Vanessa Tyson Wants a Public Hearing on Sexual Assault Allegations Against Justin Fairfax

Screenshot: CBS This Morning

Dr. Vanessa Tyson, who has alleged that Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004, is calling for a public hearing before the Virginia General Assembly, and told CBS This Morning’s Gayle King that she’s willing to testify under oath.

“The Virginia people need to know who it is they elected,” Tyson told King in an interview that aired on Monday. Referring to Meredith Watson who has accused Fairfax of raping her, she continued: “I think the Virginia people, the voters of Virginia, have a right to know both my story and Meredith’s story. I think there should be a public hearing.”

King replied, “Not an investigation.”

“There’s a difference between hearings and investigations. Investigations often allow people in power to sweep things under the rug,” Tyson said.

Tyson added:“Particularly for survivors, I think this is incredibly important. They need to be heard. We need to be seen. We need to be treated as the human beings that we are.”

In February, after the rightwing news site Big League Politics wrote a story about Tyson’s allegations, which she had detailed in a private Facebook post, she wrote in a statement that Fairfax had sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Shortly after, a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward and alleged that Fairfax had raped her in 2000 while they were undergraduates at Duke University. Watson called for Fairfax to resign. King also sat down with Watson, and their interview will air on Tuesday. Watson is reportedly also calling for a hearing and is also willing to testify.

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When King asked what she wanted to happen, a clearly emotional Tyson replied, “In my ideal world, I’d want him to resign.”

Tyson shared details of the alleged sexual assault, which began as a consensual encounter in his hotel room, and explained to King why she did not disclose the assault until recently:

“I was so ashamed. I was so humiliated on—on so many levels. Like, here I was this woman working at a rape crisis center, you know, trying to—like, as a survivor speaker, trying to empower survivors of sexual assault. And it was like I had just walked into a trap,” Tyson said, adding that she is a survivor of incest.

“Was Justin aware of this in your past?” King asked.

“Yes, actually,” Tyson said.

“You felt comfortable enough sharing that with him even though you had just met him?” King asked.

“Here’s the thing. What I was doing for the rape crisis center was actually probably the biggest part of my life at that time,” Tyson said.

“Do you feel he took advantage of you knowing your past?” King asked.

“In retrospect, yes,” Tyson said.

Tyson, a political science professor at Scripps College, told King why she decided to come forward earlier this year: “I look at my beautiful students. I have the most wonderful kids. They’re brilliant and thoughtful and kind and passionate and they want to make the world a better place. I teach politics and they want to get involved, and all I can think of is that I don’t want this to ever, ever happen again.”

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King also asked Tyson for her thoughts on Fairfax comparing himself to lynching victims:

“Never was it two black women lynching black men,” Tyson replied. “One need only look at history to try to understand that, in fact, the role of black women had always been leading anti-lynching campaigns. You know, black women were lynched specifically trying to protect black men. And speaking as someone who teaches black politics, I find it disgraceful, irresponsible and manipulative.”

“Is this a racial issue to you?” King asked.

“Sexual assault should never be a racial issue. It should never be a partisan issue,” Tyson said. “Sexual assault is an epidemic that’s taking place around the world, across our country, every day.”

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The sexual assault allegations against Fairfax emerged on the heels of the news that Governor Ralph Northam had appeared in a yearbook photo from 1984 wearing blackface next to someone in Ku Klux Klan robes (Northam then backtracked and denied it was him in the photo, but then admitted to once donning blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson). Both Republican and Democratic elected officials have called on Northam and Fairfax to resign; both have remained in office.

Fairfax continues to deny that he sexually assaulted Tyson and Watson. On Sunday, he released the results of a polygraph test he took that he claims shows his innocence. In a statement to CBS News, he wrote:

I, for one, stand accused of crimes that I did not commit.

I feel so strongly regarding my innocence that I submitted myself to polygraph tests for each of the accusations against me. I passed those tests because, as I have maintained from the very beginning, I did not assault either of my accusers.

I have also called for a fair, full, and impartial investigation of the allegations and my denials. I am completely confident that such an investigation would exonerate me and clear my good name, which I have spent a lifetime building.

My accusers have not filed criminal charges and they have not sued me. Instead, we see escalating media appearances and stated desire for a political process that is unprecedented in Virginia and could not be designed to get at the truth. Such a process would instead be a media circus used for partisan and political purposes.

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You can watch the full interview with Tyson here.

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Esther Wang

Senior staff writer, Jezebel