Meredith Watson, who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) of sexual assault, wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post: “I’m willing to testify in public. Justin Fairfax should, too.”
In the op-ed, published online Monday afternoon, Watson, one of two women who have accused Fairfax of assault, criticized the General Assembly for failing to hold a public hearing on the allegations.
Watson this month accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2000, while both were undergraduate students at Duke University.
Fairfax has strenuously denied both women’s allegations. But after Watson came forward, many Democratic Party leaders, including the influential Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said they would no longer support him.
Both Watson and Vanessa Tyson, who alleges that Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, have called on the Virginia General Assembly to hold public hearings on the allegations.
Shortly after Watson’s piece was posted online, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) tweeted: “Meredith Watson is courageous for speaking out. I’m still hopeful we can develop a bipartisan consensus on the best way to look into these serious allegations.”
Cox, who has called for Fairfax’s resignation, said last week that he would not rule out some form of investigation by the legislature.
“We need to be truly slow and deliberate about anything we do, but I don’t think you can foreclose that [as] an option,” he said. “Now what form that takes — as far as an investigation, impeachment — you have to look at very carefully, but I think that’s something we’re going to have to look at and keep our options open.”
Watson wrote that since telling her story, “I have endured relentless scrutiny of my personal life and an unending, bitter flood of hurtful misinformation trumpeted by the media.” She added: “My privacy has already been violated, yet I am still willing to testify publicly under oath. Tyson has made the same offer. Our plea to the Virginia General Assembly to require the same of Fairfax has been met with inaction.”
After coming forward, Watson wrote, “in a single week my life was probed, exposed, examined and picked over. This is what women who come forward know to expect, and to fear. . . . The rapists shake free what soon becomes just a slight taint, and they move on.”
Watson declined to comment for this article.
The allegations against Fairfax came as the state’s Democratic leaders were engulfed in scandal following revelations about a racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page and the use of blackface by Northam (D) and Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) while they were in college.
On Monday, about 50 protesters carrying signs and banners calling for Northam to resign marched outside Capitol Square in Richmond. Some made comments about having a guillotine. The protesters stood outside a closed metal gate at an entrance near the Executive Mansion, where Northam lives, holding signs, some of which said “Resign Governor Northam” and “End white supremacy,” as more than a dozen police officers stood around them. Protesters also put red dye in one of the fountains outside the Capitol.
And on what turned out to be an unusually lively Presidents’ Day, a woman was detained by officers after baring her breast to reenact the scene on the Virginia state seal, in which a female warrior stands over a slain king above the words “Sic semper tyrannis,” or “Thus always to tyrants.” She and several other women were calling for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The allegations against Fairfax add a potential complication for Democrats in this year’s elections. Every seat in the General Assembly is on the ballot this fall, and Democrats are hoping to turn a handful of districts and gain the majority in both chambers.
Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) met Monday evening with Democratic lawmakers in Richmond and offered to help with their reelection efforts this year, stepping up because the scandal-weakened governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are not expected to be campaign-trail assets. The senators met first with Virginia Senate Democrats, attending a regularly scheduled caucus dinner, then sat down with House Democrats at a union hall.
“This is them just saying, ‘Hey we feel your pain. We want to be there for you. We’re going to do everything we can to help you,’” said one Democratic lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.