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Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. (LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)

#MeToo

Vanessa Tyson, who accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of assault, goes public with detailed allegations

February 7, 2019

A woman who accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault revealed her identity on Wednesday to publicly share her account — and to denounce the embattled politician for trying to paint her as a liar who wanted to “smear” his reputation.

Dr. Vanessa C. Tyson, an associate professor of politics and expert in black history at Scripps College in California, issued a statement on Wednesday detailing how Fairfax allegedly assaulted her during a 2004 encounter at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax and Tyson, her statement read, were both working at the convention when he invited her to “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,” she recalled.

But “what began as consensual kissing,” she explained, “quickly turned into sexual assault.”

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

Tyson’s powerful testimony comes amidst a shocking reckoning that has engulfed the three most powerful statesmen in Virginia politics. Gov. Ralph Northam is facing calls to step down after photos emerged from his medical school yearbook of a man wearing blackface alongside another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially admitted that he was one of the men in the photo before backtracking and denying it. He has since further confessed to dressing up in blackface to pose as Michael Jackson at a dance party.

Two days after the blackface photos emerged, Fairfax, the next in line for governor should Northam resign, was implicated by an anonymous accusation of sexual assault. On Wednesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, the third-in-line for the governorship, also acknowledged dressing in blackface while in school at the University of Virginia.

On Monday, Fairfax fiercely denied the allegations against him and suggested that Northam or his supporters were responsible for trying to “smear” him “on the eve of potentially my being elevated.” He further claimed that The Washington Post had declined to run his accuser’s story a year ago because they found her not credible, and characterized the alleged encounter as a pleasant and consensual affair. In wake of Fairfax’s comments, The Post published an article denying that they found the woman’s claims not credible, and explaining that they had declined to publish the piece because they were unable to independently corroborate her allegations.

Tyson, a longstanding advocate for victims of sexual assault, said on Wednesday that she was unable to stay silent as Fairfax tried to publicly portray her as an unreliable liar. Describing herself as “a proud Democrat,” she said that her goal was “to provide what I believe is important information for Virginians to have as they make critical decisions that involve Mr. Fairfax.”

Read the full story at The New York Times, with further background here. Tyson’s full statement can also be read here.

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