Democratic Party of Virginia says sex-assault claim against Lt. Gov. Fairfax of 'profound gravity'

The Democratic Party of Virginia said Tuesday that an allegation of sexual assault against the state's lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, should be "taken with profound gravity."

"We will continue to evaluate the situation regarding Lieutenant Governor Fairfax," the party said in a brief statement posted to Twitter. In a separate statement, Democratic members of Virginia's House of Delegates and Senate said: "The facts here are still being determined. Every individual deserves the opportunity to be heard, and we respect anyone who comes forward to share their story."

Fairfax's accuser has been identified as Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College in Claremont, California.

Tyson alleges that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him during an encounter at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. According to a profile of Fairfax on the website of his alma mater, Columbia Law School, the future lieutenant governor was working as a so-called "body man" for vice presidential nominee John Edwards. Fairfax has denied any wrongdoing and described the encounter as consensual.

In a story published late Sunday, The Washington Post reported that the accuser told her story to the paper approximately one year ago, shortly before Fairfax was inaugurated as lieutenant governor. The Post wrote that it could not corroborate her account and could not find similar claims of misconduct against Fairfax, so it did not publish any story.

Tyson's claim was first published over the weekend by the conservative website Big League Politics, which also published a picture from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook of two men dressed in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan outfit. After an initial apology, Northam has denied appearing in the photo and has refused calls to resign despite pressure from several prominent national Democrats.

On Monday, Fairfax accused the Post of "smearing" him by publishing Tyson's claims, which he described as "totally fabricated." In response, the Post disputed Fairfax's claim that it had found "significant red flags" with the woman's story.

Earlier Tuesday, Fox News confirmed that Tyson has retained the law firm of Katz, Marshall and Banks, which represented Christine Blasey Ford after she publicly accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during a high school party. A source close to the legal team told Fox News that Tyson was in consultation with her legal team about what to do next and a formal statement was expected later Tuesday.

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According to her online biography, Tyson graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor's degree in politics and a certificate in African-American studies. She also obtained a master's degree and a Ph.d. in political science from the University of Chicago. She is currently on leave from Scripps for a fellowship at Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where she will "research the politics and policies surrounding sexual violence against women and children in the United States," according to its website.

"More specifically, she will explore political discourse surrounding sexual assault, corresponding policies, and the unique identities of sexual assault survivors," the center adds.

Fox News' Garrett Tenney contributed to this report.