What to Know
A California professor gave an account Wednesday of an alleged sexual assault in 2004 by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
In her first public comment, Vanessa Tyson said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him. He said the encounter was consensual.
Tyson said she didn't plan to come forward this month; rather, she says she spoke after a blog published a private Facebook post she wrote.
The California professor who alleged that Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004 issued her first public statement Wednesday on the alleged attack, describing the use of force.
Vanessa Tyson, a 42-year-old political science professor on leave from Scripps College, said Fairfax made her perform a sex act in a hotel room at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Tyson, who studies the intersection of politics and the #MeToo movement, says Fairfax held her head down and forced her to perform oral sex on him in his hotel room at the 2004 convention.
"I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual," Tyson said in a three-page statement issued by her attorney. "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."
Fairfax, now a married, 39-year-old father of two, said that when he was 25, he had a "100 percent consensual" encounter with a woman he met at the convention.
He is in line to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam, who is resisting calls to resign after the publication of a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page, as well as an admission of once wearing blackface.
Tyson said she met Fairfax while they were working at the convention and that on July 28, 2004 he suggested they get some fresh air by walking to his hotel room.
She said that "what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault" and that Fairfax forced her head to his crotch, where he had unzipped his pants.
"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," she said.
Tyson said she did not speak about the alleged assault for years, citing "deep humiliation and shame," and the desire to succeed in her career as an academic. She said she began telling friends about what happened in October 2017, when she learned that Fairfax was running for lieutenant governor.
"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," Tyson's statement said.
Fairfax said in a statement Wednesday that reading Tyson's account was "painful."
"I have never done anything like what she suggests," the statement said.
"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," Fairfax said. "But, I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true."
On Tuesday, Fairfax called the allegation a political smear. He said he had no indication until shortly before he was inaugurated in 2018 that Tyson believed he had assaulted her.
"At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past fifteen years," Fairfax said in a statement released Wednesday. "She in no way indicated that anything that had happened between us made her uncomfortable."
Tyson said that in December 2017, she gave a friend at The Washington Post her account of what happened. She then spoke to his colleague. But the paper chose not to publish a story. The paper said it was unable to corroborate either Tyson's account or Fairfax's account of what happened.
"I felt powerless, frustrated and completely drained," Tyson's statement said. "Again I tried to bury memories of this painful incident and focus on my work and my students."
She said she did not choose to accuse Fairfax this month. Rather, she wrote a "private post" on Facebook about what happened, which the conservative blog Big League Politics published.
"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," she said.
Tyson is on a yearlong fellowship at Stanford University, where she's studying the political discourse of sexual assault. She is slated to lead a symposium there next week titled: "Betrayal and Courage in the Age of #MeToo."
In a 2007 YouTube video, Tyson talks about her work at a Boston rape crisis center, about being a victim of incest at age 8 and about the importance of sexual assault victims coming forward.
"People don't want to hear the message — so we just have to get a little louder," Tyson said. "Build the numbers, keep the message going — do what we have to do until they start seeing us."
Since the #MeToo movement emerged, Tyson has been frequently quoted as an expert about the intersection of politics and sexual assault and harassment claims, including the allegations by multiple women that triggered the 2017 resignation of Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat.
Tyson this week hired the same Washington law firm that represented Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor who accused then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her. He denied the accusation.
During the Kavanaugh hearings last fall, Tyson posted on Twitter: "Sending love to all the survivors out there whose rapists/assailants called it 'consensual' and whose society privileges an old boys club over all else."