The woman who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault broke her silence Wednesday, releasing a statement through her lawyers that laid out her claim against Fairfax in graphic detail and accused him of trying to paint her as a liar.
“Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me as a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions, and has threatened litigation,” Vanessa Tyson, a professor at Scripps College in California, said in the statement released to media outlets by the Katz, Marshall & Banks law firm. “Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”
Tyson’s first public statement about the 2004 sexual encounter in a Boston hotel room, which Fairfax insists was consensual, deepens the political peril the lieutenant governor is facing just days after it appeared he would become governor following Gov. Ralph Northam’s expected resignation.
Tyson said the encounter began with consensual kissing, but progressed to forced oral sex that left her feeling “deep humiliation and shame.”
In a statement of his own, Fairfax said reading Tyson’s account was “painful,” but he maintained his innocence.
“I have never done anything like what she suggests,” said Fairfax, 39.
Fairfax said he has “nothing to hide.”
“Any review of the circumstances would support my account, because it is the truth,” Fairfax said. “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.”
If Northam were to heed his party’s call to resign over his scandal involving a racist yearbook photo from 1984, Fairfax would be first in line. That possibility may be fading.
The National Organization for Women called on Fairfax to resign after Tyson came forward, saying, “We always believe and support survivors.” U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, stopped short of calling for a resignation, but said on Twitter: “I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson.”
Prior to Wednesday, state Democrats said they were waiting to hear more facts about the Fairfax allegation. But Democrats barely had time to process the Fairfax scandal before being rocked again Wednesday by Attorney General Mark Herring’s admission he wore blackface to dress as a rapper while attending the University of Virginia in 1980.
The case involving Fairfax and Tyson has several parallels to the sexual assault allegation leveled against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last fall. Tyson has retained the same law firm that represented Stanford University research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her as a teenager. Fairfax has hired Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz, the same firm that represented Kavanaugh during his confirmation fight. Fairfax first retained the firm in January 2018 after Tyson went to The Washington Post with her allegation.
And, like the Kavanaugh case, there may be no definitive evidence to prove whose version of the story is correct.
With Fairfax, Democrats who voiced support for the #MeToo movement in the Kavanaugh case are now having to respond to an allegation against one of their own.
In her three-page statement, Tyson said the news reports about Fairfax’s potential elevation to the governor’s office spurred her to revisit her “painful memories” regarding Fairfax.
“This news flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger,” Tyson said.
Tyson said she shared a portion of that experience — which she said she “suppressed” in order to continue her academic career — in a “private post” on Facebook that 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.
Fairfax was put on the defensive late Sunday night when the conservative website Big League Politics published an image of Tyson’s post. Fairfax released a statement around 3 a.m. Monday calling the allegation “defamatory and false” and threatening legal action in response. In a news conference Monday, Fairfax quoted a Bible verse, saying he would use “the full armor of God” to “deal with the devil’s schemes and tricks.”
Fairfax took a softer tone in a new statement released Wednesday morning. Fairfax said Tyson never expressed “any discomfort or concern” during the sexual encounter or in the months that followed.
“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,” Fairfax said. “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.”
In her statement, Tyson said she met Fairfax at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and realized they had a mutual friend. On July 28 of that year, Tyson said, Fairfax asked her to accompany him to his hotel room to get some papers. He then began kissing her, she said, and she “kissed him back.”
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson said.
Tyson said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him by grabbing her by the neck as she “cried and gagged.”
“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual,” Tyson said. “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.”
Fairfax said Tyson “stayed in touch” with him in the months after the convention, but did not elaborate on those communications.
On Monday, Fairfax said The Washington Post had investigated Tyson’s story after he was elected in 2017 and had declined to publish it after finding “red flags and inconsistencies in her story.” The Washington Post disputed that statement, saying it simply could not corroborate her account and decided not to publish it.
“Mr. Fairfax’s suggestion that The Washington Post found me not to be credible was deceitful, offensive, and profoundly upsetting,” Tyson said.
Tyson said she felt “powerless” after the newspaper declined to run her story and tried to “bury” the memory again.
Tyson is a fellow at Stanford University, where she is researching “the politics and policies surrounding sexual violence against women and children” in the U.S.
Tyson also criticized Fairfax for allegedly circulating a 2007 video in which Tyson speaks about sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Tyson has spoken publicly about this abuse since at least 2002, according to her LinkedIn profile.
“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.”
The lieutenant governor said he believes women who share stories of sexual assault or harassment should be listened to and deserve the “space and support to voice their stories.”
“This has been an emotional couple of days for me and my family,” Fairfax said in his Wednesday statement. “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.”
Tyson’s representatives said she would not be doing interviews.
“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.”
Earlier this week, Fairfax fueled speculation that Northam or Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a potential Fairfax rival in the 2021 statewide races, had a hand in Tyson’s story becoming public.
Tyson said she came forward when she did only to “refute Mr. Fairfax’s falsehoods and aspersions of my character.”
Asked if he feels Fairfax should resign, Stoney said: “I think our leaders should do what’s in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia. I’ll leave it at that.”