The woman accusing Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault has spoken out and is telling her side of the story.
Amid the blackface controversy surrounding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, it was speculated that he would be forced to resign. If Northam resigned, his immediate successor would be Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would be only the second black governor of Virginia.
But as soon as the discussion of Fairfax’s seemingly imminent promotion began, a woman’s accusation of sexual assault came up, creating yet another scandal among Democratic Leaders in Virginia.
Fairfax denies the allegations against him.
On Monday (Feb. 4), his chief of staff, Lawrence Roberts, said that the woman behind the accusation had previously approached The Washington Post with her story shortly before Fairfax was inaugurated in January 2018.
Roberts said after The Post “carefully investigated the claim for several months” they discovered “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations” and they couldn’t find anyone to corroborate her story.
— Justin Fairfax (@LGJustinFairfax) February 4, 2019
Setting the record straight, The Post explained that the woman—now identified as Dr. Vanessa Tyson of Scripps College in California—did contact them sometime between November 2017 when Fairfax won his election and January 2018 when he was inaugurated, saying that she felt obligated to speak out.
According to The Post, Fairfax and Tyson both agree that they met at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. They both said through conversation, they found out they had a mutual friend. They both said that they went back to Fairfax’s hotel to pick up some papers from his room. But their accounts of what happened next are totally different.
The Post reported that Fairfax and Tyson told completely different versions of what happened in Fairfax’s hotel room, where no one else was present but the two of them. And while The Post did confirm that they were unable to find anyone to corroborate either version of the story, they also reported that what Fairfax’s staff said about Tyson’s story was incorrect: The Post did not find “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations.”
Fairfax describes the encounter between him and Dr. Tyson as consensual. But in her statement released on Wednesday (Feb. 6), Tyson described the encounter as anything but consensual and in graphic detail.
WARNING: WHAT FOLLOWS HERE IS AN EXTREMELY GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF AN ALLEGED SEXUAL ASSAULT THAT MAY BE TRIGGERING FOR SOME PEOPLE. DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Read Dr. Vanessa Tyson’s complete statement below:
“On the night of Friday, February 1, 2019, I read multiple news accounts indicating that Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax would likely be elevated to Governor as an immediate result of a scandal involving Governor Ralph Northam. This news flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger that stemmed from an incident with Mr. Fairfax that occurred in July 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
“I met Mr. Fairfax on July 26, 2004, when he and I were working at the Convention. We struck up a conversation on the first day of the Convention and soon realized we had a mutual friend. We crossed paths occasionally during the first two days and our interactions were cordial, but not flirtatious.
“We commiserated about our long work hours, and on the afternoon of the third day of the Convention, July 28, 2004, Mr. Fairfax suggested that I get some fresh air by accompanying him on a quick errand to retrieve documents from his room in a nearby hotel. Given our interactions up to that time, I had no reason to feel threatened and agreed to walk with him to his hotel.
“I stood in the entryway of the room and after he located the documents, he walked over and kissed me. Although surprised by his advance, it was not unwelcome and I kissed him back. He then took my hand and pulled me towards the bed. I was fully clothed in a pantsuit and had no intention of taking my clothes off or engaging in sexual activity. In the back of my mind, I also knew I needed to return to Convention headquarters.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault. Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch. Only then did I realize that he had unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants, and taken out his penis. He then forced his penis into my mouth.
“Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck and he was much stronger than me. As I cried and gagged, Mr. Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him. I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual.
“To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent. Quite the opposite. I consciously avoided Mr. Fairfax for the remainder of the Convention and I never spoke to him again.
“After the assault, I suffered from both deep humiliation and shame. I did not speak about it for years, and I (like most survivors) suppressed those memories and emotions as a necessary means to continue my studies, and to pursue my goal of building a successful career as an academic.
“At the time, I found this horrific incident especially degrading given my regular volunteer work at a local rape crisis center. Over the next decade or so, I would go on to earn my PhD from the University of Chicago and become a tenured professor at Scripps College, a prestigious women’s college in Claremont, California.
“Years later, in October of 2017, I saw a picture of Mr. Fairfax accompanying an article in The Root about his campaign for Lt. Governor in Virginia. The image hit me like a ton of bricks, triggering buried traumatic memories and the feelings of humiliation I’d felt so intensely back in 2004.
“Prior to reading the article, I had not followed Mr. Fairfax’s career and did not know that he was seeking public office. Unsure of what to do, I felt it was crucial to tell close friends of mine in Virginia, who were voters, about the assault.
“That October, as the #MeToo movement intensified, women throughout the world began forcefully speaking out about the sexual violence they had experienced and the impact of those experiences on their lives. The courage of so many women coming forward to confront powerful men and systems that allow such abuse to occur are part of what inspired me to action.
“I felt a responsibility to myself, the beloved students I teach, and the brave women I’ve tried to help overcome their own trauma. The passion and resolve of so many survivors, coupled with the job security that tenure afforded me, gave me the strength I simply did not have in 2004.
“By December 2017, I not only told many friends that Mr. Fairfax had sexually assaulted me but I also reached out to a personal friend at The Washington Post and spoke to his colleague about the assault.
“After The Washington Post decided in March 2018 not to run my story, I felt powerless, frustrated, and completely drained. Again I tried to bury memories of this painful incident and focus on my work and my students.
“On Friday, February 1, 2019, as stories appeared in the media suggesting that Governor Northam would have to resign and that Mr. Fairfax would be sworn in as Governor, I felt a jarring sense of both outrage and despair. That night I vented my frustration on Facebook in a message that I wrote as a private post.
“I did not identify Lt. Governor Fairfax by name but stated that it seemed inevitable that the campaign staffer who assaulted me during the Democratic Convention in 2004 was about to get a big promotion. It was not my intention in that moment to inject myself into what has become a much larger political battle.
“The following morning, I was inundated with messages of care and concern from friends — including many I had told about the sexual assault — and numerous inquiries from journalists who had become aware of my post.
“Over the weekend, I was undecided about whether to speak out publicly. I knew that if I did so, I would immediately face accusations about my motives and be branded a liar, as is routinely the case when women come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent men.
“On Sunday night, before I had time to decide on a course of action, an online publication published a screenshot of my Facebook post, identified me by name, and posted pictures of me.
“In response, at 2:55 a.m. on February 4, 2019, Mr. Fairfax issued a statement further escalating this matter by calling me a liar and falsely characterizing the reasons The Washington Post decided not to run a story about my allegations.
“The Post was forced to repudiate Mr. Fairfax’s statement that there were “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations” which led it to decide not to publish a story about my account. Rather, as is often the case in situations where sexual assault by an acquaintance occurs behind closed doors years earlier, it is difficult to corroborate either the victim’s allegations or the accused’s denials.
“Mr. Fairfax’s suggestion that The Washington Post found me not to be credible was deceitful, offensive, and profoundly upsetting. He has continued a smear campaign by pointing reporters to a 2007 educational video in which I talked about being the victim of incest and molestation.
“In that video I did not talk about being assaulted by Mr. Fairfax. This, of course, is not proof that he did not assault me. His reliance on this video to say the opposite is despicable and an offense to sexual assault survivors everywhere.
“Since October 2017 when I first began telling friends about the assault, I have never wavered in my account because I am telling the truth. I have no political motive. I am a proud Democrat.
“My only motive in speaking now is to refute Mr. Fairfax’s falsehoods and aspersions of my character, and to provide what I believe is important information for Virginians to have as they make critical decisions that involve Mr. Fairfax.
“With tremendous anguish, I am now sharing this information about my experience and setting the record straight. It has been extremely difficult to relive that traumatic experience from 2004. Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me as a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions, and has threatened litigation.
“Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened. I very much wish to resume my life as an academic and professor. I do not want to get further embroiled in this highly charged political environment.
“This is the only statement I and my legal team will be making.”
Wednesday evening, in response to Dr. Tyson’s statement, Lt. Gov. Fairfax said:
“Reading Dr. Tyson’s account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests. As I said in my statement this morning, I have nothing to hide.
“Any review of the circumstances would support my account, because it is the truth. I take this situation very seriously and continue to believe Dr. Tyson should be treated with respect. But, I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true.
“I support the aims of the MeToo movement and I believe that people should always be heard and the truth should be sought. I wish Dr. Tyson the best as I do our Commonwealth.”
Earlier in the day, before Dr. Tyson released her statement, Lt. Gov. Fairfax put out a statement that read:
“I’d like to begin by emphasizing how important it is for us to listen to women. As a former prosecutor and someone who is close with a number of women who are survivors of sexual assault, I know that many survivors of sexual assault suffer in silence, and it is absolutely essential to their healing and our healing as a culture that we give all survivors the space and support to voice their stories.
“Regarding the allegation that has been made against me — while this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly, and I take it and this situation very seriously.
“This has been an emotional couple of days for me and my family. And in my remarks on Monday, I think you could hear how emotional dealing with an allegation that I know is not true has been for me.
“As I have stated previously, fifteen years ago, when I was an unmarried law student, I had a consensual encounter with the woman who made the allegation. At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past fifteen years. She in no way indicated that anything that had happened between us made her uncomfortable.
“The first indication I had that she felt that anything that had happened between us fifteen years ago made her uncomfortable was when I was contacted by a national media organization shortly before my inauguration in 2018. I voluntarily met with their staff, in person, told them what I knew about the encounter and responded to all of their questions. I also shared the allegation and my account of the events with a number of leaders in Richmond because then, as now, I have nothing to hide.
“I would like to encourage the media, my supporters, and others to treat both the woman who made this allegation and my family with respect for how painful this situation can be for everyone involved. I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.
“If we learned anything from the past week, it’s that we have to listen to people’s experiences to learn from them so we can make progress. Like many of you, I’ve spent time over the last several days discussing difficult subjects with people very close to me.
“I believe that if we continue to listen, we will continue to make the progress that makes the Commonwealth of Virginia a unique place, not only in the South, but in the United States of America.
“These are unprecedented and difficult times. We have the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of the challenge and come together. I look forward to continuing my work to unify the Commonwealth.”
— Justin Fairfax (@LGJustinFairfax) February 6, 2019
Meanwhile, a Richmond colleague who has known Dr. Vanessa Tyson for at least a decade strongly supports the professor’s statement.
In an interview with WUSA 9, Tyson’s colleague vouched for her character and integrity, saying: “This is not something she’s seeking to do for any particular gain, she has no interest in politics. Everything my colleagues and I know about her in a professional setting is that she has a history of speaking the truth.”
Perry added: “Given the history that I know with Dr. Tyson, there’s no reason to believe something other than what she wrote. She’s a stand-up woman with a growing, expansive and noted research career. There’s no reason to suggest that she would be saying something that is inaccurate.”