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‘Even if it’s terrifying, just keep going’: Chelsea Adams gained courage to come forward about her sexual abuse years later

“This also covers my self-harm wounds,” Chelsea Adams says about her fire rose tattoo during an interview last month at Trinity Community Services. The tattoo is a symbol for survivors of sexual assault and molestation.  (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Editor’s note: For Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April, The Spokesman-Review asked survivors to share their healing journeys. Each Sunday, we will profile a survivor and share resources in the Inland Northwest.

School is supposed to be a place to learn, grow and develop. But for Chelsea Adams, it was a confusing and isolating place.

From seventh grade through high school, Chelsea said she was groomed and assaulted by a teacher. Legally blind and partially deaf, Chelsea was already different than her classmates. The teacher worked to isolate her further and threatened her family, she said.

The former science teacher at Grandview Middle School, Charles Adams, now 64, began grooming her when she was 12, Chelsea told police. After some sex education lessons, he would demonstrate some of the material that was taught.

He was controlling and threatening, Chelsea reported, introducing Chelsea to his own teenage son, whom she later married, to keep her close.

It wasn’t until Chelsea was an adult and was set to welcome a daughter of her own into the world that she realized the years of sexual contact by the teacher who became her father-in-law was severe abuse, she said.

After a period of depression and self-harm, Chelsea, now 31, told her parents of the abuse in 2020. They, along with other friends and family members, pushed her to seek some type of justice.

“I was terrified,” Chelsea said. “Because, I mean, where do you begin?”

Chelsea filed a claim against the Grandview School District where Adams worked. The district settled for $1.75 million in 2022 and put Adams on leave as they did their own investigation. He was charged with seven counts of child rape and molestation in February. He is currently awaiting trial and declined to comment through his attorney.

One in four girls and one in 20 boys experience childhood sexual abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 91% of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are known and trusted by their victims or related to them. Impacts of childhood sexual assault are wide-ranging, including causing long-term physical, mental, behavioral health and financial consequences.

Therapy, grace and patience with herself helped Chelsea on the long road to healing, she said.

“The journey is going to be hard, and healing is hard and moving on is hard, but it’s doable,” Chelsea said.

Control and confusion

During a psychology class in college, Chelsea read about grooming in her textbook.

“I became angry, and I didn’t know why,” she said.

Chelsea was born three months premature, leading to her vision and hearing impairments. She’s an only child, who, as typical teens do, pulled away from her parents and began spending more time in her room during seventh grade.

That’s when she says Adams, who had started at the district that same year, began grooming her.

He then introduced her to his son, who Chelsea began dating and later married, as a way Chelsea now thinks of as controlling her life.

She said Adams threatened to rape her mother if she told people of their sexual relationship. Once she enrolled in college, the abuse ended, she said.

Before learning about grooming in class, Chelsea thought of Adams as almost an ex-boyfriend, she said. Adams gave her the impression it was a typical or normal relationship, other than the age difference, Chelsea said, “so it was very confusing for me.”

“That’s the majority of the reason why it took so long for me to bring it up,” she said.

That belief was furthered by a custodian walking in on Adams raping Chelsea and not reporting it to anyone, Chelsea said. She said another employee also walked in on another assault.

In 2022, Chelsea filed a complaint with the school district, which opened an investigation and placed Adams on leave. Grandview School District Director of Human Resources Josie Chase said the district investigated the allegations in conjunction with its third-party insurance provider. The investigation did not find that any staff members witnessed sexual misconduct or walked in on inappropriate behaviors, Chase said.

This district quickly settled the complaint for nearly $2 million in 2022.

But the process to get to that point was long.

Chelsea had always had recurring nightmares, and she couldn’t figure out why. She eventually confided in her longtime mobility counselor, who she has known since high school.

“She hugged me and said she was sorry for the abuse, and she immediately helped me contact a therapist, who I then disclosed the abuse to as well, and I still talk to that therapist to this day,” Chelsea said.

Chelsea had dropped hints to her husband when they were dating but didn’t fully disclose the abuse until after they were married. He believed her, Chelsea said, and has been completely supportive.

Admitting the abuse had happened, even to herself, was complicated for Chelsea, because Adams was still in her life as her father-in-law.

Those years were “kind of miserable,” Chelsea said. “I had to pretend that nothing ever happened.”

When Chelsea’s daughter was born in 2018, it became clear to her that she needed to protect her daughter. She began having nightmares about him being in her daughter’s nursery.

“It definingly impacted my need to move forward,” she said.

The couple cut contact with Adams. It wasn’t until 2020, when Chelsea grew more depressed and began hurting herself, that she told her parents of the abuse.

Chelsea’s mother was the one who pushed her to contact an attorney and see what legal action could be taken.


Despite her fear, Chelsea wanted to make sure Adams never hurt another student.

“Abusers need to be held accountable for what they’ve done,” she said.

Chelsea eventually hired Sergio Garcidueñas-Sease, a Seattle attorney, to help her navigate the legal process.

Chelsea had made a partial report to police when she was pregnant but hadn’t provided many details because she didn’t want the stress to affect the baby, she said.

Adams resigned from the district earlier this year, with his last day of employment set for August, the district said. He has not taught since the claim was filed with the school district in 2022.

Around the same time, Chelsea contacted police again and provided them with her lengthy deposition for the civil complaint. It took more than a year for prosecutors to file charges, which frustrated Chelsea.

“That’s almost a slap in the face,” Chelsea said of the long wait.

Rick Peterson, the prosecutor on the case, said the previous deputy prosecutor who was assigned the case was in the process of leaving the office. Once Peterson was assigned and briefed on the case, it became one of his top priorities, he said, noting the extreme nature of the abuse alleged in court records.

Charges could only be filed in the case due to a 2019 law change from the Washington State Legislature that extended or removed the statute of limitations for many sex crimes.

Previously, victims had until their 30th birthday to report the assault if they were under 18 when the abuse occurred. Now, there is no statute of limitations.

Over the last few years, Chelsea has been on a healing journey. She continues to be in therapy and now works at a nonprofit that helps disabled individuals succeed.

She got the fire rose unity symbol designed for survivors of sexual abuse tattooed over her self-harm scars last summer.

“It empowers me when I look at it. It’s a reminder that I got through some of the darkest days of my life,” Chelsea said. “I really struggled for a long time mentally … to the point where I just didn’t want to live anymore.”

As family and friends have found out about her ordeal, many of them have said they saw a lot of red flags.

“Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to has said that,” Chelsea said.

She doesn’t blame them for not stepping in; instead she hopes to empower people to check in with their loved ones if they notice something off.

Chelsea hopes to inspire other survivors that it’s never too late to come forward or hold your abuser accountable.

“Even if it’s terrifying, just keep going,” Chelsea said.