Justin Fairfax/ Facebook

Stanford Professor Comes Forward To Accuse Virginia's Lieutenant Governor Of Sexual Assault

Jenna Lane
February 06, 2019 - 5:45 pm

A California professor came forward on Wednesday with details of a sexual assault she says was committed in 2004 by Virginia's lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax. 

Vanessa Tyson, a political scientist on leave from Scripps College and current Stanford fellow, said she felt compelled to tell her story of an alleged sexual assault because it appeared that Fairfax might ascend to become Virginia's governor due to a separate blackface scandal engulfing the incumbent. 

Tyson wrote a detailed description of Fairfax forcing her to perform oral sex in his hotel during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax has said the encounter was consensual. 

"What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault," she wrote. "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."

For years, she felt shame, but spoke to friends and a Washington Post journalist about the incident in 2017 when she learned that Fairfax's political career had taken off, according to her statement. 

Fairfax has been on the precipice of becoming his state's governor as the incumbent Ralph Northam clings to power amid a scandal stemming from a racist photo under his name in his medical school yearbook.

University of Colorado law professor Aya Gruber sees key differences between Tyson's accusation and Christine Blasey Ford's charge of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The assault detailed in Tyson's statement happened more recently, she remembers it more clearly, and Fairfax does not deny the sexual contact, although he says that it was consensual.

"We can't say hashtag believe the victim just with one tweet. We have to keep a little bit of an open mind, but this isn't a criminal trial. This is a question of whether he is fit to govern a state,” Gruber told KCBS Radio. “The level of proof is lower."

This, Gruber says, means the voters of Virginia should keep an open mind, but the burden of proof in the court of their opinion falls on Fairfax.

"Why should we believe that she somehow is making up that he raped her? Unless he can bring forth some evidence like this,” she said. “I don't see how this isn't a pretty damning accusation."

Tyson concluded her account with a wish to resume her life as an academic and professor, saying she and her legal team would make no further statement. 

"I very much wish to resume my life as an academic and professor," she wrote. "I do not want to get further embroiled in this highly charged political environment."

Written by Brian Krans.