Just turned fourteen, after years of sexual abuse at the hands of her biological father, Kim wasn’t just ready to run away from home. She was ready to go to court. She was prepared to do everything necessary to see him in jail.
In “Runaway,” a 19,071-word true-life memoir, Kim recalls her escape from home to a halfway house for runaways. From there, she moves to a foster home and eventually a placement center, while being ground through the glacial and uncaring juvenile and criminal justice systems. Meanwhile, her clueless mother is caught in the middle, forced to choose between her equally compelling daughter and husband.
Against the backdrop of glittering Hollywood, Kim struggles to find her identity, do the “right thing,” and heal herself. Surrounded by teens in desperate trouble struggling with homelessness, addiction, and heartbreak, she embraces the chaos and uncertainty. After the court trials, she returns home to seek recovery and healing, before moving forward through adulthood.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse live a lifetime under its dark shadow. Sharing our stories allows us to heal, and this empowerment helps take the horror away.
I hold a B.A. degree in English, and do free-lance writing, proofreading, copyediting, and SEO work for a living. I also have written a well-trafficked blog since 2006 (http://kimkiminy.wordpress.com). I sincerely appreciate your time and consideration. I have prepared an outline and table of contents if you wish to see them, and would be happy to forward a partial or full sample of my work for your consideration.
Below are the first two chapters:
July 17, 1985
The sliding door of the Superior court’s transport van slid shut with a loud bang. This is it, no turning back now. I set this ball in motion, and would now follow where it led. Shifting uncomfortably in my best outfit (a dark purple-and-white 80s prairie ensemble), I mumbled greetings to the other kids who’d already been picked up.
The driver spun around in his seat. He was dressed in board shorts, Vans, and a Dr. Zog’s Sex Wax logo tee. How’d he get this job? “All strapped in?” He grinned. “Vamos.” He plugged in his Walkman and started the ignition.
Dude was way too cheerful, not just for the pre-dawn time of morning, but more so for the circumstances we were facing. All these kids, four including me, would be testifying against their own families in criminal court today. Unlike me, these kids didn’t bring the charges. More than likely, they’d been taken from home by the Department of Children’s Services, probably because of their parents’ drug-related charges.
We wound down the hill and swung onto Sunset Boulevard. Minutes later, we were on the I-10 heading east out of Santa Monica, then onto the I-405 south, destination: the Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse in Torrance, California. After just a few moments on the 405, we ran smack into morning rush-hour traffic. The greasy sun was just rising over some low mountains. The van felt hot, close, and smelled of spilt fruit punch, or perhaps vomit. I already felt car-sick.
June 27, 1984
The morning light angled past the plate windows leading to the backyard, casting the olive tree with slantwise flickering shadows. The olive tree was my old friend. I’d spent so many hours, so many afternoons, sitting up in it. When I was very young, a winter storm tore it down. My parents paid an arborist to right it and fit it with steel support ties. They remained in place permanently. Those ties became the first stepping-up point for some brilliant tree-climbing. Different parts of the tree became different “rooms,” each with its own personality. One room was perfect for looking out towards the ocean a mile away. Another room was reserved for lounging and reading. I could lie back comfortably, and read, snack, even nap. Would I never see my tree again?
I was sitting on the end of the faded, pale blue velveteen sectional, phone in hand. In my other hand was the number of a runaway hotline. For some while, I sat, and sobbed, and gazed at my olive tree. Was I really going to do this? There was no other choice I could imagine. I had to take care of myself. With tears in my eyes, I took a deep, shuddering breath and dialed the number.
“Greater Los Angeles Teen Resources, how may I help you?”
“Hi. Um, yeah. I think, uh, that I need to run away. Can you help me with that?”
“What’s your name, dear?”
“It’s Kim. Kim Woodruff. Listen, I just can’t stay here anymore. Can you help me?” Oh, my God, this is going to be hard.
“Yes, dear, of course I can help you. First, tell me why you want to run away.”
Honestly, I’m not sure how old I was when my father started molesting me, but I’d put an end to it when I was around twelve. It was wrong, I just knew it, despite all the lies he’d told me. Like he was doing me some great favor by teaching me about sex, and I’d be so experienced when I got married, my future husband will be so thrilled, and Mom just wouldn’t understand, so it’ll be our little secret. Most victims have heard some variation of the line.
“It’s my dad.” Starting to cry again now. No stopping it. “He’s been, uh, using me. Sexually. Molesting me. I need to get away before I fucking kill him.”
Beyond murder, there are only two other universal social taboos: cannibalism and incest. Violators of these taboos are generally considered to be isolated cases of illness, because most people can’t imagine eating human flesh or having sex with their relatives. Unfortunately, nowadays the internet allows all manner of pedophiles to find each other and enjoy the acceptance of a group. So much media attention is focused on children who were abducted by strangers off the street. Jaycee Dugard springs to mind. Sensational and tragic and compelling. Makes for great copy, and that certainly shouldn’t, nor doesn’t, undermine their plight. But in the vast majority of cases of child molestation, by far, a close relative is the perpetrator. Usually, it’s a child’s parent, step-parent, aunt or uncle, older sibling, or even the person the parent is dating. It’s someone in a position of trust and power. These are the cases we never hear about on the evening news.
“Oh, Kim. I am so sorry. We’re going to help you, okay? Where are you right now?”
“At home, in Rancho Palos Verdes.” I barely choked it out.
“Kim? It’s okay. Go ahead and cry. Stay on the line; I need to put you on hold for a minute, all right?”
The McMartin preschool scandal had been in the news. Then Seventeen magazine ran an article about child sexual abuse. I cut it out. It changed my life. Victims, especially those who never get counseling, often grow up to become abusers themselves. I didn’t want that to happen to me. Over time, I became angrier and angrier. I positively bristled around my father. Depressed, I was cutting myself on the arm, just to feel the rush of endorphins. It was a bad road. Something had to give. I’d gotten a card from school with the numbers of several hotlines and halfway houses. Had written out a list of pros and cons. Considered telling Mom and trying to work it out within the family… for about a minute. I’d waited until after 8th grade graduation, for two months, plenty of time to think it over. I’d just turned fourteen years old.
“Are you still with me, Kim? I have a halfway house you can go to. It’s in Redondo Beach.”
I took down the number, and thanked the lady. Hung up, and again, looked out at my tree. Dad would be spraying it soon, to keep the olives from growing. They didn’t like the ugly purple stains the ripe olives left on the patio. Again, I steeled myself to dial the number.
“Oh! I’m sorry. Maybe I dialed wrong? I got this number from a runaway hotline…”
“You dialed right. We just have to careful. My name’s Sharon. Are you Kim Woodruff?”
“Yeah… how’d you know that?”
“The hotline you spoke to just called us.”
Of course. As it turned out, the halfway house readily gave me their address, but could not come pick me up. I had to get there on my own. “Liability, I’m afraid.” Sharon also recommended I get there as soon as possible, as the few available beds might fill up. Redondo Beach was a good 30-minute drive away. Hmm.
I called the local police station, and asked if they’d give me a ride. No go. They wanted to come over and call my folks and then we’d all sit down and have a nice chat about it. No thanks, but I’d rather get somewhere safe and neutral before I dropped this bomb. Seemed I was on my own.
I left a note behind for my mom. For some reason I can’t fathom, I wrote that I didn’t want to be considered a runaway. I guess I thought runaways were juvenile delinquents. That wasn’t me. I was taking care of myself. I packed up my big skating duffel bag, and tore a page out of the Thomas Bros. maps. I included the household can of bug spray – I hate bugs and didn’t want to be unprepared.
Another way in which I was not unprepared, was in having some sort of evidence. I was going to accuse a man of very serious crimes. I was not so naïve as to think he’d just admit it and dissolve in remorse. He would undoubtedly deny it. It would be my word against his. If I wanted, I could stay away from home as a ward of the court until I was an adult, but my goal was to put the man in jail.
Shortly after I’d ended the abuse, he made a proposition to me. My own father offered me money for continued favors.
While I was biding my time, I took advantage of an opportunity. My mom had one of those mini tape recorders. She used to use it to record her weekly therapy sessions. I commandeered it, bought new batteries and a fresh tape to use, and tested it thoroughly. Practiced engaging the buttons as quietly as possible, and memorized where all the buttons were, so I could operate it by feel without looking.
Good ole Dad and I were going to take in a movie. That day I wore a long, loose, white cardigan sweater with big pockets – big enough to hide the recorder in my hand. When the car went over a bump, I engaged the “Record” button.
“Dad? I wanted to ask you about something.”
“Well, um, you know, summer’s here, and I wanted to get some fun new clothes and stuff. Remember a while back when you said there was a way I could make some money?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
I was terrified. Could he hear the whirr of the recorder? Could he hear my heart pounding? Did I sound normal? I gulped and continued on.
“What exactly would we be doing, and how much would you pay me?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess it depends.” He paused. Come on, you filthy bastard, come on…
“I guess, oh say, forty for straight nude shots, or more, say a hundred, if you want to do more.”
I suppressed a shudder. “Oh, that sounds great. So, forty for just naked pictures, and more if I want to… go further?”
“Absolutely.” He grinned. “Just let me know when.”
I had it all on tape.
I got out my bike, slung the duffel bag over my shoulder, and started riding. I had $13 dollars on me, and the address of the halfway house. I knew the area well. It was just a matter of time, and not getting hit by any cars. I was acutely aware of how vulnerable and out of place I was amongst all that traffic.
It took me over three hours to get there. Who knows what drivers must have thought of me? After all, I had a large, awkward bag affecting my balance. Starting with a 1,000 foot drop in elevation, Hawthorne Blvd. led me north through Torrance away from my hometown. I turned west on Sepulveda Blvd. Back roads might have been quicker, but not necessarily any safer, and I didn’t want to get lost. Needing a break, I stopped at a Jack-In-The-Box on the way to rest, use the bathroom, and get some food and drink. It was far enough along my route that I couldn’t reasonably turn back if I changed my mind.
On arrival, I found an unassuming, unmarked blue townhouse that looked no different from all its neighbors. I knocked, and the door was opened by a plump black woman.
“Hi, my name is Kim, I called and spoke with someone earlier today—”
“Yes, we’ve been waiting for you! I’m Sharon. Is that your bike? You came all this way by yourself? Don’t worry, we’ll tuck it away in a safe place for you. Come in, come in.”
She led me to a small interview room and brought in coffee and pastries. There followed several hours of interviews with staff counselors, social workers, police officers, a district attorney’s assistant, and a task force detective, until early in the evening. My father was arrested at home and jailed overnight.
I was utterly exhausted.