Woman who says Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax assaulted her steps forward, tells her side

Democratic Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate session in the state Capitol on Feb. 5 in Richmond.
Democratic Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate session in the state Capitol on Feb. 5 in Richmond.
(Katherine Frey / the Washington Post)
Washington Post

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.

Virginia Atty. Gen. Mark Herring acknowledged Wednesday 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 called the allegations false and threatened legal action against Tyson.

In her statement, Tyson said she did not speak about the encounter with Fairfax for years and suppressed the memories in order to focus on her academic career.


“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.”

“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. “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.”

After Fairfax won his November 2017 election, Tyson 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 newspaper did not run a story at the time because it could not corroborate the woman’s account or find similar complaints of sexual misconduct.


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.”


Democrats have tread carefully with the allegations against Fairfax, with many declining to comment or saying they take the allegations seriously and are monitoring the situation.