A second woman has come forward to accuse Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, adding to the political chaos engulfing the state.
Meredith Watson wrote in a private letter to state lawmakers that Fairfax raped her when she and Fairfax were students at Duke University in 2000, according to the New York Times. Watson is demanding that Fairfax resign.
“Mr. Fairfax’s attack was premeditated and aggressive,” Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, wrote in a statement on her client’s behalf. “The two were friends but never dated or had any romantic relationship.”
Fairfax has denied the allegations against him.
“I have never forced myself on anyone ever. I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation. It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever,” he said in a statement. “It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me. I will not resign.”
Watson’s attorney said her client felt inspired to come forward after Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor, publicly accused Fairfax Wednesday of assaulting her in a Boston hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Tyson has support from academic colleagues and people who remember her describing the assault long before Virginia was roiled by controversy.
In a 2016 email exchange her lawyer provided to the Washington Post, Watson cited the assault as a reason why she didn’t want to hear about Fairfax’s campaign for lieutenant governor from her friends from Duke University.
“Justin raped me in college, and I don’t want to hear anything about him. Please, please, please remove me from any future emails about him please,” Watson wrote on Oct. 26, 2016, according to the Post.
Fairfax is next in line to lead the state after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who's dealing with his own controversy after a page from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced last Friday showing a picture of a person in blackface next to another wearing Ku Klux Klan garb. He at first apologized but then later walked back the apology — saying he believes he wasn't either of the people in the photo — and has repeatedly said he won’t resign, as many lawmakers are calling for. Northam did, however, admit to wearing blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance competition around the same year.
Tyson came forward to accuse Fairfax of sexual assault soon after Northam admitted to wearing blackface at least once.
The state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, also admitted to donning blackface at a college party. If all three resign, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, would likely take over the governorship.
A third state official, Republican Sen. Thomas Norment, is weathering a storm of his own involving blackface: He was a top editor of his military school’s yearbook in 1968, which featured photos of students in blackface and racial slurs, including the N-word.
Cover image: Virginia Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax looks over a briefing book prior to the start of the senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)