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Justin Fairfax accuser Vanessa Tyson describes alleged sexual assault: "I couldn't feel my neck"

Justin Fairfax accuser on alleged sex assault
Justin Fairfax accuser Vanessa Tyson describes alleged sex assault: "I couldn't feel my neck" 07:43

Warning: Some of the details shared in this piece are disturbing.  

Vanessa Tyson is one of two women who accuse Virginia's lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, of sexual assault. She and Meredith Watson stepped forward with their allegations in February when some lawmakers were calling on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign over a racist yearbook photo. If Northam had resigned, Fairfax would have likely replaced him. Fairfax has categorically denied these allegations.

  • Watch Gayle King's interview with Meredith Watson Tuesday, April 2, on "CBS This Morning" 

The Virginia general assembly will meet on Wednesday for the first time in more than a month, and Tyson and Watson are calling for a public hearing. They say they want to testify under oath to describe what they allege Fairfax did to them.

Tyson, a politics professor, was the first woman to step forward with her claim that Fairfax assaulted her when they were both working at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. When Tyson met Fairfax, she found him to be "very friendly, very charismatic."

"Harmless even," Tyson told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King. "He's 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."
"So you felt you had established a semi-rapport with him?" King asked.
"Yes, certainly. It wasn't flirtatious at all," Tyson said.
"Did you feel safe with him?"
"I certainly felt he was harmless," Tyson responded. "There were no red flags that suggested to me that he was a threat."

Roughly 48 hours after she met Fairfax, on the Wednesday of the convention, Tyson said Fairfax suggested he needed to go pick up some paperwork from his room at a different hotel.
"Did I want to come with him and get a bit of fresh air and sunshine? It's, you know, early afternoon," Tyson recounted. She said him needing to pick up paperwork "sounded completely legitimate."
"You're there in the hotel standing by the door. And then what happens?" King said.
"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. And good. And then he crosses back around the bed and comes over to me. And I'm still by the door. And he kisses me," Tyson said.
"And you think?"
"Well, I was surprised. I mean, I-- like, for-- for a variety of reasons, I was surprised. But it wasn't unwelcome per se," Tyson said, adding, "I'm okay with kissing."

"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 said. "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."
"OK, so I'm following. And then what happens?" King asked.
"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.
"What do you mean?"
"It-- it-- it-- it-- it was like I couldn't-- I couldn't feel my neck. I couldn't hold my head up," Tyson said. "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… 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. And then the next thing I know, like, my head is, like, literally in his crotch… And I'm choking and gagging. And, you know, I couldn't say anything 'cause 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."

Throughout it, Tyson said Fairfax wasn't saying anything.

"To be honest, I'm in total shock. Like—" Tyson started.
"Do you say anything to him? No?" King asked.
"I didn't know what to say. I-- I was just-- I was completely caught off guard. It was almost as if I was dumbstruck," Tyson said.

"Have you talked to Justin Fairfax since that day in 2004?" King asked.
"The next day, I remember walk-- it-- it was the last day of the convention. And I remember walking-- you know, I was walking towards the staff lounge," Tyson said. "And-- and I saw him in there. And, you know, he didn't see me. And I just, you know, did a 180 and just went the absolute opposite direction. Like, I just didn't want, didn't even want him to see me, didn't want him, like-- no."
"So you-- you really haven't seen him since that incident in 2004?" King asked.
"No, I haven't seen him," Tyson said. "I remember him trying to call me a couple times. But I-- I-- I-- I just didn't pick up. This was after the convention was over. And I think he emailed me a few times as well. Like, I never initiated contact." 

Tyson said she didn't tell anyone about the incident. 

"I was so ashamed. I was so humiliated on-- on so many levels. Like, here I was this woman working at a rape crisis center, you know, trying to-- like, as a survivor speaker, trying to empower survivors of sexual assault. And it was like I had just walked into a trap," Tyson said, adding that she is a survivor of incest.
"Was Justin aware of this in your past?" King asked.
"Yes, actually," Tyson said.

"You felt comfortable enough sharing that with him even though you had just met him?" King asked.
"Here's the thing. What I was doing for the rape crisis center was actually probably the biggest part of my life at that time," Tyson said.
"Do you feel he took advantage of you knowing your past?" King asked.

"In retrospect, yes," Tyson said.

Vanessa Tyson: Justin Fairfax comparing himself to lynching victims is "disgraceful" 04:44

King also asked Tyson about Fairfax comparing himself to lynching victims.

"Never was it two black women lynching black men," Tyson replied. "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 asked.

"Sexual assault should never be a racial issue. It should never be a partisan issue," Tyson said. "Sexual assault is an epidemic that's taking place around the world, across our country, every day."

King asked, "What do you want to happen to Justin Fairfax? Why are you coming forward?"

"I'd want him to resign," Tyson replied. "I think the Virginia people, the voters of Virginia, have a right to know, you know, both my story and Meredith's story."

When asked to respond to criticism that she was participating in an "an orchestrated smear campaign" by her and Watson against Fairfax, Tyson replied, "I've never met Meredith Watson. I don't know what she looks like. I've never spoken with her."

"She also says she's never met you and never spoken to you, either," King said. "And when I talked to her, she really fell apart when she said she feels tremendous guilt that she didn't come forward because it happened to her, she says, in 2000."

"She can never blame herself," Tyson said. "This wasn't her. It wasn't me. It wasn't either one of us. It was Justin Fairfax."

"One thing I will say is that it's hard. I can't even begin to tell you how hard it is to come forward, especially against someone powerful. And when she came forward, she didn't want me to feel alone. And that meant the world to me 'cause it's just hard to be alone," Tyson said with tears streaming down her face.

"She feels tremendous, tremendous guilt," Kings said.

Justin Fairfax accuser Meredith Watson says she feels guilty for not coming forward sooner 02:00

Meredith Watson came forward shortly after Tyson had made her accusations in February. Watson told King that she's very sorry for not reporting her allegation that Fairfax raped her nearly 20 years ago.

"Why do you feel guilty?" King asked.

"It happened to her after it happened to me. And had I had the strength or the courage to say something in 2000, maybe it never would've happened to her," Watson said, choking up with emotion.

Fairfax responded to the accusations in a statement to CBS News, saying:

"I am, and have long been, a strong proponent of the rights of women in our society -- among them equal rights, reproductive rights, economic rights, the right to be heard and respected, the right to fair access to the criminal justice system, and right to be free from disrespect, harassment, and assault.

 At the same time, I also believe that we must find a way to ensure that our justice system and even the court of public opinion provide due process and fairness both to accusers and the accused.

I, for one, stand accused of crimes that I did not commit. 

I feel so strongly regarding my innocence that I submitted myself to polygraph tests for each of the accusations against me. I passed those tests because, as I have maintained from the very beginning, I did not assault either of my accusers.

I have also called for a fair, full, and impartial investigation of the allegations and my denials. I am completely confident that such an investigation would exonerate me and clear my good name, which I have spent a lifetime building.

My accusers have not filed criminal charges and they have not sued me. Instead, we see escalating media appearances and stated desire for a political process that is unprecedented in Virginia and could not be designed to get at the truth. Such a process would instead be a media circus used for partisan and political purposes.

Law enforcement authorities in Boston and Durham have demonstrated a sensitivity to those who wish to report a crime. A civil lawsuit as well would provide a forum for assessing the credibility of all parties. Given the seriousness of these accusations and the significant damage that leaving them unresolved will continue to do, we must ensure there is a legal forum to adjudicate these matters fairly and make an ultimate and evidence-based determination about the truth.

Notwithstanding my own innocence, I am aware of the importance that the voices of accusers be heard. For too long, women and men who have been sexually assaulted or harassed have been silenced and ignored.

I empathize with those who have lived for a long time feeling hurt and pain. And, while the evidence will continue to demonstrate the truth that I never assaulted either Dr. Tyson or Ms. Watson, I am able to hear the pain they have expressed; a pain I hope they are able to resolve and heal from.  However, because I never assaulted either Dr. Tyson or Ms. Watson, I know that my actions cannot be the source of that pain.

In the face of such serious allegations, there must be space for due process and deliberate investigation and evaluation in order to find justice. Our justice system is not perfect, but I am willing to submit myself to it to clear my name. As I indicated above, on March 29, 2019, I submitted to and successfully passed -- with regard to each allegation -- a lie detector test conducted by an expert in such tests who is a former FBI agent of 24 years. 

I repeat my consistent call for a full investigation by law enforcement in this matter so the full truth can be known. The truth will not be uncovered by television interviews or legislative hearings designed for political purposes. It can best be properly found by exhaustive and deliberate investigation by law enforcement professionals.  

We must all now insist on gathering evidence through an impartial law enforcement investigation and/or civil legal process in order to get to the truth."

There's one question in the polygraph where he was asked whether Tyson contacted him after the Boston convention in order to meet her mother. He said he answered "yes" truthfully. Tyson said she never contacted him after the incident. 

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