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Statement of Dr. Vanessa Tyson

Released Wednesday, Feb. 6

2/8/2019, 6 a.m.
On the night of Friday, February 1, 2019, I read multiple news accounts indicating that Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax ...
Dr. Vanessa Tyson

Years later, in October of 2017, I saw a picture of Mr. Fairfax accompanying an article in The Root about his campaign for Lt. Governor in Virginia. The image hit me like a ton of bricks, triggering buried traumatic memories and the feelings of humiliation I’d felt so intensely back in 2004. Prior to reading the article, I had not followed Mr. Fairfax’s career and did not know that he was seeking public office. Unsure of what to do, I felt it was crucial to tell close friends of mine in Virginia, who were voters, about the assault.

That October, as the #MeToo movement intensified, women throughout the world began forcefully speaking out about the sexual violence they had experienced and the impact of those experiences on their lives. The courage of so many women coming forward to confront powerful men and systems that allow such abuse to occur are part of what inspired me to action. I felt a responsibility to myself, the beloved students I teach, and the brave women I’ve tried to help overcome their own trauma. The passion and resolve of so many survivors, coupled with the job security that tenure afforded me, gave me the strength I simply did not have in 2004. By December 2017, I not only told many friends that Mr. Fairfax had sexually assaulted me but I also reached out to a personal friend at The Washington Post and spoke to his colleague about the assault.

After The Washington Post decided in March 2018 not to run my story, I felt powerless, frustrated, and completely drained. Again I tried to bury memories of this painful incident and focus on my work and my students.

On Friday, February 1, 2019, as stories appeared in the media suggesting that Governor Northam would have to resign and that Mr. Fairfax would be sworn in as Governor, I felt a jarring sense of both outrage and despair. 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. It was not my intention in that moment to inject myself into what has become a much larger political battle.

The following morning, I was inundated with messages of care and concern from friends — including many I had told about the sexual assault — and numerous inquiries from journalists who had become aware of my post. Over the weekend, I was undecided about whether to speak out publicly. I knew that if I did so, I would immediately face accusations about my motives and be branded a liar, as is routinely the case when women come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent men.

On Sunday night, before I had time to decide on a course of action, an online publication published a screenshot of my Facebook post, identified me by name, and posted pictures of me. In response, at 2:55 a.m. on February 4, 2019, Mr. Fairfax issued a statement further escalating this matter by calling me a liar and falsely characterizing the reasons The Washington Post decided not to run a story about my allegations. The Post was forced to repudiate Mr. Fairfax’s statement that there were “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations” which led it to decide not to publish a story about my account. Rather, as is often the case in situations where sexual assault by an acquaintance occurs behind closed doors years earlier, it is difficult to corroborate either the victim’s allegations or the accused’s denials.