Nearly a week after releasing a statement in which she accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexually assaulting her, Vanessa Tyson spoke Tuesday night at a Stanford University symposium that addressed sexual violence.
Tyson did not directly address the allegations against Fairfax, according to CBS News, but she told the audience that when reporting sexual assault “sometimes you have to 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.”
Tyson is a 2018-2019 fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), where she researches the policies and politics of sexual violence. Tuesday’s panel conversation with CASBS fellow Jennifer Freyd and former Stanford Law dean Paul Brest was scheduled prior to Tyson going public with her allegations.
There were 100 people crammed into the main room to hear Tyson speak, and dozens more watched a video feed of the conversation in a nearby room as Tyson called sexual violence an “epidemic” and a “public health issue.”
“It’s killing us—slowly, surely, but it’s killing us,” she said. “It’s taking everything out of ourselves just to function in this world and to make it a better place.”
Last Wednesday, Tyson released a statement in which she accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him while both were working at and attending the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Fairfax has denied Tyson’s allegations. He told The Root in a recent interview that he was “very confident that the entire encounter was consensual,” and said he was “looking forward to the independent investigation to explore the facts, and assess various factors involved.”
“Those reviews will support what I know is the truth,” he said. “That I never sexually assaulted Dr. Tyson.”
Sources told NBC News reporters Jonathan Allen and Geoff Bennett that during a private meeting the night of Feb. 4, Fairfax said “Fuck that bitch,” while trying to discredit Tyson.
A second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward Friday and accused Fairfax of assaulting her in 2000 while they were both students at Duke University.
When asked about Watson’s allegation, Fairfax told The Root: “I’m likewise very confident in the truth that the entire encounter with Ms. Watson was consensual. Neither that night nor other times I saw her on campus did she give me the impression that it was anything but consensual. We are fully cooperating with investigators who are assessing the situations and we’re sure that they will once again confirm the truth, that I never raped Ms. Watson.”
During Tuesday’s symposium, Freyd explained how perpetrators try to discredit their accusers through a method known by the acronym DARVO, in which they deny, attack and reverse the roles of victim and offender.
Tyson stressed the importance of believing all women, not just those from “socioeconomically privileged” groups, including white women and women with higher education.
“None of us are disposable or dispensable,” she said.