Vanessa Tyson, one of two women who accuse Virginia’s lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, has described in shocking detail the day she allegedly went to his hotel room, in a tearful interview with CBS This Morning host Gayle King.
The professor of black politics first came forward in February to make the allegations about what she said happened at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Tyson said they had met for the first time at the convention and she found him friendly and charismatic. “Harmless even,” she told King in an interview that aired Monday morning. “He told me that he was at Columbia Law School. And I— and we realized we had a mutual friend … So we immediately struck up a conversation.”
The two talked and Tyson shared a few details about her work as a survivor speaker at a local rape crisis center. Tyson told King that she is a survivor of incest and says that at that time in her life, more than 15 years ago, her work at the rape crisis center was “actually probably the biggest part of my life at that time.”
King asked Tyson if she thought that because she had confided in Fairfax about her rape, that he might have seen her as an easy victim. Tyson paused for a moment and replied. “In retrospect, yes.”
But at the time she met him, she trusted him. “I certainly felt he was harmless,” Tyson recalled. “There were no red flags that suggested to me that he was a threat.”
Then things allegedly went very wrong.
Tyson says that Fairfax asked her if she wanted to get “a bit of fresh air” and leave the convention hall for a few minutes. She says he told her that he had forgotten some paperwork in his hotel room and asked if they could pop up and get it. Given that it was early afternoon, Tyson says the request “sounded completely legitimate.”
Tyson says she stood by the door inside his hotel room while he looked in his luggage for the papers.
“He crosses the room. And, you know, kind of goes through his luggage, finds some paperwork, right, which is what I assumed we were there for,” Tyson says. “And then he crosses back around the bed and comes over to me. And I'm still by the door. And he kisses me.”
King asks her what went through her mind at that moment.
“Well, I was surprised. I mean, I— like, for— for a variety of reasons, I was surprised,” she says. “But it wasn't unwelcome per se. I'm okay with kissing.”
Then the two of them moved to Fairfax’s hotel room bed. “You know, and he kind of ... gently takes my hands and ... guides me towards the bed ... And we’re still kissing, right? And it’s completely consensual,” Tyson says. “He guides me to the bed. And then, you know, he sits down on the bed … And what happens from there, you know— we start kissing lying down but on the very edge of the bed.”
King responds, “OK, so I'm following. And then what happens?”
“We're kissing lying down. And we’re kissing. Like, so our heads are level with each other. And then it was like my neck didn’t work,” Tyson said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“It was like I couldn’t, I couldn’t feel my neck.” she says. “I couldn't hold my head up. He’s using his hand on the back of my neck. And I still didn’t know what was going wrong. I thought there was something wrong with my neck.”
But it was Fairfax’s hand that she says had immobilized her.
“And he’s pushing down and pushing down. And I couldn’t hold my neck up. And I didn’t know what was going on. I honestly didn’t know what was going on,” she says.
Then she understood perfectly what he was doing.
“And then the next thing I know, like, my head is, like, literally in his crotch,” she says. “And I’m choking and gagging.”
She says she couldn’t do anything at that moment. “I couldn’t say anything because I’m choking and gagging. And so, you know, it continues for— and he’s holding my head. So I can’t lift— like, I’m trying to lift my head, but I can’t.”
When the ordeal ended, Tyson says she was in a state of shock. “I didn’t know what to say,” she tells King. “I was completely caught off guard. It was almost as if I was dumbstruck.”
Tyson left the hotel room and avoided Fairfax for the rest of the convention until she almost ran into him in the staff lounge on the last day. She saw him and froze. “And I just, you know, did a 180 and just went the absolute opposite direction,” she recalls. “Like, I just didn’t want, didn’t even want him to see me, didn’t want him, like— no.”
Fairfax says the encounters with both women were consensual. He adamantly denies the accusations that they were anything otherwise by Tyson and a second woman, and has even successfully passed polygraph exams that he says prove he is telling the truth. He has also likened the accusations to a public lynching, which King raised with Tyson.
“Never was it two black women lynching black men,” Tyson responded. “One need only look at history to try to understand that, in fact, the role of black women had always been leading anti-lynching campaigns. You know, black women were lynched specifically trying to protect black men. And speaking as someone who teaches black politics, I find it disgraceful, irresponsible and manipulative.”
“Is this a racial issue to you?” King then asked.
“Sexual assault should never be a racial issue. It should never be a partisan issue,” Tyson replied. “Sexual assault is an epidemic that's taking place around the world, across our country, every day.”
On Tuesday, CBS This Morning will air segments of King’s interview with Fairfax’s second accuser, Meredith Watson, who came forward shortly after Tyson reported the assault earlier this year. She says Fairfax raped her when the two were in college.
In a brief segment teasing that interview, King asks Watson why she feels guilty about what she says happened to her. “It happened to her after it happened to me,” a tearful Watson says. “And had I had the strength or the courage to say something in 2000, maybe it never would've happened to her.”
The women are calling for a public hearing and say they would like to testify under oath about Fairfax’s alleged assault.