The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion I’m willing to testify in public. Justin Fairfax should, too.

Virginia's Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who earlier this week was accused of a 2004 sexual assault that he has denied, faced a new allegation on Feb. 8. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Katherine Frey/Reuters)

Meredith Watson lives in Maryland.

When I came forward to report that Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax raped me when we were both Duke University students in 2000, I did so to support another victim of sexual assault and to remove that man from a position of national prominence.

Despite the professed belief of numerous elected officials in Virginia and elsewhere that Vanessa Tyson, who says that Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004, and I have brought forward credible allegations, the Virginia General Assembly has not taken the simple and responsible step of arranging the thorough public hearing that we have sought.

This is how the culture of sexual assault, harassment and the disempowerment of women persists.

Since I came forward less than two weeks ago, certain politicians offered to support me if I made it a partisan issue. I refused. Likewise, I have refused to make this a financial issue by suing for compensation. I have refused to make it a law-enforcement issue. Despite nearly 100 offers to be interviewed, I have refused to make my rape a media opportunity.

My motivation was never for personal gain.

And what have I gained? I have endured relentless scrutiny of my personal life and an unending, bitter flood of hurtful misinformation trumpeted by the media.

This occurred precisely because I sought to protect my privacy and the privacy of my family. There were inquiries into my years in elementary school. Personal medical records were probed, and financial information was revealed. None of this is relevant.

Fairfax denied that he raped me, and he denied Tyson’s account as well. And for many in the public, the media and the Virginia General Assembly, that was that. In one week, they moved on.

I told my story, and 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. Few rape victims do come forward. The rapists shake free what soon becomes just a slight taint, and they move on.

Women of color who report rape know to expect a dismissive response characterized by even greater disbelief and more abuse, if not complete and utter indifference.

I am frustrated by calls for an investigation rather than a public hearing into these matters. Such “investigations” are secret proceedings, out of the public eye, leaving victims vulnerable to selective leaks and smears. And we all know how such investigations end: with “inconclusive results.” 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.

Despite every attempt to shame me, I am not ashamed. It is Justin Fairfax who should be ashamed. It is the Virginia legislature that should be ashamed. And it is the media that should be ashamed.

If we as a society continue to allow women who report rape to be abused, disparaged and tormented a second time, then shame on us all.

Read more:

Karen Tumulty: What we need to hear from Justin Fairfax

The Post’s View: The allegations against Justin Fairfax are grave. They must be investigated.

Karen Tumulty: Democrats rallied around Christine Blasey Ford. Will they do the same with Vanessa Tyson?

Megan McArdle: We need a single standard for Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax — and all the others