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Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax's accuser details sexual assault allegation

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Image: Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks at his office in Richmond on
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks at his office in Richmond on Feb. 2, 2019. -
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Steve Helber AP
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The woman accusing Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of a sexual assault in 2004 detailed her allegation in a lengthy statement issued Wednesday through her legal team.

Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College in California who is currently on leave, accused Fairfax of sexual assault in a hotel room at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. She said Wednesday that she had pleasant interactions with Fairfax during the convention and that on its third day, he invited her to run an errand with him that involved them going to his hotel room.

It was there that Tyson said Fairfax kissed her. "Although surprised by his advance, it was not unwelcome and I kissed him back," she wrote. "He then took my hand and pulled me towards the bed. I was fully clothed in a pantsuit and had no intention of taking my clothes off or engaging in sexual activity."

Vanessa Tyson
Vanessa Tysonvia Scripps College

She wrote that "what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault," adding that Fairfax forcibly made her perform oral sex on him, during which she cried and gagged.

"I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual," she said. "To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent. Quite the opposite. I consciously avoided Mr.Fairfax for the remainder of the Convention and I never spoke to him again."

Fairfax has emphatically denied the allegation, saying the encounter was consensual. While Tyson said she never spoke to Fairfax again after their 2004 encounter, he insisted that they stayed in touch for some time after the convention.

"I'd like to begin by emphasizing how important it is for us to listen to women when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault or harassment," Fairfax said in a new statement on Wednesday.

"As I have stated previously ... I had a consensual encounter with the woman who made the allegation," Fairfax said. "At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past fifteen years. She in no way indicated that anything that had happened between us made her uncomfortable."

Tyson said she did not speak of the incident for years but told close friends of hers in Virginia about it when she learned of Fairfax's 2017 campaign. She also said she approached a friend at The Washington Post to investigate her claims. The Post did not ultimately run a story after being unable to corroborate her accusation, the publication said earlier this week, though it did not find red flags or inconsistencies in her account, which Fairfax had claimed.

Tyson said in her statement that the incident was rekindled for her last last week after learning that Fairfax could soon ascend to governor with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam embroiled in a scandal involving a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page that featured a person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes. Tyson then authored a private Facebook post about the alleged incident without identifying Fairfax by name.

The episode comes as Northam faces intensifying pressure from fellow Democrats to resign over the yearbook photo. Northam at first acknowledged he was in the picture and apologized for the racist image, but then denied it was him in the photo during a Saturday news conference in which he also admitted he dressed in blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume at a dance contest that same year.

And on Wednesday, the person who is second-in-line for the governorship behind Fairfax — Democratic state Attorney General Mark Herring — admitted that he too once wore blackface at a party in the 1980s. He profusely apologized for the incident, which he said happened when he was 19, adding that "the shame of that moment has haunted me for decades."

If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were all to resign, Virginia's House speaker, Republican Kirk Cox, is next in line to be governor.