Woman who accused Virginia Lt. Gov. of sexual assault identifies herself, gives her account

(Steve Helber | AP file photo) In this Sept. 25, 2018, file photo, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax gestures during remarks before a meeting of the Campaign to reduce evictions at a church meeting room in Richmond, Va. A California woman has accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her 15 years ago, saying in a statement Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, that she repressed the memory for years but came forward in part because of the possibility that Fairfax could succeed a scandal-mired governor.

The woman who accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault released a statement Wednesday identifying herself and describing an encounter in July 2004 during which she said Fairfax sexually assaulted her.

"What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault," said Vanessa Tyson, a fellow at Stanford University and associate professor at Scripps College. She accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex during the encounter, which allegedly took place during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

"I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual," Tyson said.

Tyson's statement came just hours after Fairfax, a Democrat, released a lengthy statement of his own, denying the allegation of sexual assault and urging his supporters to treat the accuser with respect.

The allegations of sexual assault have further enveloped Richmond in chaos as Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, resists calls to resign over racist photos that appeared on his medical school yearbook page and his acknowledgment that he darkened his face for a dance competition in the 1980s.

Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged Wednesday that he dressed in blackface while in college, plunging the state Democratic Party into crisis as all three Democratic state-level officeholders are embroiled in controversies.

Fairfax, who is next in line to be governor if Northam resigns, pushed back forcefully early Monday morning against the sexual assault allegations first made public by the conservative website Big League Politics. He described the encounter as consensual, called the allegations false and threatened legal action against Tyson.

In her statement, Tyson said she decided to come forward after Fairfax accused her of lying and said her account was inconsistent.

"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 said she first met Fairfax on the first day of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and the pair soon realized they had a mutual friend. They continued to cross paths, on the afternoon of the third day of the convention, Tyson said Fairfax suggested she accompany him to his hotel room to pick up some documents.

It was in that hotel room, she alleges, that he began to kiss her. "Although surprised by his advance, it was not unwelcome and I kissed him back," she said. But then, she alleges that he forced her to perform oral sex as she cried.

"Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch," she said. "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."

"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," Tyson said, adding that she never spoke to Fairfax again.

Tyson said she did not talk about the encounter with Fairfax for years and suppressed the memories in order to focus on her academic career. She said she found it "especially degrading" in part because she regularly worked as a volunteer at a local rape crisis center at the time.

"After the assault, I suffered from both deep humiliation and shame," she said.

Then, in October 2017, she learned about Fairfax's campaign for lieutenant governor of Virginia and the news "hit me like a ton of bricks, triggering buried traumatic memories and the feelings of humiliation I'd felt so intensely back in 2004," Tyson said.

Tyson said she felt a responsibility to tell close friends in Virginia about the assault.

"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," she said.

After Fairfax won his November 2017 election, Tyson had reached out to The Washington Post because she said she felt an obligation to report the incident, particularly amid the #MeToo movement, she said.

The Post did not run a story at the time because it could not corroborate the woman's account or find similar complaints of sexual misconduct.

On Friday, amid the news that Fairfax could be elevated to governor, Tyson said she vented her frustration on Facebook in a private post, which did not identify Fairfax by name.

"It was not my intention in that moment to inject myself into what has become a much larger political battle," Tyson said.

On Sunday night, while she was still undecided about publicly sharing her story, her private Facebook post was published by Big League Politics, the same conservative website that published a racist photo from Northam's medical school yearbook page.

She pointed out Fairfax's attempt to discredit Tyson by mentioning a 2007 educational video interview, in which Tyson describes being the victim of incest and molestation by her father as a child. She made no mention in the video of the allegations against 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."

In her current fellowship at Stanford University, Tyson's research focuses on the politics surrounding sexual violence, according to her biography.

She has been a vocal advocate for sexual violence prevention, as a founding member of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center Survivor Speakers' Bureau. She has also written a book, "Twists of Fate: Multiracial Coalitions and Minority Representation in the US House of Representatives." She has a bachelor's degree in politics from Princeton University and master's and PhD degrees in political science from the University of Chicago.

She has hired the D.C. law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks, the same legal team that represented Christine Blasey Ford when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

"I very much wish to resume my life as an academic and professor," Tyson said. "I

do not want to get further embroiled in this highly charged political environment."

After some criticism for his aggressive response, Fairfax released a statement late morning Wednesday that struck a softer tone.

"I would like to encourage the media, my supporters and others to treat both the woman who made the allegation and my family with respect for how painful this situation can be for everyone involved," Fairfax said in a statement. "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."

Fairfax's statement also addressed his Monday remarks about the allegations, in which he insinuated that supporters of Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a potential political rival, were behind the assault allegations going public.

“This has been an emotional couple of days for me and my family,” Fairfax said. “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.”

Return to Story