The National Organization for Women, one of the country’s largest self-described “feminist” groups, called on Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA) to resign Wednesday, hours after his accuser went public with an allegation of sexual assault.
“Dr. Vanessa Tyson has made the brave decision to come forward and reveal in her own words what happened between her and Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston,” the group’s spokesperson, Toni Van Pelt, said in a statement. “Her story is horrifying, compelling and clear as day – and we believe her.”
The National Organization for Women calls on Virginia LG Justin Fairfax to resign pic.twitter.com/22g3gTydXv
— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) February 6, 2019
“We believe and support survivors,” it continued. “This is more important than who is going to be the next governor of Virginia. This isn’t about politics. It’s about a woman who has experienced sexual assault — a serious crime – at the hands of a powerful man, who is now attacking her character.”
Tyson went public with her sexual assault accusation against Fairfax on Wednesday, saying in a statement that she repressed the memory for years but came forward in part because of the possibility that the Democrat could succeed a scandal-mired governor .
Fairfax’s accuser, a 42-year-old political science professor who studies the intersection of politics and the #MeToo movement, said the lawmaker held her head down and forced her to perform oral sex on him in his hotel room at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004.
“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual,” Tyson said in a three-page statement issued by her attorney . “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.”
The accusation comes amid calls from top Democrats for the resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) over a racist photo that appeared on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. Fairfax, who would be in line to become governor if Northam resigned, said Wednesday his sexual encounter with Tyson was consensual and questioned why she waited so long to come forward.
At the time of the 2004 convention, Fairfax, now 39, was a law student serving as an aide to then-Democrat vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
While Tyson said in her statement that she never spoke to Fairfax again, Fairfax said Tyson made efforts to keep in contact with him after their encounter and even wanted him to meet her mother.
“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 15 years,” Fairfax said .
Tyson said Wednesday the incident left her feeling deeply humiliated and ashamed but she repressed the memory to focus on her career as an academic. She only began to tell friends about the alleged assault in October 2017, after seeing a photo of Fairfax with an article about his campaign. She said she was inspired in part by the #MeToo movement to contact The Washington Post, which investigated her accusation and decided not to publish a story because it could not corroborate it.
Tyson said she became embroiled in the issue most recently in a cryptic Facebook post she wrote after news stories suggested that the racist photo scandal surrounding Northam could elevate Fairfax to the governor’s job.
“I felt a jarring sense of both outrage and despair,” she said in the statement. “That night I vented my frustration on Facebook in a message that I wrote as a private post. I did not identify Lt. Governor Fairfax by name but stated that it seemed inevitable that the campaign staffer who assaulted me during the Democratic Convention in 2004 was about to get a big promotion.”
Fairfax, who has been married since 2006, has called Tyson’s accusation part of a political smear campaign. Tyson said that she has no political motive and is a “proud Democrat.”
“My only motive in speaking now is to refute Mr. Fairfax’s falsehoods and aspersions of my character, and to provide what I believe is important information for Virginians to have as they make critical decisions that involve Mr. Fairfax,” Tyson said.
Virginia politics descended further into chaos Wednesday after the state’s Attorney General Mark Herring (D) admitted to wearing blackface during his college years. Herring told black lawmakers he put on “brown makeup” as part of a costume to look like rapper Kurtis Blow. “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” the embattled official said in a statement.
“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others,” he continued. “It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.”
Shortly after the revelation became public, Herring stepped down as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association. “Virginia AG Herring offered to step aside as co-chair and the committee accepted,” a DACA spokesperson confirmed in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.