being victimized some general advice. According to Patchin:

First, it is important to keep all evidence of the bullying: messages, posts, comments, etc. If there are ways you can determine who exactly is making the comments, also document that.

Second, contact the service or content provider through which the bullying is occurring. (For example, if you are being cyberbullied on Facebook, contact them; if you are receiving hurtful or threatening cell phone messages, contact your cell phone company to obtain assistance.)

'Along those same lines, familiarize yourself with the Terms of Use for the various sites you frequent, and the online accounts you sign up for,' he said. 'Many web sites expressly prohibit harassment and if you report it through their established mechanisms, the content and/or bully should be removed from the site in a timely manner.'

Patchin acknowledged, 'To be sure, some web site administrators are better and quicker at this than others.'

'Also,' he continued, 'please be careful not to retaliate or do anything that might be perceived by an outsider to have contributed to the problem.'

'Do not respond to the cyberbully except to calmly tell them to stop,' said Patchin. 'If they refuse, you may have to take additional actions. If you are ever afraid for your safety, you need to contact law enforcement to investigate. They can determine whether any threats made are credible. If they are, the police will formally look into it. The evidence that you have collected will help them to evaluate your situation.'

Patchin also says victims should take some time to check state laws.

WASHINGTON LAWS ON CYBERBULLYING
According to Revised Code of Washington §28A.300.285, Washington State School Directors' Association, with the assistance of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, convened an advisory committee to develop a model policy prohibiting acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying that are conducted via electronic means by a student while on school grounds and during the school day. The policy includes a requirement that materials meant to educate parents and students about the seriousness of cyberbullying be disseminated to parents or made available on the school district's web site.

S.B. 5288, 2007: RCW §28A.300.285 added cyberbullying to the Harassment and Bullying Act that schools must have a policy for; terms of penalty are determined by the School (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2009- 10/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Law%202010/2801-S.SL.pdf AN ACT) relating to including cyberbullying in 18 school district harassment prevention policies.

Cyberstalking (RCW 9.61.260) in Washington state is defined as: 'A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party: (a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act; (b) Anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or (c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household.' (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9.61.260)

WHEN THE BULLYING DOESN'T STOP
'If the threats or comments are detrimental to your health, safety, or occupation, you might want to consult with an attorney who specializes in harassment, defamation of character, false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or similar types of civil action,' Patchin advises. 'A letter sent from an attorney (on law firm letterhead) to the bully may be all that is necessary to get the bullying to stop.'

The problem with this approach, admits Patchin, is that it can be costly.

'I have spoken to some victims who have consulted with attorneys who want a significant sum of money to get involved, even at a basic level,' he said. 'I can only imagine how frustrating this is after experiencing emotional and psychological suffering and then realizing that you can't afford to get legal help.'

Another problem associated with pursuing a bully through civil action is that, even if you are successful and a judge or jury rules in your favor, it can be difficult to determine an appropriate damage amount.

'I served as an expert witness in a cyberbullying case in the summer of 2008,' said Patchin. 'In that case, the adult victims were being bullied in an AOL chat room. Everyone agreed that what the bully was doing was wrong, but to what were the victims entitled? They had some modest medical bills and could be reimbursed for costs associated with their AOL account, but these losses added up to less than $1,000. And while I don't know the actual amount, I am sure their legal bills were in the tens of thousands of dollars.'

Patchin says the victim ended up settling for a very small amount just to make a statement to the bully.

According to www.stopbullying.gov, when cyberbullying happens, it is important to document and report the behavior so it can be addressed.

Officials recommend that you don't respond to and don't forward cyberbullying messages, keep evidence of cyberbullying by recording the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred, save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages that show cyberbullying and use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and cell phone service providers.

In addition, they recommend that whenever possible, victims should block the person who is cyberbullying.

As Americans we value free speech so highly that many people genuinely believe they can say whatever they want, to whomever they want. While we know that is not true it isn't clear where exactly the line is sometimes. And just because we can say certain things, it doesn't always mean we should.

'It's no wonder that many teens are wrestling with this problem - they see the adults in their lives saying mean and nasty things to others on a regular basis,' said Patchin. 'Do your part to model appropriate behavior and address any hurtful language when it comes up. The kids (and other adults) in your life will hopefully see it, remember it, and act in the right ways.'

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