Monday, August 22, 2011 at 4:50 p.m.
As she began to unearth and process the abuse she'd endured at a Christian, all-girl, locked-down facility decades earlier, an Orange County woman saw a void and filled it -- she founded Survivors of Institutional Abuse.
Jodi Hobbs was sent to Victory Christian Academy (VCA) when she was 17. The school, which was located in Ramona and founded by Michael Palmer, was eventually shut down.
Hobbs spent a year at the school, which she described as "very aggressive." Not only were the girls forbidden from forming relationships, aside from with their assigned "buddy," but they were also forced to read the Bible three times a day and attend chapel twice, Hobbs says. "Basically, you're getting brainwashed. You start to believe that the world is bad and the only good thing is here."
If they broke any rules, which often changed, Hobbs says, they were sent to the "get right" room, a closet with a light, where they could "get right with Jesus." Hobbs was sent to the "get right" room three times, she says. Once, she forgot to bring a pencil to class and had to spend two weeks in the room.
Soon after leaving the school, Hobbs got married, had kids and tried to move on with her life. "I went through bouts of depression and I couldn't figure out where all this was coming from."
One day, a reporter called and asked her about her time at VCA. "I was terrified," Hobbs says. The call triggered her curiosity and she started to scour the Internet searching for information on the school and for online support groups. "I started deprogramming myself. Being made to eat your own vomit, that's not okay. I had to go through a series of my convictions versus what Victory says."
Thanks to Facebook, Hobbs connected with Christie Niznik, who also went to VCA years ago, and now lives near Hobbs. "I went to look for anything out there for survivors and there was nothing and that's when I started talking to different girls about developing this organization. We need help, we need to unite, that's kinda how SIA was born," Hobbs says. "It's about healing and moving forward so it doesn't happen again. I want to raise awareness so nobody has to go through what I went through and what Christie went through."
At SIA's convention in Long Beach this February, the group is going to promote United With One Voice -- a compilation of stories from people who lived in VCA and similar lockdown facilities.
In the book, Niznik shares recollections from her time at VCA, as well as noting that her parents heard about the school from Calvary Chapel. Similarly, Hobbs says her parents heard about the school from a parenting group called "Tough Love," which she described as "an offshoot of Calvary," adding that "a lot of the students that were in Victory got put there through that group."