Vanessa Tyson, who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) of sexual assault, demanded his resignation and called his attempts to compare himself to lynching victims “disgraceful” during an interview with “CBS This Morning” on Monday.
Tyson, one of two women to accuse Fairfax of sexual assault, wants the state legislature to hold a public hearing on their claims. The CBS News program plans to air an interview with the second woman, Meredith Watson, on Tuesday morning.
They are the first televised interviews with the two women and occur as Virginia lawmakers head to Richmond on Wednesday to complete their legislative session.
The women made their allegations public in early February, when it appeared that Fairfax might succeed Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who was embroiled in a scandal connected to a racist photo from his past and his admission that he wore blackface as a young man for a dance contest.
“I’d want him to resign,” Tyson, now a professor in California, said of Fairfax. “I think the Virginia people, the voters of Virginia, have a right to know, you know, both my story and Meredith’s story.”
Fairfax has denied both assault allegations, saying the sexual encounters were consensual. On Sunday, Fairfax’s representatives released a lengthy statement that said he voluntarily took and passed two polygraph tests that “demonstrate that the accusations made against the lieutenant governor are false.”
“My accusers have not filed criminal charges and they have not sued me,” Fairfax said in a statement to CBS. “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.”
Tyson’s lawyer said she is willing to meet with the Suffolk County district attorney in Boston, where the alleged crime is said to have occurred, but a spokesman for the office declined to say whether the meeting happened or whether authorities are investigating. Watson has said she is not interested in pursuing criminal charges.
In her interview with CBS’s Gayle King, Tyson recounted in detail her encounter with Fairfax in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Tyson said she and Fairfax connected because of a mutual friend, and she considered him “harmless.”
She said he invited her back to his hotel room so he could pick up paperwork. Tyson said that their encounter inside the room began as consensual kissing but that he then forced her to perform oral sex.
“The next thing I know my head is, like, literally in his crotch, and I’m choking and gagging, and I couldn’t say anything because I’m choking and gagging,” Tyson said tearfully, with her voice breaking.
“I didn’t know what to say. I was just completely caught off-guard. It was almost as if I was dumbstruck.”
Tyson said she avoided Fairfax after the incident and rebuffed his attempts to contact her. Fairfax disputes this and has said Tyson reached out to him at a later date, saying she wanted him to meet her mother in New York.
Tyson said she did not tell anyone about the assault until recently.
“I was so ashamed,” Tyson said. “I was so humiliated on so many levels. I was this woman working at a rape crisis center, trying to, as a survivor speaker, trying to empower survivors of sexual assault. And it was like I had just walked into a trap.”
In his statement to CBS, Fairfax, a lawyer, said women have a right to be free from assault.
“I am, and have long been, a strong proponent of the rights of women in our society — among them equal rights, reproductive rights, economic rights, the right to be heard and respected, the right to fair access to the criminal justice system, and right to be free from disrespect, harassment, and assault,” he said. “At the same time, I also believe that we must find a way to ensure that our justice system and even the court of public opinion provide due process and fairness both to accusers and the accused. I, for one, stand accused of crimes that I did not commit.”
In the two months since the allegations surfaced, Fairfax has also called his accusers’ allegations part of a smear campaign and compared himself to victims of lynching.
That comparison drew a sharp rebuke from Tyson in her interview.
“I find it disgraceful, irresponsible and manipulative,” Tyson said.
“Sexual assault should never be a racial issue. It should never be a partisan issue. Sexual assault is an epidemic taking place around the world, across the country every day.”
CBS also aired a preview of the Tuesday interview with Watson, who said she regretted not reporting her rape allegation against Fairfax when they were both undergraduate students at Duke University in 2000.
“It happened to her after it happened to me,” Watson said. “Had I had the strength or the courage to say something in 2000, maybe it never would have happened to her.”