Vanessa Tyson, the first woman to accuse Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, spoke at a Stanford University symposium called Tuesday night, her first public appearance since coming forward with the allegations. While she did not address the allegations directly, she said that when reporting sexual assault “sometimes you have lead by example, no matter how hard it is.”
“When women and survivors start comparing notes — that’s when the lightbulb goes off,” she said. “This has been happening to everybody. That’s the most important part of #MeToo.”
The 100 audience members crammed in the main room greeted Tyson with a standing ovation. Dozens more watched a video feed from a nearby room.
Tyson also recounted how she and Stanford colleagues watched Christine Blasey Ford testify in Washington, D.C., during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.
“As she shook, we shook with her,” she said. “As she told her story, we felt the pain she so visibly demonstrated.”
Tyson is now represented by the same legal team that represented Blasey Ford.
Tyson was joined on stage by a fellow center researcher Jennifer Freyd and moderated by law school professor Paul Brest to discuss “the underlying dynamics of sexual violence and institutional betrayal” according to symposium literature. Tyson is an associate professor of political science at Scripps College about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. She is spending the year at Stanford in part researching “the political discourse surrounding sexual assault,” according the center’s website.
Tyson, an associate professor at Scripps College and fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), had been scheduled to attend the event before her accusations against Fairfax became public.
Tyson came forward with the accusations against Fairfax in athat described her experience in graphic detail and questioned how Fairfax could believe the encounter was consensual. Fairfax has denied assaulting Tyson.
Tyson said the prospect of Fairfax succeeding Gov. Ralph Northam, who is embroiled in his own scandal over a racist yearbook photo, “flooded” her “with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger.” Fairfax and Northam are both Democrats.
Tyson alleged she met Fairfax at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on in July 2004. She said the two were kissing consensually kissing but the encounter allegedly “quickly turned into a sexual assault.”
Tyson claimed Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him, during which she said she cried and gagged.
“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual. To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent,” Tyson said in the statement. “Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me as a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions, and has threatened litigation. Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”
On Friday, another woman, Meredith Watson, released a statementin 2000 while they were both students at Duke University. Fairfax has denied this allegation as well.
Several prominent Democrats have urged Fairfax to step down. Others have called for an investigation into Tyson and Watson’s allegations.
Tyson was set to appear on a panel at Tuesday night’s event with Jennifer Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a CASBS fellow, will also be at the event Tuesday night. It will be moderated by Paul Brest is former dean and professor emeritus at Stanford Law School.
Grace Segers contributed to this report.