Dr. Vanessa Tyson
Photo: Scripps College (AP Photo)

The sexual assault allegations Dr. Vanessa Tyson has lodged against Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax have become a hot topic as the situation has devolved into a most unfortunate game of “he said, she said.” In the midst of that, people have stepped forward to confirm that Tyson told them about the allegations.

Five people have come forward and told the New York Times that Tyson herself told them about the alleged assault over the last two years. All confirm that the story she told them matches the public statement she made earlier this week. Three specifically have said she identified Justin Fairfax as the person who reportedly assaulted her.

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In one instance, Tyson told the story at a lunchtime gathering of colleagues last fall as she began a prestigious fellowship at Stanford University. Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan who was present at the lunch, said Tyson told the story while illustrating a larger point about sexual violence. Armstrong told the Times that Tyson said she was “blindsided by her assailant, a man she worked with at the 2004 Democratic National Convention whose political career had since taken off.”

“What she told us was pretty much exactly what was in the statement that she released but with vastly less detail,” Armstrong said.

Jennifer J. Freyd, a University of Oregon professor known for her work in sexual violence, was also present, and told the Times that Tyson described how the incident was “clearly a traumatic experience.”

According to the Times, Tyson did not tell anyone in 2004 about the incident, nor did she file a complaint with the police.

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Fairfax vehemently denies Tyson’s accusations. He said the encounter was consensual.

In her description of the incident, Tyson said it started out with consensual kissing, but ended with Fairfax forcing her to perform oral sex on him.

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Tyson’s friends and colleagues are rallying behind her in the wake of her public statement. A letter of support for her, organized by Nadia E. Brown—a political scientist at Purdue University—has received 740 signatures. As of Friday morning, a GoFundMe account in her name, set up by a political scientist at Menlo College in California, had raised more than $20,000. Diane L. Rosenfeld, a founding director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, told the Times that Tyson told her about the incident in December 2017.

“Everything she said in her statement was exactly what she told me when we talked,” Rosenfeld said.

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“She’s not doing this for any fame. She’s not suing him for money, so disbelievers and doubters can’t say, ‘Oh, she just wants money.’ She just wants, as she says, the Virginia voters to know who this person is,” Rosenfeld added.

Next week, Tyson will take part in a symposium at Stanford University that was planned well before she went public with her accusation against Fairfax.

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It’s title? “Betrayal and Courage in the Age of #MeToo.”