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California Prof. Details Sexual Assault Allegations Against Virginia Lt. Governor

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks to the media on Monday in Richmond, Va., about the sexual assault allegation from 2004. (Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images)

Updated Thursday, Feb. 7, 11:00 a.m.:

The California professor who accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault has come forward with her name and her story, detailing the 2004 encounter when they attended the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor in the politics department at Scripps College in Claremont who is currently a fellow at Stanford University, said she recently wrote in a private message on Facebook that she was assaulted by someone at the convention — but she didn't name Fairfax. The conservative website Big League Politics published the message earlier this week, naming Fairfax as the alleged assailant.

Tyson, who next week is scheduled to give a talk — Betrayal and Courage in the Age of #MeToo — at Stanford, said she decided to go public after Fairfax issued a statement and spoke with reporters to deny the allegations. He said the encounter was consensual.

"With tremendous anguish, I am now sharing this information about my experience and setting the record straight," Tyson said in her statement shared by NPR. "Given his false assertions, I'm compelled to make clear what happened."


The political science academic community, and others, have rallied around Tyson, using the hashtag #IBelieveVanessa. A GoFundMe account set up to raise money for legal and security expenses has raised more than $15,000 since it launched on Wednesday. A Slack group was formed to help connect her supporters, who were also asking people to sign a statement supporting Tyson.

"Never underestimate the power of feminist political scientists," wrote Nadia E. Brown, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University, on Twitter.

Jennifer Freyd, who is a part of the Stanford fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, said Tyson told her and a few other colleagues about the 2004 incident, the Bay Area News Group reported. Freyd doesn’t remember whether Tyson named Fairfax.

Melissa R. Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College in Atherton who has known Tyson for many years as a colleague and a friend, said she didn't recall Tyson speaking to her about the alleged 2004 attack. Michelson said she reached out to Tyson via text message after news broke about the incident, but Tyson indicated she couldn't communicate with her about it.

"I'm assuming ... there are legal reasons why she can't be in touch with me and the other folks who are doing what we can to support her," she told KQED. (Debra Katz, a founding partner of the law firm representing Tyson, said she wouldn't be doing interviews).

"I was really worried about her," Michelson said. "I knew that Vanessa would need support. ...  And so her other friends and I started talking about what we could do to support her."

Michelson, who started the GoFundMe fund, hasn't been surprised by the donations — which surpassed the goal of $10,000.

"It shows me how well loved and respected Vanessa is," she said. "I think that's testament to her reputation as a human being, as a scholar, as someone who is trustworthy, as someone who should be believed. ... That's the reputation that Vanessa has built up as the wonderful person that she is."

Vanessa Tyson, left, with friend and fellow political science professor, Melissa R. Michelson, in Vancouver in April 2017. Michelson started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help raise money for Tyson's security and legal expenses in the wake of her coming forward. (Courtesy of Melissa R. Michelson)

Virginia politics has been rocked by a number of revelations in recent days.

A separate scandal has engulfed Gov. Ralph Northam's administration since a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced. Northam initially acknowledged he was in the photo and apologized. Then, a day later, he denied being in the photo but said he had appeared in blackface around the same time as part of a dance competition.

If Northam should resign, as many local and national politicians on both sides of the aisle have urged him to do, Fairfax would assume the governorship.

On Wednesday, Fairfax released another statement, NPR reported. He said Tyson's allegation was "surprising and hurtful," and he wanted to stress "how important it is for us to listen to women when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault or harassment."

According to Tyson's statement, she and Fairfax had struck up a "cordial, but not flirtatious" relationship by the third day of the convention in 2004. On July 28, Tyson said Fairfax invited her to his hotel room to retrieve documents, and upon their arrival, began to kiss her.

"What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault," Tyson alleges in a statement released on her attorneys' letterhead. She says he forced her to perform oral sex on him despite her struggles against doing so.

"I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual," Tyson added. "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. I consciously avoided Mr. Fairfax for the remainder of the Convention and I never spoke to him again."

Fairfax has strongly rejected the allegation since it first surfaced publicly on Sunday. He pointed out that The Washington Post, though it was previously aware of the allegation, decided not to publish it last year (the Post said it decided not to publish the story because it couldn't corroborate either party's description of the events).

Tyson says she had been undecided about whether to come forward, but that her hand had been forced by the conservative blog. She then retained Katz, Marshall and Banks, the Washington, D.C.-based firm that represented Christine Blasey Ford — who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, which he denied.

Tyson is researching the politics and policies surrounding sexual violence against women and children in the U.S. during her fellowship year at Stanford, according to her biography. She served as one of the founding members of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center Survivor Speakers’ Bureau, and began a self-esteem/self-awareness program for female juvenile offenders in Massachusetts.


NPR and KQED News' Miranda Leitsinger contributed to this report.

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