Second woman accuses Virginia deputy governor of assault

Virginia Lt gov Justin FairfaxImage copyright
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Mr Fairfax has now been accused of sexual assault by two women

A second woman has come forward to accuse the deputy governor of scandal-plagued Virginia of sexual assault.

Meredith Watson alleges Lt Governor Justin Fairfax raped her in 2000 when they were both students at Duke University in North Carolina.

Mr Fairfax, a Democrat, has denied the latest allegation, saying he is the victim of a smear campaign.

The governor of Virginia and state’s attorney general are meanwhile both embroiled in racism rows.

What does she say and he say?

Mr Fairfax’s first accuser, Vanessa Tyson, came forward last week to allege he forced her to perform oral sex on him in his hotel room at the Democratic party convention in Boston in 2004.

On Friday, a law firm representing the second woman, Meredith Watson, issued a statement on her behalf outlining her allegation.

She said “Mr Fairfax’s attack was premeditated and aggressive” and the details “are similar to those described by Dr Vanessa Tyson”.

According to Ms Watson’s legal representatives Smith Mullin, former classmates have provided statements corroborating Ms Watson’s allegations and stating that she “immediately told friends that Mr Fairfax had raped her”.

She says she was friends with Mr Fairfax while they studied at Duke University, but that they never had a romantic relationship.

Ms Watson is not seeking any damages, her lawyer says, but “came forward out of a strong sense of civic duty” and hopes Mr Fairfax will resign from public office.

  • How should politicians apologise?

Mr Fairfax, 39, said in a statement to US media: “I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation. It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever.”

He demanded a full investigation to “clear my good name”.

“I have passed two full field background checks by the FBI and run for office in two highly contested elections with nothing like this being raised before.

“It is obvious that a vicious and co-ordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me.

“I will not resign.”

  • Virginia’s painful ‘blackface’ past and present

What’s the reaction?

Democrats had until now stopped short of calling for Mr Fairfax to quit, but the latest allegation opened the floodgates on Friday.

Virginia Democratic representatives issued a joint statement demanding the lieutenant governor step aside.

“All survivors of sexual violence and harassment deserve to be supported and heard,” they said, “and our commitment to that principle is more important than any political consideration.”

The state’s former Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, said the allegations against Mr Fairfax “are serious and credible” and called for his “immediate resignation”.

Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls echoed those calls.

Is anyone corroborating these allegations?

Kaneedreck Adams, a fellow Duke graduate and friend of Ms Watson, told the Washington Post she recalled when Ms Watson came to her crying in the spring of 2000.

“She said she couldn’t speak, but she was trying to get up and he kept pushing her down,” said Ms Adams.

“She said the alleged assault took place at a fraternity house.

“She said he knew that she didn’t like what was happening, but he kept pushing her down.”

Meanwhile, some have come forward to corroborate the allegation of the first accuser, who is now a California college lecturer.

Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott has told US media that Prof Tyson had over a year ago told him some details about the alleged assault.

Two of Prof Tyson’s colleagues and several unnamed friends told the New York Times that she had relayed the incident to them in the last two years.

Hundreds of academics have also signed a letter in support of Prof Tyson, according to the Times.

Mr Fairfax has insisted his encounter with Prof Tyson was “100% consensual”.

  • Behind the legacy of America’s blackface

What about the racism scandal?

Democrats have until now focused their resignation calls on Governor Ralph Northam.

A week ago, a picture surfaced from Mr Northam’s 1984 college yearbook page showing someone in blackface and another person in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Mr Northam, who is white, apologised for the photo, then denied he was in it, though admitted wearing blackface while mimicking Michael Jackson on a separate occasion that year.

On Friday he sent an email to state employees signalling his continued defiance of almost universal calls for him to quit.

“It has been a painful week for all Virginians, and I am deeply sorry for causing this distraction from your important work,” he said.

“Our Commonwealth is in uncharted waters, and many of you are undoubtedly left confused and uncertain about what the future holds.

He added: “You have placed your trust in me to lead Virginia forward – and I plan to do that.”

State Attorney General Mark Herring has also admitted a blackface episode in 1980 while he was aged 19 in college.

Democrats have shown a willingness to forgive him because he confessed his “blacking up” shame to African-American lawmakers in Virginia before it became public.

Blackface traces its history to 19th Century “minstrel” shows that mocked African-Americans, but it was still deemed acceptable on US comedy shows only in recent years.

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