One week after she accused Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, Dr. Vanessa Tyson made her first public appearance at a university event, where she spoke about everything from the sexual-violence epidemic to the way perpetrators discredit their accusers.
On Tuesday night, Tyson participated in a #MeToo-related symposium at Stanford University, where she researches sexual violence as a Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences fellow. Tyson never explicitly addressed her allegation that Fairfax sexually assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, according to The Stanford Daily, but she did speak about the pervasiveness of sexual assault.
“When women and survivors start comparing notes — that’s when the light bulb goes off,” Tyson said to a crowded room of 100. “This has been happening to everybody. That’s the most important part of #MeToo.”
Though Tyson acknowledged that it can be difficult to “lead by example” by coming forward, she stressed the importance of doing so. Since she herself came forward, a second woman has accused Fairfax of sexual assault. Fairfax, whose accusations are one part of a larger scandal engulfing Virginia politics, has vehemently denied both of the women’s allegations.
Without referencing her own situation, Tyson spoke about the way that perpetrators dispute their accusers’ words: They “deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender.” She argued that society must listen seriously to women’s allegations — and not just those who are “socioeconomically privileged” — because sexual violence is an “epidemic” and a “public-health issue.”
“It’s killing us — slowly, surely, but it’s killing us,” Tyson said. “It’s taking everything out of ourselves just to function in this world and to make it a better place.”