CW: Description of alleged sexual assault
Scripps College politics professor Vanessa Tyson, who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexually assaulting her at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, will meet with members of a county district attorney’s office in Massachusetts, Tyson’s lawyers announced Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported that Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said she is “ready to investigate” Tyson’s allegations.
In response, Fairfax spokesperson Lauren Burke told the Globe that Fairfax would cooperate with an investigation but “will explore all options with regard to filing his own criminal complaint in response to the filing of a false criminal complaint against him.”
Tyson’s attorney, Debra Katz, wrote that Burke’s statement was “a clear effort to obstruct justice.”
“Dr. Tyson will not be bullied and she will not be silenced by such threats,” Katz wrote.
Wednesday’s news is the latest in a series of major developments since Tyson was first revealed by NBC News on Feb. 5 to be the woman accusing Fairfax, who could become the next governor of Virginia if embattled Gov. Ralph Northam resigns.
Tyson detailed her allegations in a statement last week. She said she accompanied Fairfax to his hotel room to collect some papers at the convention in Boston, when Fairfax was a staffer on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into sexual assault,” Tyson wrote. “Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch. … 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. To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent.”
Fairfax has repeatedly denied the allegations and insisted the encounter was consensual.
“Reading Dr. Tyson’s account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests,” he said in response.
Susan McWilliams, a Pomona College politics professor, confirmed to TSL Monday that Tyson told her in 2017 about the alleged sexual assault. Her involvement was first reported by The New York Times.
McWilliams told TSL that the Times reached out after she posted on her personal Facebook page claiming to have knowledge of the alleged encounter between Tyson and Fairfax. McWilliams said she is friends with Tyson, and has been in touch with Tyson since she released her statement.
“She has mainly conveyed that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to be in the middle of a media firestorm,” McWilliams said. “The scrutiny on her is relentless.”
McWilliams was impressed by her colleague’s willingness to speak out.
“We need more examples of people like Vanessa, who are uncowed by not only power but by malicious power that will be directed against the brave people who make these kinds of accusations,” she said.
On Feb. 8, a woman named Meredith Watson stepped forward as Fairfax’s second accuser, claiming that Fairfax raped her while they were both students at Duke University in 2000. A statement from her attorney described the alleged attack as “premeditated and aggressive.”
In a statement released the following day, Fairfax said his encounters with both Watson and Tyson were consensual, denied claims of sexual assault, and called for an FBI investigation.
“I am asking that no one rush to judgment and I am asking for there to be space in this moment for due process,” Fairfax said.
Prominent Democrats like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have called for Fairfax’s resignation.
Virginia House Rep. Patrick Hope, a Democrat, tweeted last week that he planned to introduce articles of impeachment if Fairfax did not resign by Monday. He backed down after black House Democrats raised concerns about rushing to impeach Fairfax before addressing Northam and Virginia Attorney General Herring’s use of blackface, according to the Times.
Northam first came under fire after the revelation of a photo on his medical school yearbook page that showed two men dressed in racist outfits, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan costume. Northam at first admitted to being one of the men in the photo, but later backtracked and has resisted calls to resign. Both Northam and Herring have recently admitted to wearing blackface.
Tyson’s legal team wrote in a statement Feb. 9 that she is “fully prepared” to testify at a potential impeachment hearing for Fairfax and cooperate with law enforcement in an investigation. Watson’s lawyers also said she would be willing to testify in impeachment proceedings, according to NBC.
On Tuesday, Tyson who is currently spending a fellowship year at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, spoke on a panel for a Stanford event called “Betrayal and Courage in the Age of #MeToo.” Pomona’s Women’s Union hosted an screening of the event.
Tyson did not specifically address her allegations against Fairfax, but was questioned about how to empower survivors to report cases of sexual assault.
“Speaking as a professor at a women’s college,” Tyson said, “sometimes you have to lead by example — no matter how hard it is.”
Tyson criticized the “tennis match-like aftermath” of sexual assault allegations between the accuser and the accused that plays out in the media. Onlookers should attempt to “break down the power dynamic at play” rather than follow the tennis match, Tyson said.
Speaking for survivors of sexual assault, Tyson said “we often suffer from the feeling that we’re alone, that no one will believe us, or love us.”
Julia Frankel PO ’22 is from Brooklyn, New York. She previously served as one of TSL’s news editors.