Politics & Government

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax faces second sexual assault allegation — this one at Duke

Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax denies sexual misconduct allegations

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax denied sexual misconduct allegations outside the Virginia statehouse on Feb. 4.
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Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax denied sexual misconduct allegations outside the Virginia statehouse on Feb. 4.

Updated with new developments on Feb. 9.

A former Duke University student has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault.

A lawyer for the former student, Meredith Watson, released a statement saying the alleged incident took place when Watson and Fairfax were both students at Duke in 2000. According to the statement, Watson told friends at the time that Fairfax assaulted her.

“Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” wrote Nancy Erika Smith, Watson’s attorney from the New Jersey-based Smith Mullin PC.

The statement says Watson “hopes he will resign from public office.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, Fairfax denied the allegation, saying it was “demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever.”

Lauren Burke, the Democratic lieutenant governor’s spokesperson, told The Washington Post that Fairfax is “calling for an investigation on all of these matters.”

In a statement posted to the law firm’s website Friday, Smith said her client had also been the victim of a previous rape at Duke.

“Ms. Watson was raped by a basketball player during her sophomore year at Duke,” Smith wrote. “She went to the Dean, who provided no help and discouraged her from pursuing the claim further.

“Ms. Watson also told friends, including Justin Fairfax. Mr. Fairfax then used this prior assault against Ms. Watson, as he explained to her during the only encounter she had with him after the rape. She left a campus party when he arrived, and he followed her out. She turned and asked: ‘Why did you do it?’ Mr. Fairfax answered: ‘I knew that because of what happened to you last year, you’d be too afraid to say anything.’ Mr. Fairfax actually used the prior rape of his ‘friend’ against her when he chose to rape her in a premeditated way.”

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The allegation comes days after Scripps College professor Vanessa Tyson first accused Fairfax of assaulting her at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, as The Washington Post and others reported.

With two accusers now public, several members of Fairfax’s party called for him to resign. Among them was Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.

The Sanford School of Public Policy’s Visitors Board at Duke University is asking Fairfax to step down from his role as a member of the board, according to the Duke Chronicle. Fairfax served on the board from 2008 to 2014 and returned in 2015.

Virginia is already reeling from a political scandal since a photo of someone in blackface surfaced on Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page. While Northam has denied that he is in the photo, many people across the nation have called on him to resign.

If Northam steps down, Fairfax is next to line to become governor.

If both Fairfax and Northam resign, Attorney General Mark Herring would become governor. Herring has also admitted to wearing blackface in college.

Republican Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House, would become governor if all three resign.

Rashaan Ayesh is The News & Observer’s Fact Checking Fellow. She looks into claims made by politicians and pundits all over North Carolina. She grew up in Raleigh and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Contact her at rayesh@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4802.

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