'We believe you' – Area residents march in Norton to support sexual assault and harassment victims

Mike Still • Jul 8, 2019 at 11:04 PM

NORTON — Approximately 70 men and women gathered at Norton City Park for a walk to remind the community that victims of sexual assault or harassment have resources and support available.

Family Crisis Support Services, the local agency charged with providing services and counseling for sexual assault victims in Wise County and Norton, organized Monday’s “We Believe You” Walk. The event stemmed from the June 10 Norton School Board meeting, where two female former John I. Burton students claimed that Burton football coach James Adams made inappropriate comments about their appearance while they were in class.

Since then, the school board has hired the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct an investigation of the situation surrounding Adams. The Norton Police Department has also referred a subsequent allegation against Adams to the Virginia State Police.

Before Monday’s event, FCSS Director Marybeth Adkins said she had been contacted by the Virginia Department of Education to refer any current or former student who has a complaint regarding the Adams situation and is willing to speak to Virginia State Police State Trooper Allen Boyd at the agency’s Wytheville office.

The Kingsport Times News sent a message to the Department of Education Monday night.

Adkins said the event was not a protest against Adams or the school board but was to let assault and harassment victims know they have options through FCSS.

“Being a trauma informed community does not mean we react in anger or protest,” Adkins told the walkers, who were wearing black “We Believe You” T-shirts and holding candles. “That’s just too easy. We have to be thoughtful in the process. We must work together as a community to mitigate any harmful circumstances. Family Crisis Support Services is an agency that supports and advocates for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

We are not judge, we are not jury and we are not the executioner, but we believe in you and we will stand for victims,” Adkins said. “Healing is a journey. It’s not a destination. We hear you, we see you, and we believe you.”

One of the two women who spoke at the school board’s June 10 meeting, Taylor Collins, was joined at the walk by her mother, Amantha Collins, and her aunt Ramona Cantrell.

“I’ve really felt more hope than anything, because I’ve dealt with it for years just keeping it under the rug,” Taylor Collins said before the walk. “Once I got to say my peace about it, there’s been a lot more who got to say what they needed to say about it, and I think that’s what made it all worth the while. There’s been a lot of supporters messaging me and other victims. It definitely makes me feel a lot better and thankful.”

Collins confirmed she was one of the female students referenced in a 2018 Norton Police and Social Services investigation of Adams for allegations of sexual harassment and hitting one student on the rear with a rolled-up piece of paper. Adams was not charged after that investigation, although prosecutors called the alleged behavior by Adams inappropriate.

Collins also said she was questioned by investigators from the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police about a week earlier.

“A lot better than a year ago, talking to the social workers and the police and all that,” Collins said about the VACP questioning. “I think (the investigator is) going to do his best to try and figure out the actual truth without any bias. I have a lot of hope.”

School board members have not commented publicly on Adams’ status with the school system since his contract was renewed and he was moved from his teaching position at Burton to a post at Norton Elementary and Middle School in June.

School Superintendent Gina Wohlford on June 25 said only that Adams was still employed by the school system and that “at present, he is not being asked or required by the school division to perform assigned duties.”

“We’re really pleased with the support from all who came out to support the girls in the community, which is a good thing to let them know they have a resource and that they don’t have to put up with this,” Amantha Collins said. “When she found out (Adams’) contract was kind of up in the air, she decided she wanted to speak out for the girls who were coming up. She has no personal agenda against him or his family, doesn’t wish him any ill harm or anything. She just wants upcoming girls not to have to deal with what she had to deal with.”

As the walkers proceeded along downtown Park Avenue, several drivers waved from their vehicles in support of the group, and a few drivers honked horns.

“We just don’t want any of the upcoming girls to deal with what Taylor and so many have in the past,” Cantrell said. “It’s time to put a stop to it.”

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