Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has denied sexual assault allegations from two women, but a recent poll suggests that most Americans believe he’s guilty.
Overall, 36 percent of those surveyed said Fairfax “definitely or probably did it,” the Economist/YouGov poll published on Thursday found. Just 11 percent believe he’s innocent.
More white people than African Americans believe he’s guilty—38 percent compared to 30 percent. And more Republicans, at 45 percent, think he’s guilty, compared to Democrats, at 41 percent, who also believe he committed the sexual assaults.
Vanessa Tyson was the first to come forward with her claim that Fairfax forced her to give him oral sex during the summer of 2004. Shortly after Tyson released details of her accusation, Meredith Watson said Fairfax raped her when they were in college together at Duke University nearly two decades ago.
Polls are often inaccurate. This one tried to paint a bigger picture, in which the question about Fairfax was part of a larger look at American attitudes toward claims of sexual harassment today, compared to 2017 when powerful politicians and media figures were brought down by such claims. According to the researchers, fewer Americans believe sexual harassment is a serious problem today.
Tyson, a Scripps College professor, first approached the Washington Post about her allegation in November 2017 after Fairfax won his election. But the newspaper said it declined to publish her story because it could not corroborate either her version or Fairfax’s recollection of exactly what happened.
Tyson released a statement on Feb. 6 in which she officially identified herself as the accuser in the alleged July 2004 encounter, The Washington Post reported.
“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual. To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent. Quite the opposite. I consciously avoided Mr. Fairfax for the remainder of the Convention and I never spoke to him again,” Tyson’s statement said in part.
Watson wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post that was published on Feb. 18 that slammed the lack of action from the Virginia General Assembly.
“I have brought forward credible allegations, the Virginia General Assembly has not taken the simple and responsible step of arranging the thorough public hearing that we have sought. This is how the culture of sexual assault, harassment and the disempowerment of women persists,” she wrote.
Both women could soon get the public hearing that they’ve wanted. Virginia Del. Rob Bell, a Republican lawmaker, said Friday he plans to invite them to a General Assembly panel. No date for the hearing was set, but it was expected to happen in the House Courts of Justice Committee, which Bell chairs.