Williamsport – For the Introduction to Human Services course, the content was standard. For Lynaugh H. Bobst, the class discussion on appropriate family dynamics was personal. For her, the topic generated more than copious notes and highlighted text in a book. It led to an awakening.
Bobst didn’t finish the course or any of her other classes that semester. Instead, she left school to begin a journey. Seven years later, that journey has returned Bobst to Pennsylvania College of Technology for a revised major that she hopes will amplify her new lease on life as an advocate to prevent child sex abuse.
“I remember sitting in that intro class thinking, ‘Wait a second. What I experienced wasn’t normal.’ It really took me back,” she said.
Back to the darkest of places.
Before she turned 18, the Williamsport native “bounced around” to dozens of homes throughout the area. Living out of a duffel bag wasn’t the worst of it. There would be days of no heat. Days of hunger. Days of terror.
The relative responsible for her care “was a pedophile, an abuser and an addict,” said Bobst, 25. “In the process of perpetrating her lifestyle and victimizing the people she had access to, she networked with other predators and used me to get things she wanted in life, which were more substances and material items.
“I’m a child sex trafficking survivor.”
Bobst is not alone.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics calculates that one out of four girls and one out of seven boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. And in 2017, about 7,200 cases of sex trafficking in the U.S. were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, according to Polaris, a nonprofit group that seeks to eradicate modern slavery.
Those sobering figures may be conservative. Research findings provided by Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to prevent child abuse, estimate that more than 60% of child sex abuse victims never disclose the experience.
For many years, Bobst was part of that 60%, as she “normalized” her environment.
“When in an abusive or traumatic situation, it is necessary for the child to find ways to cope and adapt to the stressful events, which may include normalizing the situation, with the goal of minimizing the fear and frustration experienced by the child,” explained Kathy W. Zakarian, director of counseling at Penn College. “Once removed from the situation, the survivor will likely be faced with triggers that become retraumatizing.”
In Bobst’s case, the class discussion on family dynamics was the first of many triggers. She realized that she wasn’t prepared emotionally for college and withdrew after a month of classes.
“The turmoil that causes you, I wasn’t able to be successful,” said Bobst, who left home the week she turned 18. “I hadn’t gotten any counseling or therapy. I hadn’t reported anything. I was in this constant state of trauma response, and I didn’t even know that I was traumatized.”
She soon did. Bobst said she allowed herself to become “still” after leaving college. The outdoors became her refuge. She read, journaled and made art.
“I just kind of sat down, and that is when everything hit,” Bobst said. “They find in severe childhood adversity and abuse, you protect yourself, and after you reach a developmental point, typically around 18 to 21, there’s a reemergence of the trauma. It’s like your body is telling you it’s time to look at this and deal with it.”
Bobst’s experience doesn’t surprise Zakarian. She has found that even students from stable homes face developmental challenges as they transition to independence.
“They are developing their sense of identity and purpose,” she said. “This has the potential to stir up confusion, uncertainty and dissonance, as students reflect on the past and make choices for their future.”
A TV news segment discussing the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal helped Bobst chart her future. The story included an interview with psychologist Michael Gillum, whose patient, Aaron Fisher, was known as “Victim 1” in the successful prosecution of the disgraced former football coach. Gillum co-authored a New York Times bestseller – “Silent No More: Victim 1’s Fight for Justice Against Jerry Sandusky” – with Fisher and Fisher’s mother, Dawn, before creating the Silent No More Foundation, which provides a broad range of services and support for child sex-abuse survivors.
Inspired, Bobst reached out to Gillum, who evaluated and recommended her for intensive therapy. The foundation covered the cost of Bobst’s two years of therapy.
“I would not be here without the therapy, absolutely not,” she said. “When you are constantly reacting in fear, you’re able to be preyed upon and you fall into cycles of abuse.”
Silent No More also assisted Bobst in filing a police report against her abuser.
“Unless you have multiple witnesses, there’s really not much the police can do,” Bobst said. “I did my due diligence hoping that someday if anyone else comes forward my statement will support their statement. You reach a point where you have to let go.”
Enlightened and empowered, Bobst accepted that trauma recovery is a lifelong journey.
“It’s really about creating a foundation of identity development and broadening your scope of tools,” she said. “As you expand your toolkit, you build your confidence. You find a foundation within yourself where you can move about the world with a sense of joy and safety.”
The girl who used to withdraw from the world by lingering in the corner with her head down blossomed into a strong young woman who is quick to smile and eager to share her story with the world. Bobst became a board member of the Williamsport-based Silent No More and described her experiences for a TEDx talk.
Once a victim, Bobst is a proud survivor and advocate to prevent others from experiencing what she did.
“We all have our own inherent wellness and beauty and are super cool when we are being ourselves,” Bobst said. “Discovering that and sharing that in a community setting is amazing.”
Last spring, she decided to make Penn College a pivotal juncture in her journey by taking seven credits with an eye toward majoring in early childhood education. After earning straight A’s, Bobst met with Thomas C. Heffner, assistant dean of sciences, humanities and visual communications, who suggested the revised bachelor’s degree in human services and restorative justice. The college renamed the major to highlight increased career options related to restorative justice, which focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime.
Bobst told Heffner that she aspires to obtain a leadership role where she can “infuse social services with early childhood education programming” to connect families with available resources.
“A lot of generational healing can occur if we get services through the community setting of early educational centers,” she said. “We improve the outcomes for children the most when we improve the stability of their guardians in their household.”
Heffner, who has an extensive background in early childhood education and human services, didn’t have to hear much more. He strongly encouraged her to consider human services and restorative justice.
“I could see in her face and in her body language that I had just really sparked her interest,” he said. “We often see students come into the major who wish to pay it forward to others based upon their own life experiences. I believe Lynaugh views her life experiences in a way that will be very powerful and will ultimately establish trust with victims. The trusting relationship Lynaugh will form will be the first step to helping others.”
Bobst can’t wait for the semester to begin and learn from “passionate” faculty and staff with strong backgrounds in human services.
“The people involved in the program here want to see a new generation of human services professionals improving the quality of life within our communities and that really drew me in,” she said. “There is such a wealth of knowledge and opportunity for discussion here and that feeds my soul.
“I want to eventually get a master’s degree and hopefully a doctorate. If I follow through with my due diligence and get there, my voice will be magnified.”
And what a voice it is.