#FreedomForKesha: What Kesha’s Legal Battle Says About the State of Our Dialogue on Sexual Abuse

•February 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Kesha (full name: Kesha Rose Sebert), the pop musician best known for songs like “Your Love is My Drug” and “Tik Tok”, has been embroiled with court cases since fall of 2014.  If you haven’t been following her case, now might be the time to start, because her hearing date is coming up, and for those who profess to stand with survivors of sexual violence, it’s a big deal.

What, exactly, is going on?  In October of 2014, Kesha filed against her producer, Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald) in Los Angeles Superior Court.  Her suit alleged that Dr. Luke drugged and raped her, and that she was the subject of significant emotional abuse at his hands.  The 28-page complaint was the talk of the music industry for days, but unfortunately it has proven to be just the beginning of Kesha’s legal journey.  The goal of her suit was to be freed from her contract, which has prevented her from producing music with anyone but Dr. Luke; Dr. Luke proceeded to file a counter-suit against Kesha, her mother, and her manager, alleging that they are attempting to exort him in order to free her of her contract.

The initial response opened a slew of questions all too familiar in the sexual violence advocacy world: why didn’t Kesha report the assault to the police?  Why choose a civil suit as opposed to a criminal action?  Why is there no rape kit?  Her attorney, Mark Geragos, has handled these questions reasonably well, arguing that a civil suit allows for greater discovery by Kesha’s legal team, and that fear of her abuser has made additional action difficult.

I’ll go further, though, and say this: there are any number of reasons why rape survivors do not report to the police.  They may feel pressured not to create criminal consequences for their attackers.  They may not feel emotionally able of dealing with a criminal trial.  Rape kits, while useful, can also feel invasive and have to be completed relatively quickly after an individual is attacked; any action, including peeing, can diminish the evidence available through a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) exam.  On top of that, a civil suit may offer not only additional opportunity to gain evidence, but may also offer greater likelihood of a positive outcome for the complainant, since civil suits rely on a preponderance of the evidence as their standard (meaning it is more likely than not that an action was committed), as opposed to criminal cases, which require that a person be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But most of all, the implication that a person might just be making up their assault because they have not involved the police is simply false, and the response to Kesha’s suit is just another example of survivors not being taken seriously because they don’t fit the mold of the “perfect survivor”.

In March of 2015, the judge in charge of the New York cases determined that the suit initially filed in California should be determined first, meaning that Dr. Luke’s counter-suit against Kesha would be tabled until after her case against him had been heard.  Unfortunately, this was later undone by a California judge halting her case in June of 2015, because her record contract with Dr. Luke required her to settle in New York.

Her lawyers commented: Kesha now faces an abysmal decision: Work with her alleged abuser…or idly and passively wait as her career tick-tocks away. Kesha’s window of opportunity is nearly shut: She has not been recording, touring or able to market merchandise for nearly a year — an eternity in the industry. If Kesha is not permitted to resume working immediately with the backing of a major record label, her window will forever close.”

Her court case WAS set for Tuesday, January 24 of 2016; unfortunately, it was further delayed as a result of the recent snowstorm, leaving Kesha to continue to wait.  Her case is now set for Friday, February 19, when the singer and her fans hope that she will be released from her contract and able to take back her career.  The February 19th court date is an injunction hearing, a request by the singer that she be allowed to begin producing music without Dr. Luke, since her forced hiatus has caused damage to her music career.

The allegations included in Kesha’s suit are heartbreaking, dating back to shortly after she left high school in Nashville and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music as a career.  It’s easy enough for opponents to claim that she is making up these allegations to get out of her contract, but her conversations with her record label, Sony, from October of 2015 reveal that she is willing to record a new album under their label, as long as she does not have to work with Dr. Luke; the record label refused this, insisting that the exclusivity clause that pairs her with Dr. Luke is still in effect, and forcing her to continue her hiatus from recording and touring.

A culture that too-often paints survivors of abuse and sexual assault as liars sets up individuals like Kesha who have a lot to lose to be seen as making things up to get something they want, and watchng that happen so publicly is miserable.  The reality is that as much as skeptics may want to claim that Kesha stands to gain from severing her contract with Dr. Luke, he has perhaps even more to gain by denying all allegations and insisting that she fulfill the full six-album obligation of her current agreement.  And in any case, Kesha has lost out significantly through her case, as a result of her determination not to be forced to work with a man who has so mistreated her, and her experience is one that deserves support and solidarity.

 

 

 

A Note About My Absence

•January 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Those who follow this blog may have noticed that recently there has been little new material. I apologize for the unplanned hiatus; it was due to a confluence of professional and personal commitments that left me with less time than usual to devote to this blog.  I plan to resume posting with semi-regularity in the next few weeks, so please keep your eye out for new material!

The Terrorist Who Looks Like You

•November 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This last week we have seen an outpouring of Islamophobia in the United States.  It has been predictable, in the wake of the attacks in Paris and the heightened attention being granted Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States and Europe.  It has also been heartbreaking, and has prompted some truly problematic rhetoric from high-profile individuals within this country.

Much of this rhetoric has been a reversion to the “Muslims are terrorists” argumentation we saw in the early 2000s.  Of course, this rhetoric doesn’t even come close to the reality of Islam: the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists (and I only even included a link there for those looking for further reading, not because I think this should require statistical substantiation).  There’s really no good argument as to why we allow people to assign this blanket label to practitioners of a major world religion because a very small subset uses the religion to justify their use of violence, when we do not do so for any other group.

The real explanation is, I suspect, that terrorists from the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia do not look like us, while those who commit acts of terror here in the US do.  But I would entreat those who claim that America’s problem comes from terrorists who identify as Muslims.  The terrorist that looks like you is a terrorist still, and domestic terror is certainly an ongoing and too-often invisible battle in the United States.

The argument I’ve heard in response to this is that “Islamic terrorists have a coordinated agenda, but violence in the United States is random”.  Certainly not all violence in the United States has to do with the perpetuation of particular agendas, but pretending that none of it does, just because a large amount is not carried out in the name of a specific group, is just ignoring the reality of racialized and gendered violence in the U.S.

Besides that, in case anyone had not noticed, violence is carried out in the name of organized hate groups like the KKK.  Just a few short months ago, attendees at a KKK rally in North Carolina were overheard discussing wiping out Black people in the state in response to the removal of the Confederate flag, a well-known symbol of racism and oppression in the American South. And the problem hardly ends with the KKK: from threats against African-American students at the University of Missouri to the anonymous threats made against students at Howard University in Washington, DC to those made at Michigan Tech, it no longer matters if there is a central organizing force.  The reality is that racialized violence in the United States does not appear to be going anywhere, and recent waves of threats at universities are indicative of a trend designed to frighten Black college students into missing classes and compromising their education.  If terrorism is the use of fear and violence to promote a political end, threats and violence against Black university students certainly seems to fit the mold.

Student leaders of Concerned Student 1950 address protesters at the University of Missouri demanding policies promoting greater inclusivity and safety for Black students

But white terrorism in the United States unfortunately doesn’t even end with the targeting of Black individuals; it extends very much to targeting institutions meant to foster community and support a way of life for people.  With recent threats against Black churches and Jewish synagogues in the news once again, it is important to remember that White supremacists in the U.S. have notoriously targeted places of worship, and have targeted all kinds of non-white groups plus Jewish Americans in their efforts to uphold a society dominated by white Christians.  These recent events should not be interpreted as isolated incidents divorced from any kind of broader narrative of violence: there is a substantial recent history of threats and violence against Black churches in the US, including numerous cases of arson, and threats against church members when congregations have made public statements about racial affairs.

That’s a whole lot of white Christian violence, without even touching on violence against the American Muslim community.  Hate crimes against Muslim Americans are still occurring at high rates, according to the FBI, and the Southern Poverty Law Center predicts that these numbers will continue to climb through 2015.  The shootings in Chapel Hill, NC, were just one recent high-profile example; there have been numerous crimes against Muslim individuals, not to mention threats against a large number of mosques in the United States and harassment of mosque members or defacement of the facilities.

Just for good measure, I want to include a mention of anti-choice violence in the United States, which is alarmingly common and not treated in our discussions as terrorism.  Threats against the lives of medical professionals and clinics, even in light of the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, continues to pervade this country as anti-abortion activists work to prevent individuals from seeking desired and legal medical services.  Intimidation tactics and even direct acts of violence have been utilized in the name of being pro-life, and while we treat it just as the clash of ideas, it is certainly far more menacing than a simple debate.

Lastly, but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the prevalence of white male violence across the United States.  Statistically speaking, white men are the most likely to commit mass shootings.  97% of school shooters in recent years have been male, and 79% have been white, numbers too great to be a statistical accident.  Many experts assert that toxic masculinity is a major contributor to male violence, and that privilege plays a role in allowing white men to justify taking violent actions.  A 2013 study at the University of Washington found a notable correlation between feelings of entitlement and homicidal revenge against particular groups, including women or black individuals.  Those statistics play out on both ends: according to the Huffington Post’s analysis, approximately 64% of mass shooting victims are women and children.  Add this to other statistics about gender-based and intimate partner violence, and one starts to see a broad pattern of violence, intimidation, and coercion by those who are currently privileged within our society against those who are not.

When American politicians argue that we cannot let in Syrian refugees because a few among them might be terrorists, they fundamentally miss the point: acts of terror take place in the US more often than we would like to admit. It would be absurd if I said that all white Christian men in the US were terrorists-~-it wouldn’t make any sense-~-but that’s the same rhetoric we use when discussing terrorism and Islam.  But on top of that, when we talk about terrorism solely in terms of the acts of a few groups based overseas, we delegitimize the experiences of those targeted by white, domestic terrorism in the United States.  Fear is still very much a tactic used by those who currently hold particular positions of power and privilege in America to keep other groups in line, to prevent them from feeling safe or from reaching for further rights or opportunities, and this violence needs to be addressed.  It’s past time that we take this violence seriously, and certainly past time that we admitted that terrorists who look like us are still terrorists, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be.

 

Getting Amped Up for Transgender Awareness Week

•November 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s no longer October, which means my posting on Domestic Violence won’t stop, but it’ll be a little more intermittent.  It’s time to redirect attention to the MYRIAD of other issues worth discussing, starting with the recently-passed Transgender Awareness Week.

(For the record, this post was originally schedule to go up a week ago, as a lead-in to Transgender Awareness Week, but some sort of glitch seems to have prevented its earlier publication; apologies)

TW: Violence, Trans-targeted violence

Let me be clear: feminism as a movement needs to care about the trans community.  Trans women are women, and trans folks of all genders deserve respect and dignity that they are too often denied in our society.  Their issues intersect with all the issues the feminist movement claims to care about: sexual assault, domestic violence, homelessness, employment discrimination, reproductive justice (the list goes on and is unsurprising since trans people are, after all, people who therefore face problems that cut across our society), along with some unique issues related to violence, acceptance, healthcare, media representation, etc.  I’m not trans, and I won’t try to speak for the trans community, but I will say this: we should never speak over the trans community, but those in a position to do so have an obligation to speak up for them when we can.

The reality is that being trans in the United States is often not an easy experience. While transition surgery is becoming more and more accessible via insurance, one needs to actually be insured to access that benefit, and some health plans will exclude surgeries commonly used in transition if they are linked to gender dysphoria or gender transition.  That’s a problem, but it’s far from the only one.  The trans community disproportionately experiences poverty and homelessness, especially since trans individuals experience unemployment at twice the rate of their cisgender counterparts, and rules regarding homeless shelters and other housing programs can make it difficult to help those in need.  This isn’t overly surprising, since many housing discrimination laws don’t cover gender identity, and may states continue to fail to protect individuals from employment discrimination based on gender identity as well.

Given that Trans Awareness Week led up to the Trans Day of Remembrance, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the issue of anti-trans violence.  The statistics related to transphobic violence in the U.S are staggering: of anti-LGBT homicides in the United States in 2013, 72% of the victims were trans women (and 67% of the victims were specifically trans women of color).  That’s not even counting other forms of physical or sexual violence targeting trans individuals, which is alarming as well: 75% of openly trans students have reported feeling unsafe at school, and according to the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crimes, as many as 1 in 2 trans individuals may experience sexual assault or sexual abuse over the course of their lives.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that trans people are just victims: they’re not.  I do want to draw attention to why Transgender Awareness Week and the Trans Day of Remembrance are so important, but I also want to reiterate that the best way to learn about trans issues is always going to be by listening to trans individuals. Check out Laverne Cox’s videos on “the T word”, and on issues facing the trans community.  Read Janet Mock’s book, Redefining Realnessand this article she wrote on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover. Check out Susan Kuklin’s collection, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, in which the author interviewed six transgender and agender adolescents to allow them to tell their own stories.  Take a moment to look through some of Meredith Talusan’s articles and op-eds on trans issues in the U.S, or Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, or heck, any of these books on transgender lives and issues.  And don’t forget to look at this incredible collection of videos put together by GLAAD for Transgender Awareness Week.

In general, I think learning more about these issues is an important step in becoming a better ally; more informed people are less likely to make easy mistakes in talking about trans issues or to trans individuals.  I had meant that to be a lead-up to the Trans Week of Action, but even with the Week of Action behind us, we shouldn’t pretend that we can afford for this discourse to be limited to one week.  That said, I’d like to re-focus a bit on allyship in general, and ways that we as cisgendered activists can better support the trans community.

First off, for anyone new to allyship for the trans community, just some very quick basics.  Always defer to the experiences and voices of trans individuals: you are supporting their work, not talking over them.  Always be respectful of pronoun preferences, even if switching pronouns after knowing someone for a while feels strange; avoid deadnaming (using a name that a trans individual was assigned at birth which they no longer use) since it is dismissive of a trans person’s identity.  If you’re going to ask questions, ask politely, and be respectful: transition is none of your business unless a trans person chooses to bring it up with you of their own accord.  Cisgender fascination with physical transition often derails important discussions.

Second, pay attention when acts of violence are committed against the trans community.  Pay attention to how those around you are talking about it, and do what you can to make these events more visible.  America will never solve the problems that the trans community faces here if they are not forced to recognize what is happening.  Speak up also when you see acts of aggression, even microaggressions, being committed against trans persons you know.  Correct people if you hear them misgendering someone; it’s not enough, but it is certainly better than remaining silent.  And don’t forget to pay attention to employment and housing non-discrimination legislation when it is introduced at the state level; actively supporting laws to protect trans individuals is a concrete step you can take in using your voice to help.

This won’t be my last post on these issues-~-far from it-~-but I hope I have at least made my point in saying that we need to talk about these issues a lot more.  I haven’t given trans issues enough coverage on this blog, and I’ll work to improve that in the next several months.  If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming writer and would like to submit a post on your experiences or on an issue of your choice, please contact me at radicalbutlogical@gmail.com.

Seven Things to Know About Trauma Recovery

•November 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

One of the things I’ve noticed, over all this time I’ve spent dealing with trauma and working with trauma survivors, is that there is a lot of confusion or lack of understanding as to what trauma recovery entails or how trauma can impact survivors.  I want to be clear from the start of this post, I’m not a psychologist or a licensed clinical social worker, but these observations do come from my observations and the accounts of other survivors I know, so take them as you will.  Here are some general things about trauma worth knowing:

1. Trauma impacts everyone differently

Everyone experiences trauma differently, and the details of any two traumatic experiences are likely to be very different as well.  This means that just because you have experienced a trauma, does not mean that everyone’s precise experience will match yours; and likewise, just because you have known someone or been close to someone who identified as a trauma survivors does not mean that the experience they conveyed to you can be universalized.  Respect the personal and unique ways that trauma colors people’s experiences and be open to learning about how the particular individual you’re talking to experiences trauma, if they are willing to share

2. Trauma recovery is non-linear

Just because it seems like someone has been doing well does not mean that they won’t experience backsliding or relapsing; and just because someone does seem to be slipping doesn’t mean they aren’t still recovering.  Trauma recovery is non-linear, which means that a bad week doesn’t mean that the whole process of recovery has been derailed, and a good week doesn’t mean that everything is totally solved.  It is okay and completely normal for a survivor to experience a mix of both.

3. If anything, trauma recovery is seasonal or cyclical

This is a relatively anecdotal observation, but given that certain events of times of year, like holidays or anniversaries of events or relationships, can stir up difficult feelings, it makes sense that people would swing through good and bad periods and then shift back between them.  This can last for a while, so don’t be upset or put off when a friend is still dealing with difficult memories three or four years out from a trauma; that doesn’t mean they are necessarily always struggling, or like they haven’t made progress.  It just means that certain times of year may be more difficult for them.

4. Triggers are not always what you think they will be

While detailed discussion of certain topics can be enough to stir up difficult emotions, the things that are more likely to be triggers for people are new iterations of events that prompted abuse, the use of similar phrases to those an abuser or attacker used, certain smells that prompt abrupt memory recall, narratives that are very similar to the survivor’s own experiences, certain dates or events on the calendar, songs that had meaning in a relationship, etc.  (For example, if a certain song was playing while someone was being sexually assaulted, you wouldn’t necessarily know that, but hearing the song could potentially trigger the survivor).  Be respectful if someone points out that something is difficult or triggering, and if you want to more actively support the survivor, just ask what they need.

5. Everyone responds to triggers in different ways

There is no one thing that happens when someone is triggered with regards to a trauma, or when someone encounters a difficult anniversary.  They may become quiet and withdrawn and need to be alone; they may need to cry; they may have dissociative episodes; they may start shaking; they may need physical contact to help them ground themselves; they may feel like their symptoms are exacerbated by physical contact.  Just because you or another survivor you know experiences triggers in a certain way, or just because a certain thing helps you or someone you know, does not mean this will hold true for everyone.  If you want to be helpful, again, just ask the survivor in question what they need and respond accordingly.

6. Trauma is not necessarily a stand-alone event

Some traumas are, in and of themselves, complex traumas: abusive relationships that include sexual assault, traumatic experiences that become tied to suicide attempts, etc.  Other times, a trauma may not seem explicitly linked to other difficult or traumatic incidents in a person’s life, but may be more subtly connected; this can be particularly true in cases where a survivor of childhood abuse is later re-victimized as an adult, especially if there are similarities in the pattern of their abuse.  Be aware that trying to dig through the emotional baggage of one trauma can cause a survivor to re-open wounds that they never thought they’d have to revisit, and that recovery dealing with complex trauma can be a long and difficult process.  Have patience for your friends who are struggling and remember that even if it takes a long time and doesn’t always seem like progress is happening (see #2), your friends are taking steps towards healing and your support can help them get there.

7. Trauma recovery sucks

I’ve heard so many trauma survivors say this, and it’s true: recovery sucks.  Unpacking unpleasant things that have happened to you is painful, difficult, and exhausting.  Coming to terms with a traumatic event often means revisiting the trauma (and possibly interrelated incidents; see #6). There are times when recovery feels like it will never end; there are times when it feels like you are fighting against an enemy that has the ability to just overwhelm you.  And because people can be supportive but no one can actually go through the process with you, parts of recovery feel lonely, sad, and isolating.  Those are the parts where support can matter the most, though: if you know a friend is going through trauma recovery and they seem withdrawn, check in with them, and remember that there is no right way to experience recovery, and no right length of time for recovery to take.

8. Recovery is worth the mess

I know that I said there are seven things I wanted people to know when interacting with survivors, but there’s an 8th thing I want to say, and I would particularly want survivors themselves to hear this: if you are going through trauma recovery and you feel overwhelmed, if you feel like you can’t keep fighting, if you feel like maybe it isn’t worth it, you are not alone.  So many people feel this way at some point in their recovery process, and that is 100% okay.  Even if the light at the end of the tunnel seems tiny and distant, please remember that it is there, and you can make it.  Let yourself feel bad on the bad days, but remember to take care of yourself when those days come: remember to engage in active self-care, give yourself space as needed, and reach out for support.

If you need additional help, please check out the following resources:

81 Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist (includes resources for depression, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, and other common mental health needs)

Hotlines for when you really just need someone to talk to

Mentor-Connect, which pairs up individuals who are going through recovery for eating disorders with others who have already gone through recovery to provide additional support

RAINN’s list of nationally available resources for survivors of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and CSA

MaleSurvivor, which provides support to male survivors of sexual and domestic violence

Collection of self-care tips, suggestions, and resources

5 Ways You Can Help Make a Difference In the Fight Against Domestic Violence

•October 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

As we continue on our journey through Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I want everyone to realize two things: 1) domestic violence impacts every community, so even if it has not impacted you directly, odds are it has impacted someone you know, and 2) there are things you can do about it.

There is no magic button you can press to alleviate the problems of domestic violence (though if wishing made it so…), but there ARE things you can do to help in the fight against domestic violence, even if they sometimes seem small.

1 Talk About It.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month may only last throughout October, but make it your mission to have important conversations about this subject year-round.  Educate yourself about domestic violence so that when the opportunity to teach others arises, you’ll be prepared. Learn more about how to spot the signs of an abusive relationship, before physical violence necessarily occurs, and learn more about how to talk to a friend you’re concerned may be experiencing abuse.  When you hear people make comments that are victim-blaming or that minimize issues like intimate partner violence or sexual assault, speak up.  You don’t know what kind of difference you could make.

2 Volunteer with a Local Domestic Violence Organization

One of the tricky things about victims’ services is that many across the country operate on a 24/7 schedule.  That kind of service is often only possible with the help of dedicated volunteers who can take hotline shifts or perform other tasks that help keep the organization running.  You can find information about what kinds of organizations might exist in your community by searching the National DV Hotline’s database, which is organized by state, or searching your state’s coalition against domestic violence’s organization, which will usually have resources organized by county.  If you are between the ages of 21 and 26 and live in DC or LA, you may also be able to apply to be a peer educator with Break the Cycle.

3 Donate Supplies to a Local Domestic Violence Shelter

Domestic violence shelters often help individuals who have to leave their home with little notice, who aren’t able to bring a lot with them.  Though this is a great time of year to think about donating supplies, keep in mind that DV shelters need help getting the things they need year-round.  Every shelter’s specific needs are different, but in general, many shelters need things like non-perishable food, things for children (coloring books and crayons, small stuffed animals), toiletries (things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and deodorant), and sanitary products (tampons and sanitary pads).  Check with your local program to see if they accept donations of things like clothing; some do and some do not.

4 Support Anti-Domestic Violence Organizations Nationally or Near You

I’ve already listed resources to locate community-based domestic violence organizations, and I’m a big proponent of supporting them in the work that they do, both with time or with money.  But you can also contribute to organizations that work on a larger scale, and you can find a list of some truly wonderful organizations working to combat domestic violence here.  In particular, I wanted to highlight a few great organizations I’ve been lucky enough to see in action.  Break the Cycle focuses on interventions with individuals ages 18-24, the demographic most at-risk for intimate partner violence, to help stop the cycle of victimization.  Futures Without Violence focuses on the connection between medical care and domestic violence interventions, providing training and technical assistance to medical professionals to help them better screen for and intervene in cases of domestic abuse.  Mending the Sacred Hoop is a unique organization focused on Native American communities, which face disproportionately high rates of domestic violence but often have limited resources.  Do you research and choose an organization that you feel good about supporting!

5 Stand Up for Survivors Politically

There are a ton of issues that intersect with domestic violence: affordable housing, access to low-cost healthcare, access to reproductive health services, immigration laws, consent education, and so many others, in addition to the direct funding of domestic violence programs across the country.  Contact your national and state-level politicians and let them know how important these issues are to you.  Write to your Senators and urge them to stand with Planned Parenthood.  Pay attention to how proposed policies might impact survivors, and stand up for survivors of domestic violence when the opportunities arise.

Domestic violence may be a pervasive problem in the United States, but there are ways to help.  This National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, take a moment to think about the ways in which this issue might impact your friends, family, and community, and how you can make a difference.  Together, we can all take steps to reduce domestic violence and protect survivors in our communities.

 
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