RICHMOND, Va. — Women’s rights groups and Virginia Democratic leaders continue to signal support for the woman who publicly accused Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault in 2004.
“We trust women. We believe survivors. We believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson,” the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition stated in a press release Thursday. “The harrowing experience she describes is both cruel and disgusting, and the story she shared must be met with support.”
Tyson, a political science professor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, described the alleged assault in a detailed written statement released through her lawyers. Tyson said Fairfax had forced her to perform oral sex in 2004 while they were in his hotel room at the Democratic National Convention. Tyson and Fairfax were working at the convention. Fairfax, 39, now a married father of two, was not married at the time.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson said. “Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch.”
She said she did not want to have oral sex and gave no consent.
Tyson has years of experience working with sexual assault survivors. She regularly volunteered at a rape crisis center and detailed her own molestation as a child in a 2007 video. She stated that her experience with Fairfax was “especially degrading” considering her volunteer work.
Fairfax has vehemently denied Tyson’s allegations, stating that their encounter was consensual and the allegations were a smear campaign against him to prevent him from becoming governor.
Virginia’s Democratic leadership has been entangled in a series of interlocking scandals since the discovery last week of a racist picture on Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 medical college yearbook. The photo showed two men, one in a Ku Klux Klan costume standing beside another in blackface.
Northam apologized for the photo and then denied he was in it but acknowledged that he had worn blackface for a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984. He continues to face widespread calls for his resignation.
When the news broke, there was talk that Fairfax would be sworn in as governor if Northam resigned. But by early Monday, the same conservative website that first released Northam’s yearbook photo also published news of the alleged sexual assault by Fairfax.
“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this smear comes out?” Fairfax asked a group of reporters on Monday.
On Wednesday, Fairfax issued a statement saying, “Reading Dr. Tyson’s account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests.”
“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,” Fairfax said.
Tyson, calling herself a “proud Democrat,” said her accusation isn’t politically motivated. She originally brought her story to the Washington Post in December 2017 after Fairfax was elected. The Post investigated but explained Monday that it did not publish because it couldn’t corroborate the different details provided by Fairfax and Tyson — who did not wish to go public with her claims at the time.
Tyson said she waited to disclose her story due to feelings of “deep humiliation and shame.” She also said she came forward two years ago after realizing Fairfax had won the election as lieutenant governor.
At the beginning of the week, state leaders took a “wait and see” approach toward Tyson’s allegations against Fairfax. That has shifted to emphasizing support for survivors of sexual assault.
“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition stated. “Dr. Tyson has stated she does not wish to speak further on this matter, and we respect her decision. When survivors speak, we will listen.”
The coalition, which includes Progress Virginia, the Whole Women’s Health Alliance and other advocacy groups, condemned Fairfax and called for other leaders and advocates to hold Fairfax accountable.
On Thursday night, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus reiterated its position that Northam should resign and said Tyson’s allegation against Fairfax should be “fully and thoroughly investigated by the appropriate agencies.”
Also Thursday, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, A. Donald McEachin, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton released a joint statement calling for Northam’s resignation and commenting on Fairfax’s allegations.
“We are deeply disturbed by the account detailing the alleged actions of Lieutenant Governor Fairfax.We believe these allegations need to be taken very seriously, and we respect the right of women to come forward and be heard.”
While controversies dogged Northam and Fairfax, a fellow Democrat — Attorney General Mark Herring — acknowledged Wednesday that he had worn blackface to a college party in 1980 and apologized, saying “that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.
The House Democratic Caucus also released a statement Thursday that acknowledged the “difficulty” of the past week and expressed “disappointment” with the governor and attorney general. The caucus said it would continue to monitor “with great concern” the allegations against Fairfax.
“The sexual assault allegation is alarming, and we are treating it with the seriousness it deserves,” the group stated.
By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service