Rape charges possible for Democrat Justin Fairfax
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax could face rape charges in Boston over an accusation that he forced a woman to have sex with him at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, though no charges have been filed.
The state’s 15-year statute of limitations for the crime expires in July, leaving several more months for Vanessa Tyson to ask authorities to investigate her claim that Mr. Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him.
A spokesman for the district attorney in Boston said Thursday that charges have not been filed but that the process is open should Ms. Tyson, now a college professor, want to make a formal complaint.
Rape and sexual assault prosecutions usually start with the victim making a complaint, but District Attorney Rachael Rollins has other options.
“Every case is different and could be approached differently,” said Ms. Rollins’ spokesman, Jake Wark.
Ms. Tyson’s attorney refused to say whether she would pursue criminal charges or what her next step would be.
The bombshell allegation this week added to the political inferno engulfing Democratic leaders in Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring are on the hot seat for wearing blackface in the 1980s.
The rape allegations are by far the most serious and expose Mr. Fairfax, a 39-year-old rising star in the Democratic Party, to criminal prosecution and, if convicted, up to 20 years in prison.
Mr. Fairfax said the sexual encounter was “100 percent consensual.”
He initially accused Ms. Tyson of engaging in a political “smear,” but he toned down his attacks after she released a statement Wednesday detailing the incident, which said “Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch.”
“I have no political motive. I am a proud Democrat,” Ms. Tyson wrote.
Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment on Thursday became the first Republican snared in the blackface controversy. It was discovered that he was managing editor of Virginia Military Institute’s 1968 yearbook, The Bomb, which included photos of men in blackface and other racially offensive material.
“With 114 editions of The Bomb available online dating back to 1885, I am not surprised that those wanting to engulf Republican leaders in the current situations involving the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general would highlight the yearbook from my graduation a half century ago,” said Mr. Norment, who noted his support of integrating VMI that year.
Saying the use of blackface was “abhorrent,” Mr. Norment stressed that he was neither responsible for nor associated with the offensive photos.
While Mr. Northam is under unrelenting pressure to step down because of a blackface photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, Mr. Fairfax, who is black, has been mostly spared from resignation calls.
The National Organization for Women demanded Mr. Fairfax’s resignation, but most elected Democrats have stayed mum.
The #MeToo-style allegations immediately drew comparisons to accusations of sexual misconduct lodged against Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, though Democratic lawmakers this time resisted weighing in.
That began to change after Ms. Tyson’s statement was released.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both Democratic presidential candidates, called for an investigation.
“Certainly her letter reads — it’s quite detailed — and suggests that there’s credibility there. But there needs to be an investigation to determine what exactly happened,” Ms. Harris told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“I have no reason to believe she’s not credible,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “I have no reason to believe that she would be making any of this up.”
Virginia Democrats were more circumspect.
“People have been comparing the lieutenant governor to Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was never asked to resign. What was asked for was a hearing and an investigation. And I think we echo that, or at least I echo that call,” said Rep. Donald A. McEachin, Virginia Democrat.
He said that Mr. Fairfax had mishandled the allegations by forcefully defending himself.
“One of the pressures of being an African-American man in the United States is you don’t get to play the angry black man,” Mr. McEachin said. “He should have been much more deferential to the woman in question. … As much as you may be angry on the inside, it doesn’t help things to portray that on the outside.”
In Richmond, Democratic lawmakers also resisted resignation calls for Mr. Fairfax, who is next in line to be governor if Mr. Northam steps down.
Mr. Herring, who admitted wearing blackface to perform as a rap singer at a college party in 1980, is second in the constitutional line of gubernatorial succession.
After him is House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, followed by Mr. Norment.
“Democrats in Richmond are shell-shocked,” said University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth. “I expect the calls for the lieutenant governor to resign will intensify as Virginians consider the very damaging report released by the accuser.”
In her statement, Ms. Tyson said Mr. Fairfax, whom she had known for only a couple of days at the convention, invited her to accompany him to fetch some documents from his hotel. Once there, he unexpectedly kissed her, and she kissed him back.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” she wrote.
Providing intimate details, she explained how Mr. Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex despite what she called her “obvious distress.”
“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. I consciously avoided Mr. Fairfax for the remainder of the convention and I never spoke to him again,” she wrote.
In response, Mr. Fairfax said Ms. Tyson never indicated “discomfort” with what happened until years later.
“I’d like to begin by emphasizing how important it is for us to listen to women when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault or harassment,” he said, striking a more sympathetic tone than he did when first publicly confronted with the allegation Monday.
“This has been an emotional couple of days for me and my family. And in my remarks on Monday, I think you could hear how emotional dealing with an allegation that I know is not true has been for me,” he said.
⦁ Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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