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Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax's accuser Vanessa Tyson discloses graphic details of alleged sexual assault

Key Points
  • The woman who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004 on Wednesday released a lengthy statement including details of that alleged attack at the Democratic National Convention.
  • Vanessa Tyson, a California university professor, said Fairfax forced her to engage in oral sex with him after they first engaged in "consensual kissing" in his hotel room.
  • Fairfax has adamantly denied Tyson's claims. Her accusation came to light after widespread calls for the resignation of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on the heels of news that his 1984 medical school yearbook page featured a photo of a man in blackface and another man in Ku Klux Klan garb. Fairfax would become governor if Northam resigns.
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax addresses the media in response to Governor Ralph Northam's statement Saturday, February 2, 2019 Richmond, Va.
Julia Rendleman | The Washington Post | Getty Images

The woman who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004 on Wednesday released a lengthy statement including details of that alleged attack at the Democratic National Convention.

Vanessa Tyson, a politics professor at Scripps College in California, said Fairfax forced her to engage in oral sex with him after they first engaged in "consensual kissing" in his hotel room in Boston.

Fairfax has adamantly denied Tyson's claims. Her accusation came to light after widespread calls for the resignation of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on the heels of news that his 1984 medical school yearbook page featured a photo of a man in blackface and another man in Ku Klux Klan garb.

Fairfax would become governor if Northam resigns. If both Fairfax and Northam were to quit, Attorney General Mark Herring would become governor. But Herring's political survival was immediately cast into doubt earlier Wednesday when he revealed he had worn blackface at a college party in 1980.

Fairfax has said his sexual encounter with Tyson nearly 15 years ago, when they both were working at the Democratic convention, was "100 percent consensual."

But Tyson said it was not that at all.

"As I cried and gagged, Mr. Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him," Tyson wrote in her statement, issued by a law firm now representing her.

"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."

Vanessa Tyson, Vanessa Tyson Associate Professor of Politics at Scripps College.
Source: Scripps College

Tyson also accused Fairfax of engaging in a "smear campaign" against her by his pointing reporters to a 2007 video in which she discussed being a victim of incest but did not mention an attack by Fairfax.

"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," Tyson said. "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," Tyson said.

"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."

Tyson's attorneys at the law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks earlier represented Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who testified that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school get-together in the early 1980s in Washington, D.C. Kavanaugh has denied Ford's allegations, which were aired in a dramatic Senate confirmation hearing last year.

Fairfax has hired the law firm of Wilkinson Walsh & Eskovitz — the same firm that represented Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearings, attorney Rakesh Kilaru confirmed to CNBC on Wednesday. Kilaru said Fairfax had initially retained the firm in January 2018 — when The Washington Post was conducting an inquiry into Tyson's allegations — and has now retained the firm again.

Responding to Tyson's statement, Fairfax said in his own statement Wednesday:

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.

Also Wednesday, Democratic Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton of Virginia tweeted: "I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson."

Tyson is currently on leave from Scripps College and is a visiting fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Her biography page at Stanford says, "Tyson will use her fellowship year to research the politics and policies surrounding sexual violence against women and children in the United States."

"More specifically, she will explore political discourse surrounding sexual assault, corresponding policies, and the unique identities of sexual assault survivors," the page says.

Herring, the Virginia attorney general, revealed hours before on Wednesday that he and friends wore blackface at a college party in 1980 to dress up "like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song. "

Herring, who had called for Northam's resignation, did not say whether he will resign.

Northam has denied being either the man in blackface or the man dressed like a Ku Klux Klan member in the photo on his yearbook page. But he has said he wore blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest in the 1980s.

If Northam, Fairfax and Herring — who are all Democrats — resign, the state's Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox, would become governor.

Read Vanessa Tyson's statement in full 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.