Stanford fellow accuses Virginia Lt. Gov. of sexual assault

Feb. 7, 2019, 1:25 a.m.

A Stanford fellow’s allegations that Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention have added another layer to the scandals roiling Virginia politics.

Vanessa Tyson, who researches the policies surrounding sexual violence as a 2018-19 fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), wrote in a graphic statement released Wednesday that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him while they were both working at the 2004 convention.

Fairfax forcefully denied Tyson’s allegations, writing in a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday that the encounter was consensual.

Tyson wrote in her statement that “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.”

“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual,” Tyson wrote.

After their encounter, Tyson avoided Fairfax for the rest of the convention and never spoke to him again, she wrote, although Fairfax wrote in his statement that they remained in touch for “months” following the convention.

“While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly, and I take it and this situation very seriously,” Fairfax wrote.

Tyson’s statement comes as Virginia grapples with separate controversies involving each of its top three executive officials. Governor Ralph Northam faces calls to resign over a racist 1984 medical school yearbook photo, in which the then-student wore blackface while standing next to a student in a Ku Klux Klan robe. If Northam resigns, Fairfax would become governor. Meanwhile, state attorney general Mark Herring, who is third in the line of succession, is under fire for acknowledging Wednesday that he too wore blackface in 1980 as a student at the University of Virginia.

Tyson is the second Stanford affiliate to accuse a high-profile politician of sexual assault within the past year. Last fall, Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto University professor who teaches in a consortium at Stanford, alleged that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh was confirmed in a 50-48 vote in October.  

Tyson is scheduled to speak with CASBS fellow Jennifer Freyd and former law school dean Paul Brest on a CASBS symposium on the #MeToo movement next Tuesday.

According to a CASBS spokesperson, the symposium’s topic, Tyson and Freyd’s involvement and the date of the event were finalized in September, months before news of Tyson’s allegations broke. Brest told The Daily that the symposium “to the best of [his] knowledge, will not focus on [personal] experience.”

Tyson initially went to The Washington Post with her story in late 2017, after Fairfax’s election to lieutenant governor and before his confirmation. Although The Post wrote that they found “no significant red flags or inconsistencies within the allegations,” they were unable to corroborate her account, so they did not run a story.

In the statement released Wednesday, Tyson wrote that she “suffered from both deep humiliation and shame” after her encounter with Fairfax, and she did not speak about the encounter for years.

The Mercury News reported on Tuesday that Tyson told Freyd and other colleagues at CASBS at the start of their fellowship program about her experiences at the 2004 convention, but Freyd was unable to remember whether Tyson named Fairfax.

Freyd did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

On Sunday, the conservative blog Big League Politics published a post accusing Fairfax — a Democrat — of assaulting Tyson, based on her private Facebook post.

Fairfax then issued a denial of the allegations, writing that The Post had found problems with Tyson’s testimony.

On Monday, The Post published an article on Fairfax’s denial, disputing his account of its investigation.

Tyson’s statement — released through the law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks LLP, the same firm which represented Ford — followed The Post’s article.

“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,” Tyson wrote. “I have no political motive. I am 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.


This article has been updated to include more precise information about the planning of the symposium. 

Contact Erin Woo at erinkwoo ‘at’

Erin Woo '21 is The Daily's Vol. 259 Editor-in-Chief. Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, she is studying communications and creative writing at Stanford. She has also reported for The Mercury News and WNYC. Contact her at eic 'at'

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