Category Archives: equality

Rape Culture: A Comparison

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While discussing issues surrounding sexuality and gender I encounter a great many conversations affirming the idea that we live in a rape culture, a society that excuses, normalizes, or even condones particularly male perpetrated sexual violence toward women and girls. Considering today’s third wave intersectional feminism, which declares itself diverse and inclusive of people of all colours, shapes, sexual orientations, and a wide variety of gender identities, I find it interesting that I still keep encountering this simplistic, exclusionary, unilateral understanding of violence and violence acceptance: it is women who are raped, men who do the raping, and this specific gendered practice which society does not take seriously enough.

As a female survivor of male assault and an anti-violence activist, I’m more than familiar with the public and private responses to any experience like mine: an automatic outpouring of empathy for the female survivor and pitchfork-wielding anger directed toward that person’s male attacker. I’ve seen this time and again with little variance, no matter where I go, no matter my audience, to the extent that I would be genuinely shocked if I stumbled upon anyone who blamed me or dismissed my account of those events.

This, of course, is good news, but I have struggled in vain to find that same compassion and understanding for my many acquaintances and loved ones who have suffered the same or worse, but are male or whose assailants were female, who I am regularly told don’t exist, don’t matter, or are unfortunate but not part of the “real” or “larger” problem we need to address (never mind the way I’m dismissed when I tell of my experiences at the hands of other women). If you’ve read my blog before, you know that my thesis on the subject of rape culture is that it is victims outside this male-on-female model, including LGBT individuals, but especially male victims of any kind, who are widely swept under the rug, neglected, blamed, and mistreated when they are raped. To illustrate my point perhaps more succinctly than I have in the past, here is a simple pop culture comparison.

 

In 2012 multiple Steubenville high school football players took egregious advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk at a party. There were members of the district staff who were aware of the incident but kept quiet, and some even attempted to cover it up. When the story broke, the American people were quite justifiably in a blind rage about this, calling for the heads of the rapists, coaches, and district. Two boys and a staff member were convicted and sentenced. Many other staff were forced to resign and charged, and these events even allowed other cases to be uncovered and addressed within the same district, which appeared to have covered up other assaults, as well as cases of child abuse.

This story is frequently held up as an example of rape culture, despite the outrage expressed by pretty much everyone at the events, despite the fact that most of those involved have been held criminally responsible in accordance with due process, and those who weren’t have lost their jobs, status, and reputation. In this culture where it is supposedly normal and acceptable to rape women, rapists were tried and convicted along with those who enabled them, and everyone’s reputation was smeared across the country in a sensational news story among echoing cries for castration and death.

In 2015 Brock Turner took advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk. The two men who discovered and helped her were hailed as the heroes they are. The rapist plead guilty, was convicted, and was sentenced, though his sentence was abnormally light, offensively lenient. When the story broke, the American people were, again very justifiably, foaming-at-the-mouth angry. They called for the heads of the rapist and the judge who sentenced him. When Turner was released from prison there was another wave of outrage as the public was reminded of him and his callous crime, solidifying his name in history as synonymous with a host of ugly and well deserved pejoratives.

Like the previous case, this story is considered a quintessential example of rape culture, despite the outrage it sparked in every corner of the country. It has been widely used to argue that rapists get off easy due to a lack of public interest in punishing them, even though there are currently over 15,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons for sex crimes, even though the average sentence for convicted rapists is about 10 years, not the three months young Brock got away with serving. Turner’s fate is in no way typical for his crime, even less a consequence of his gender, especially when you consider how much more leniently female rapists are treated under the law. It’s overwhelmingly apparent that it was the wealth and influence of Turner’s family that got him off easy, not his sex. And yet this case is iconic in the conversation surrounding the theory of rape culture, used to promote the idea that the American people are okay with women getting raped and don’t care if rapists are punished.

However, in stark contrast to these news reports, a year prior to the events of People v. Turner actress and comedian Amy Schumer gave a speech at the Gloria Awards and Gala. She detailed a story from her college days in which she, sober as a judge, took advantage of a male peer who was so drunk that he couldn’t stay conscious. The line “Is it still considered head if the guy falls asleep every three seconds?” stands out in my mind. And this wasn’t an apologetic admission of guilt, either. This speech was an empowerment story, a brag about how she used a mentally and physically incapacitated person to regain her confidence in her body and her sexuality.

And this time, there were no torches, no pitchforks, no public outcry at all. There was no court case, and no judge held accountable by the people to give a proper and deserved sentence. In fact, there was applause. Social media was ablaze with an outpouring of love and appreciation for Schumer, and she was hailed across liberal news outlets as courageous, empowering, and feminist. She was praised for this speech on Huffpost, Gawker, Bustle, Vulture, and the Washington Post, to name just a few.

Amy Schumer committed exactly the same crime that earned the likes of Brock Turner national vitriolic outrage, and yet the few journalists who tried to point out that her actions even constituted rape were largely ignored or dismissed. There’s even an article entitled “No, Amy Schumer did not give a speech celebrating how she raped a guy,” in which the author blames Schumer’s victim on the grounds that he drunkenly initiated some acts (conspicuously ignoring the fact that Schumer painstakingly described him as being so wasted that he was not himself, had little motor function to speak of, and that he repeatedly lost consciousness during the encounter), and even suggested not-so-subtly that he was the one taking advantage of her due to her dissatisfaction with the experience in the moment.

If either of the women in the above criminal cases had initiated their encounter before passing out, would that have made the men involved not rapists? Would those men have become her victims, rather than the other way around, had they reported feeling uncertain, disappointed, or disgusted by her drunkenness while they raped her? Is there any conceivable excuse by which their actions would not still have been universally and emphatically condemned? Is there any conceivable order of events in which Brock Turner or Ma’lik Richmond would have been praised for penetrating a drunk, unconscious woman?  Imagine feminist pundits and journalists, members of a movement whose platform is largely centered around its opposition to sexual violence, hailing those men for their courage had they told their stories on a stage with the goal of empowering men.

No. The difference is clear: Amy Schumer, a woman, is celebrated for raping a man, while men who are caught committing such acts against women are met with conviction, prison time, and the uncensored hatred of every American who reads the news.

So tell me, which gender’s rapists are widely condoned, excused, or swept under the rug? Who is most often told they are asking for it? Who is blamed for their victimization? Who is ignored, laughed at, or disbelieved? If any national news story is to be held up as an example of rape culture, it is the story of Amy Schumer’s speech, in which she brags publicly and unabashedly in front of cameras about raping a young man, and is met with congratulations, in which anyone who objects to her actions is dismissed as hyperbolic or confused, in which the national conversation about rape and the way it’s addressed continues to exclude female perpetrators and male victims because they are generally believed to not exist or not to merit discussion. This is what rape culture looks like.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have no doubt that there are cases in which women are mistreated by the criminal justice system while attempting to report victimization. I’m sure that there are places where women have been disbelieved or told they shouldn’t have been drinking, however patently condemned this practice is by the overwhelming majority of our society. My argument that this sort of treatment is not considered acceptable and is not ubiquitous should not be taken as an ethical statement excusing it. Officials who actually do behave this way should be exposed and punished.

But everyone is aware that women can be, and sometimes are, the victims of sexual assault. Law enforcement and social workers are trained to anticipate female victims of male assailants, and to believe and assist the woman accordingly. Everyone is horrified when male rapists appear in the news, especially when they fail to be properly punished. (Of course, if more women were aware of this, rather than buying into the narrative that they will be disbelieved and blamed by the public and the criminal justice system alike, more women would probably be willing to report.)

But further, male rapists do appear in the news, earning those news stations hoards of outraged viewers. They don’t get laughed off as unusual or silly. Unlike men, women are not assumed to always want sex; their gender and sexuality are not treated as indicators of blanket consent. Men and boys are taught to be respectful and that one of the worst things they can do is take advantage of a woman, while girls get no such lesson. Unlike men, women who say no are not called homophobic slurs or considered less of a woman. Male perpetrators are not celebrated or represented as a comedy trope. Women aren’t laughed at when they try to report, nor are they told there’s no such thing as a female rape victim or that they ought to be happy they got laid. No one hi-fives them or calls them lucky. Female victims are immediately met with compassion when they reveal themselves as such to any audience; they don’t have to seek out small online communities within a fringe human rights movement to find someone, anyone, who is willing to give them empathy and understanding for their suffering.

The majority of the neglected, ignored, and blamed rape victims are male. If you’re going to discuss rape culture, you wouldn’t just be remiss, you’d be neglecting the bulk of the problem if you didn’t address the way we respond to male victims and female rapists.

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On the Reporting Problem

I’d like to take a moment to unpack an analysis I’ve read (and repeatedly cited) as it relates to some of the other sexual assault data I’m familiar with. This analysis, written by Loree Cook-Daniels of the national anti-violence organization Forge, cites an array of studies looking into the phenomenon of male victimization and female perpetration, and why these events are rarely reported to the authorities, result in conviction, or make it to published statistics or general knowledge.  Any statistic I cite in the following article that is not otherwise linked can be found in the above linked analysis.

My regular readers are by now familiar with my complaints about the pervasive and serious problem of sexual assault not being taken seriously outside the Duluth model paradigms of patriarchal violence (i.e. any victim who is not a victim of male-on-female assault).  This is true both in the general public, as I am regularly told in gender theory debates, often in plain language, that non-Duluth victims do not exist, don’t matter, or aren’t the real/larger problem (even after I disclose that I am one of them), and also institutionally.

On the social level, there is a chasm of difference between the way we teach males and females about consent, and the paradigms surrounding how we treat each.  Boys are taught to obtain consent, and girls are taught that it’s okay to withhold it.  Men are taught not to rape, and women are taught how to defend themselves against it.  Rape is viewed as something men do to women, men are viewed as always wanting sex (and thus impossible to violate), and therefore any unwelcome advance made by a woman, especially toward a man, is trivialized or completely dismissed.  I myself have repeatedly and publicly witnessed the difference between how people react to male and female perpetrated sexual assault, and male and female victims.  Women are not taught to respect consent, and many women don’t, with very little social or legal consequence.

On the institutional level, major research organizations widely regarded as credible will depict only female victims of male violence in the summaries of their findings, or skew definitions so that it appears that these are the vast majority of cases.  I have talked at length about the CDC with respect to this problem, by they are by far not the only offenders.  Even the FBI and other federal justice organizations define rape in such a way that excludes most male victims of female assault.  Even in their recently updated definition, only forcible penetration, not the forcing of the victim to penetrate the perpetrator, is considered rape.

Mary Koss of the CDC defends her differentiation of male-on-female rape from the separate female-on-male category termed “made to penetrate” in a 2007 paper with the following horrifically sexist rape apolgia:

“We acknowledge the inappropriateness of female verbal coercion and the legitimacy of male perceptions that they have had unwanted sex.  Although men may sometimes sexually penetrate women when ambivalent about their own desires, these acts fail to meet legal definitions of rape that are based on the penetration of the body of the victim.”

The legal definition she cites is troubling enough, but according to Koss, men do not fail to consent.  They merely perceive that they have had unwanted sex.  They are simply ambivalent about their own desires.  I’ll remind you that this was published in a publicly accessible academic paper written by one of the most prominent members of a major federal health organization.

But the problem doesn’t stop there.  The justice system is hideously biased against any victims outside the Duluth model.  I personally know men and women outside that paradigm who have been turned away or even laughed at by police when trying to report, and I’ve often read and cited studies confirming the prevalence of this problem.

One study in Canada showed that 86% of victims of female aggressors were not believed when they attempted to report.  The analysis also reports that, controlling for probable cause, a male adolescent is 46.5 times (not percent, times) more likely to be arrested and charged than a comparable female suspect.  This is largely because, when the victim is taken seriously by the officer to whom he reports victimization, judges will routinely dismiss cases in which the perpetrator is female, either on the grounds that women don’t rape, or the (unfortunately realistic) assumption that no jury will convict a woman.

These problems lead, predictably, to an abysmally low reporting rate for non-Duluth model victims.  Why report when you know you won’t be taken seriously any step of the way, when you might have to endure mockery at the hands of the people whose job it is to help you?  Never mind the fear of social stigma, and the fact that most non-Duluth victims don’t even conceptualize what happened to them as sexual assault, since they’ve been taught their whole lives that rape is something men do to women.

Another study of male victims found that, of those who had therapists, only 3% had told their therapists that they had been assaulted.  If you can’t even tell your therapist, you’re not going to tell a cop, and you’re certainly not going to tell a stranger conducting a CDC phone survey.

So let’s go back to the numbers I always cite.  The most recent publicly accessible iterations of the NISVS show gender parity in both victimization and perpetration.  This means that about as many men as women reported victimization in the past year.  Most respondents reported victimization by the opposite sex, but the study even accounts for some same-sex assault.

So here’s what doesn’t add up.  We already know that there is a massive reporting problem in sexual assault cases, but especially and extremely so with respect to male victims and female perpetrators.  And yet CDC research shows respondents of both sexes reporting equal amounts of victimization (along with other studies showing surprisingly high proportions of male victims).  If only a tiny percent of male victims even feel comfortable disclosing victimization to their therapists, what percentage do you suppose we’re looking at in published survey data?

Similarly, if some of the prevalence statistics with which we’re all familiar come from police reports and conviction rates, but many male victims can’t even convince an officer to take a report, and most judges and juries won’t convict a female perpetrator, than those statistics will only reflect the degree to which a non-Duluth victim can seek justice or assistance, not the rate at which they are victimized.

I suspect that there are way, way more non-Duluth victims out there who are keeping their trauma a secret.  In fact, I am starting to suspect something very contrary to the popular narrative.

When you consider the difference between the way we teach men and women about assault and consent, the lack of social or legal consequences for female perpetrators, the variety of stigmas against non-Duluth victims, the biases in research and criminal justice, and the resultant lack of willingness for male victims to come forward, it seems increasingly probable that women sexually assault men more often, perhaps significantly more often, than men sexually assault women.

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Underestimating Feminism Part 2: A Conflict of Interests

Dear Feminists*,

Last time I outlined all the many ways in which your movement has been wildly successful, but I have a concern to express to you. In the face of all your social and political influence, when you’ve got representatives in every meaningful source of power, when it’s not considered socially acceptable or politically correct to disagree with you, when you’ve got speakers who can charge tens of thousands just to talk about feminism, why are you so very reticent to declare your mission accomplished, or to even acknowledge your success? Why do you try so hard to paint our society as hostile toward women by scouring human behaviour for anything you could possibly interpret as subtle misogyny, when women’s equality and success is one of the most widespread and agreeable values, and we have at least every legal right that men have and more than a few glaring advantages?  Why do so many of you staunchly refuse to acknowledge that men have issues of their own that need addressing?

Let’s go back to that billion dollar industry I brought up in my previous article. You’ve built quite the money maker on your massively popular ideology. What would happen to all those organizations, media outlets, bloggers, academic programs, and businesses if, say, we acknowledged that violence against women was somewhat uncommon and falling in frequency, and women stopped being afraid to walk the streets? If it became apparent that just about every social issue we consider a women’s issue is actually an everybody issue that affects both sexes equally? If we stopped to notice that women have many advantages even over men? Would people keep buying t-shirts and donating to your organizations if we declared that women have equality? What about the power you have to influence policy? Would you continue to control the climate of college campuses, and would governments keep passing laws in your favour, if we as a society acknowledged how well women are really doing, or took a sincere look at the concrete inequalities men, whom you’ve cast as the all-powerful, unilaterally privileged villain of your story, are suffering?

Just as I would never trust a security company to give me credible information on the prevalence of robbery, I suspect feminism has developed a similar conflict of interests. You aren’t a grassroots advocacy movement anymore. You’re raking in billions, profiting enormously off the belief that women are oppressed. It’s no wonder you skew the hell out of your studies and define things like harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in dubiously broad terms, so that you can claim they are exponentially more prevalent than they really are. It’s no wonder your academics will try to bully and blacklist anyone who wants to publish evidence that intimate partner violence is perpetrated at least as much by women as by men. It’s no wonder you desperately try to slander and silence (including petty shenanigans like this, and also terrifying legal action like this) anyone who disagrees with you or attempts to address the very real issues that affect men, even though addressing men’s and women’s issues shouldn’t be mutually exclusive or reliant upon any one ideological worldview. The truth of these matters directly contradicts the narrative you’ve been proclaiming all this time, and if it were accepted and believed by the public, it would ruin you. It’s no wonder you ascribe secret misogynistic motives to everything from the way we speak to the design of popular games to the way men sit on the train. You NEED there to be an epidemic of misogyny in order to survive as an ideology, and in order to survive as an industry.

So let me ask you something, feminists. I’m no fool. I know that a security company stands to gain nothing from a reduction in robbery, and even less from a public that is not afraid of robbery. So now that you’re a booming cash cow on top of just a women’s movement, how can I trust you to keep me informed and represent my interests as a woman?

 

 

*Here I mean more to address the feminists that run the movement, not the “true scotsmen” who have little to no hand in its ideology, politics, or academia.  This is a question that I think anyone would benefit from considering, but I do not think the civilian feminists on the ground level are trying to profit from feminism monetarily or politically.

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Feminists Chronically Underestimate Feminism

Dear feminists,

It’s true.  You so often underestimate your own success and progress. You talk about women as if we are ever more oppressed even in the first world, frequently ignoring the great strides you’ve made to bring us to legal, social, and economic equality. Women can vote, work in any field we want, have reproductive choices, and run for office (with booming success – most people seem pretty sure Hillary will be our next president), largely because of your movement. Anyone who so much as implies a threat to women’s rights or general well-being is met with the mob of public opinion sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches. If that person is a politician, such a move is often political suicide. (Remember Todd Akin? Right, neither does anyone else.) Women are respected by the general public, to the extent that almost anyone looking to earn some public brownie points says nice things about us, knowing that it will be universally agreeable. People care about our well-being and our position in society, on a level that could even be called compulsive. Even if you want to argue that women still face sexism and related inequality, you’d be blind not to acknowledge that we’ve made some serious progress in both our rights and general esteem, especially considering that 100 years ago we couldn’t even vote.

And you underestimate your pull and popularity as a movement and ideology. Many of you view yourselves as the ideological underdog, often asserting that feminism is a “dirty word,” but it is your movement which guides academia, culture, and policy. You are responsible for changes, good and bad, that affect everyone. You have heavy influence on college campuses, you are at the head of the national sociopolitical discussion of rights and privileges, and you are an issue that matters to every politician claiming to seek social progress (and many of the ones who don’t). Identifying outside of feminism or speaking against it as an ideology or movement, even as a regular citizen, is enough to lose one credibility and respect in most places.  I ought to know.

To give you an idea of your influence, out of about 2,500 4-year institutions in the United States, there are roughly 700 women’s studies programs. There are a handful of men’s, most of which are a branch of feminist theory specifically dealing with maleness. The former are arguably inseparable from modern university politics, and have have influenced national politics and policy for decades. The Duluth Model is one good example, which is the standard for how we treat sexual and domestic violence from social work and law enforcement, to hotline and shelter operations, right down to the way we define the crimes, to say nothing of ubiquitous sexual harassment policies in universities and the workplace. All that is informed by feminist academia.

And speaking of academia, as much as we hear about sexism in hiring that keeps women out of male-dominated fields like science, things are changing rapidly. According to a Pew Research survey from 2013, only 10% of working women reported a negative effect on their career due to workplace discrimination. What’s more, a PNAS study from last year demonstrates an advantage for women in STEM fields, who are preferred 2-1 over men for tenure-track faculty positions. Many feminists argue that this new disparity is more due to PR needs and political pressure than a true transcendence of older attitudes toward women, but even if that’s true, consider what that says for the power and success of the feminist movement: It has become a strong enough social and political force that employers are concerned about disappointing its representatives or angering its adherents.

On the PR front, we have International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s contributions throughout history, and there is a Woman of the Year award for our contributions today. There are men’s equivalents, but they are nowhere near as publicized (I’d hazard a guess that most people don’t know there is an International Men’s Day – The Young Turks don’t).

On the legal front, since the 1960’s we’ve had the Equal Pay Act, Roe v. Wade, Title IX, affirmative action, and VAWA, all of which are or have been specifically implemented for women’s benefit and/or protection.  Some of these laws have even needed to be updated or reexamined in an effort to prevent discrimination toward men.

In organizations, there’s AAUW, NOW, Planned Parenthood, and countless others. Here is a list of 20 of the more prominent organizations that further women’s causes. Here is a magazine article highlighting the best 154 of them. The fact that these organizations exist at all is a testament to the success of both women and the feminist ideology, never mind their sheer numbers and the influence they have.

On the individual level, the label of feminism may not be as popular as the virtues it advertises, but the vast majority of people support equality for women. In fact, the women’s movement is so popular that it is becoming a selling point, a brand in its own right. You aren’t just appealing or popular. You’re booming. Feminism is a billion dollar industry, raking in untold funds for its array of academic and political organizations, advocacy groups and NGOs, service providers, businesses, media outlets, and public speakers. There are feminist blogs, news sites, literature, game developers, children’s toys, ads, t-shirts, podcasts, coffee mugs, conferences and conventions, and all of them sell like hotcakes. Anita Sarkeesian rakes in $20,000 every time she gives a talk. Any reputable university has a women’s studies program and campus women’s groups (while widely disapproving of men’s). Every academic, social, or political organization must include feminism in its mission statement, hire on feminist academics and advisers in order to declare itself progressive or conscientious, because that is what the people consider progressive and conscientious. Every field of study or work has a feminist interpretation. There is feminist environmentalism, feminist geology, feminist economics, and feminist history (the common use of words like “herstory” should tell us enough about feminism’s popularity and ubiquity). None of this would be the case if your cause weren’t one that mattered to the people, if your ideas weren’t popular, if gender equality and the success and thriving of women weren’t an agreeable collective goal, if the western world were the medieval cesspool of misogyny that you paint it as. I think it’s time to acknowledge that women are winning.  Girls, we run the world.

If none of this is convincing, I want to remind you that this is the progress we’ve made since the suffrage movement a mere century ago. For comparison, let’s consider another group that’s been struggling for equality. I’ve already written extensively on the parallels between issues of racial and gender equality, but I’ll do a small recap and add a few other points. Slavery was abolished in 1865 and the 15th Amendment (prohibiting the denial of voting rights based on race) was ratified in 1870. Women got their suffrage in 1920. So black Americans have what one might call a 50-year head start on us historically, but let’s look at where women are compared to African Americans today. We’ll start with the pay gap. The gender pay gap as of 2009 (the latest I can find comparable data on both subjects) is 77% (though in cities, women out-earn men by an average of 8% before they start to have children). As of 2009, women made about 77 cents to men’s dollar. And black people made 61 cents to white people’s dollar. That is slightly better than half of what white people make, twice as big as the disparity women experience, and you could make far less of a case for personal choice being responsible for this than you could for the gender gap. Also, bear in mind that the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act (addressing workplace discrimination against women and non-whites, respectively) were passed within a year of each other.

Furthermore, women today make up 20-30 percent of the homeless (a minority), and black people make up 37% (almost triple their representation in the American population). Female students are 7% more likely than male students to graduate high school. Black students are 18% less likely than white students. About 60% of postsecondary degrees are earned by women, and around 11% by black people. So consider that women have four times as many scholarships as men, as well as 50% more than black people.

Even more seriously, women constitute less than 5% of arrest related deaths, and black people are about a third (with similar disparities in other police treatment and mistreatment). Women receive 63% lesser sentences when convicted of a crime, black people receive 23% harsher ones. I could go on (or you could just read my other article), but you get the idea. Women are actually ahead in a great deal of areas that matter, from treatment under the law to education, and education is a big deal. Just imagine what the world is going to look like in 20 years, when a majority of the educated workforce has been female for a while.

For only having achieved suffrage less than a century ago, the advancement of women’s equality is speeding along, with some highly notable advantages to boot. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge how much progress you’ve made, how seriously you’re taken, and how much power you have over the discourse and policy of our nation and the developed world. You shouldn’t be doomsaying, declaring the west an irreparable patriarchy, or crying that you’re oppressed. You should be patting yourselves on the back and celebrating how amazingly far you’ve come. I know better than to think I can convince you that your mission is accomplished, but I’ll be damned if we aren’t at least almost there.

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