Tuesday August 11th, 2020 11:35PM

Woman accuses elected Virginia official of sexual assault

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — A California woman went public with her sexual assault accusation against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax on Wednesday, saying in a statement that she suppressed the memory for years but came forward in part because of the possibility that the Democrat could succeed a scandal-mired governor .

Vanessa Tyson, a 42-year-old political science professor who studies the intersection of politics and the #MeToo movement, said Fairfax held her head down and forced her to perform oral sex on him in his hotel room at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004.

"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."

The accusation comes amid calls from top Democrats for the resignation of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam over a racist photo that appeared on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. Fairfax, who would be in line to become governor if Northam resigned, said Wednesday that his sexual encounter with Tyson was consensual and questioned why she waited so long to come forward.

At the time of the 2004 convention, Fairfax, now 39, was a law student serving as an aide to then-Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

While Tyson said in her statement that she never spoke to Fairfax again, Fairfax said Tyson made efforts to keep in contact with him after their encounter and even wanted him to meet her mother.

"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 15 years," Fairfax said .

Tyson said Wednesday the incident left her feeling deeply humiliated and ashamed but she suppressed the memory to focus on her career as an academic. She only began to tell friends about the alleged assault in October 2017, after seeing a photo of Fairfax with an article about his campaign. She said she was inspired in part by the #MeToo movement to contact The Washington Post, which investigated her accusation and decided not to publish a story because it could not corroborate it.

Tyson said she became embroiled in the issue most recently in a cryptic Facebook post she wrote after news stories suggested that the racist photo scandal surrounding Northam could elevate Fairfax to the governor's job.

"I felt a jarring sense of both outrage and despair," she said in the statement. "That night I vented my frustration on Facebook in a message that I wrote as a private post. I did not identify Lt. Governor Fairfax by name but stated that it seemed inevitable that the campaign staffer who assaulted me during the Democratic Convention in 2004 was about to get a big promotion."

Fairfax, who has been married since 2006, has called Tyson's accusation part of a political smear campaign. Tyson said that she has no political motive and is 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 said.

The Associated Press typically does not identify those who say they were sexually assaulted, but Tyson issued the statement in her name.

Tyson said she met Fairfax while they were working at the convention and 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, an associate professor in politics at Scripps College in California, 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."


AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace contributed to this report. Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.


Follow AP investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at and Michael Kunzelman


Contact the AP's investigative team with tips about this or other matters:

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Elections, General Presidential Election News, AP Business, AP Elections - Political Conventions
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Political crisis engulfs Virginia's top 3 elected officials
Political crisis engulfs Virginia's top 3 elected officials, all Democrats, and threatens to take them down
8:34PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Woman accuses elected Virginia official of sexual assault
Woman goes public with details of sexual assault accusation against Virginia's lieutenant governor
8:31PM ( 7 minutes ago )
The Latest: Utility says crews had to hand dig gas shut-off
A PG&E spokeswoman says utility crews had to hand dig underground to shut off gas flowing to a fire that raged in a San Francisco neighborhood, which is why it took so long
8:28PM ( 10 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
San Francisco gas explosion shoots fire that burns buildings
An explosion on a gas line in San Francisco prompted evacuations of nearby buildings
7:37PM ( 1 hour ago )
Freezing rain causes power outages, ices Midwest roads
Freezing rain creates dangerous roads, cuts power to thousands of homes and businesses in Midwest
7:19PM ( 1 hour ago )
Authorities: Photographer drugged, raped young models
State and federal authorities say a professional model photographer has been indicted on more than 50 charges in Oregon and California, including rape
7:15PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Gas line explosion in San Francisco sets buildings on fire
An explosion on a gas line in San Francisco has prompted evacuations of nearby buildings
5:59PM ( 2 hours ago )
Some workers still unpaid after shutdown, dread what's next
Many federal workers are still reeling financially and waiting to be made whole after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history
5:49PM ( 2 hours ago )
Crisis escalates in Virginia; top 3 Democrats under fire
The political crisis in Virginia has exploded: The state's attorney general has confessed to putting on blackface in the 1980s and a woman has gone public with detailed allegations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor
5:28PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Democrats launch new probe of Trump's finances, Russia ties
House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the committee will launch a broad new investigation looking at Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump's foreign financial interests
4:14PM ( 4 hours ago )
Democrats unbowed by Trump's words push investigations
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says President Donald Trump's insistence that lawmakers abandon their investigations was a "threat" that had no place in Congress
3:37PM ( 5 hours ago )
The Latest: Woman who accused lt. gov. of sex assault speaks
The woman whose sexual assault allegations against Virginia's lieutenant governor surfaced this week is speaking publicly about the encounter
2:28PM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Elections
The Latest: Dem derides Trump claim he prevented NKorea war
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is dismissing as "a real eye-roller" President Donald Trump's assertion that if anyone else had been elected president the U.S. would be at war with North Korea
8:09AM ( 12 hours ago )
Beto O'Rourke says he'll decide on 2020 run by month's end
Democrat Beto O'Rourke says he'll announce whether he'll run for president "before the end of the month"
9:09PM ( 23 hours ago )
Venezuela's dueling political movements each push elections
Venezuela's opposition-dominated congress says it will hold new elections as soon as possible within a year _ once they finally oust embattled President Nicolas Maduro from power
6:55PM ( 1 day ago )
General Presidential Election News
Ivanka Trump unveils White House global women initiative
Ivanka Trump is unveiling an effort aimed at women's global economic empowerment that seeks to support 50 million women in the developing world by 2025
7:01PM ( 1 hour ago )
Infrastructure bill faces many potholes in months ahead
Lawmakers from both parties are expressing hope about reaching an agreement, but a huge obstacle remains: How will lawmakers pay for it?
6:41PM ( 1 hour ago )
Arizona may require license for care facilities after rape
Arizona may boost state oversight of long-term care facilities like the one in Phoenix where an incapacitated woman was raped and later gave birth
6:39PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
Booker announces key staff hires in early-voting states
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker has announced key staff hires in several early voting states
10:51AM ( 2 days ago )
Progressive politician seeks Polish 'Spring' with new party
A former Polish lawmaker who is openly gay has launched a progressive party ahead of two upcoming elections, presenting a program that includes phasing out coal production and liberalizing the abortion law in Poland
2:33PM ( 3 days ago )
Racist yearbook photo becomes a test for 2020 Democrats
Democratic presidential hopefuls decry racist photo on Virginia governor's yearbook page as they react to first major racial controversy of 2020 campaign
4:52PM ( 4 days ago )
AP Elections - Political Conventions
Political crisis engulfs Virginia's top 3 elected officials
Political crisis engulfs Virginia's top 3 elected officials, all Democrats, and threatens to take them down
8:34PM ( 5 minutes ago )
The Latest: Utility says crews had to hand dig gas shut-off
A PG&E spokeswoman says utility crews had to hand dig underground to shut off gas flowing to a fire that raged in a San Francisco neighborhood, which is why it took so long
8:28PM ( 10 minutes ago )
Warren struggles to move past Native American heritage flap
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is on the verge of launching a campaign about her vision for the future, but first she has to explain her past
8:26PM ( 12 minutes ago )
San Francisco police release sketch of "Doodler' killer
Police announced a reward and released a sketch depicting what a serial killer might look like now in a cold case involving at least five stabbing deaths of gay men in the mid-1970s in San Francisco.
8:22PM ( 16 minutes ago )
Trump plans rally, Pelosi seeks deal as wall deadline nears
President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are striking starkly different tones in their border security standoff
8:09PM ( 29 minutes ago )