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How To Avoid Creepers In The Gym

24 Oct

As a fitness instructor, nothing infuriates me more than hearing stories of women getting creeped on in the gym.

NOT OKAY. And you don’t have to take it. This is not a fact of life. This is harassment.

The gym is a place where you should feel safe, supported and empowered. If that’s not how you feel at your gym, it may be time to shop around.

Please consider the following:

1) There is absolutely never an excuse for you to tolerate harassment when you are PAYING for services. In a gym setting, it is the management’s JOB to keep you safe and make you feel welcome.

2) If it feels creepy, it is creepy. Don’t waste your time and energy playing the, “Is it in my head? Maybe he’s trying to be nice…” game. Life is short. You are busy. You know a creeper when you see one and it’s not your mission in life to take care of their feelings.

3) Businesses should have sexual harassment policies in place to protect both their employees and their customers. At my , our instructors watch to make sure that students treat one another with respect. When students approach any of us with concerns about classmates’ behavior, we take immediate action to deal with the situation in a way that makes the person who has been harassed the most comfortable. Usually this has involved having a conversation with the person whose behavior is inappropriate.

Once, a young man tried to bond with one of our male kickboxing instructors by saying, “I’m only here to pick up girls. I tried it before with yoga but that didn’t work out so I thought I’d give this a try.” The instructor firmly stated that the women at our studio were here to work out and that they were not interested in that kind of attention. He explained that “pick up” behavior is distracting, uncomfortable and inappropriate in this setting. The young man stopped attending classes shortly after that, and we were 100% satisfied with the outcome. We would rather lose one customer than have several people feeling uncomfortable.

Steps to take if you experience creeping or other harassment at your gym or class:

1) Report the incident to the instructor/manager. Ask if they have a harassment policy. If not, be clear about what you would like to see happen from this action. “Will someone from the gym please talk to this person and ask him not to stare at other members? Please let me know when that conversation has happened.”

If the behavior continues…

2) Try again. “You know, on (date of last complaint) someone told me they would address this situation. Did that happen? I’m still experiencing harassment and that’s not something I should have to deal with as a paying customer.”

If the behavior continues…

3) Last chance. “I’ve now complained twice about this issue and it has not been resolved. If this is not addressed I will be leaving this gym (and telling everyone I know exactly why I left).”

OR you could take the shortcut and deal directly with the creeper.

“Hey! Stop staring at me.”

 

 

 

What’s the one time of year when your attacker is most likely to be wearing a mask?

You guessed it: Halloween. Other than that it’s not very likely, despite popular mythology.

I live in Madison, Wisconsin and Halloween is the one time of year that isdowntown than Badger football Saturdays. State Street draws tens of thousands of raucous out-of-towners in costume. Up until , things were so out of hand that the city had to grease street lights to prevent partyers from shimmying up them and some rioting crowds were tear gassed. Finally the city formalized the event, fenced in the area with aggressive lighting, and sold tickets. Since then the number of arrests has declined significantly, along with attendance.

Now I don’t know about your state, but mine has a serious . It gets more severe in any sort of holiday or celebration setting, like Halloween for example. When people are drinking heavily and wearing disguises, I would hope that my readers would know to raise a red flag.

Here are some tips to make Halloween fun AND safe (my favorite!):

1) Drink , as usual. Or not at all.

2) Consider mobility when choosing your costume. If you can’t move very well, it makes you more vulnerable.

3) When meeting new people who are masked, ask to see their face. It’s not weird– you’re meeting a person, not a gorilla mask or whatever it may be. That way if that person turns creepy, you could describe them to police.

4) Follow your instincts and have fun!

Happy Halloween! Be safe! Make good choices! ;)

 

 

October is . As kids are heading back to school, it is important to remember that teens experience dating violence too.

1 in 4 adolescents reports experiencing, according to the . As with adults, this violence can include a of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Emotional abuse attacks the victim’s self-esteem through put downs, humiliation, controlling their behavior, or keeping them away from friends and family.

Physical abuse might look like slapping, pushing, grabbing, throwing, hitting, shaking or choking.

Sexual abuse could include unwanted touching, peeping, nude photos or forced sex acts.

From www.acadv.org

Both victims and perpetrators of teen dating violence can experience serious consequences such as depression, decreased interest in school or other activities, drug and/or alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviors. Teens who are involved in unhealthy relationships as they are growing up are much more likely to experience a pattern of unhealthy relationships as adults, making this a serious community issue.

Warning signs that a teen may be a victim of teen dating violence may include:

  • Spending less time with friends or family
  • Making excuses for a dating partner’s behavior
  • Trouble succeeding in school or work
  • Dramatic change in weight or appearance

Only 40% of teen girls and 32% of teen boys who were victims of teen dating violence asked for help. One of the reasons for this is that teens don’t want to talk with adults about dating issues—in fact, less than 1 in 4 teens have had a conversation with their parents about teen dating violence. Parents can help teens by helping them to feel good about themselves, listening to them without judgment or criticism, and modeling positive relationship behaviors.

Healthy relationships involve equality, respect, honest and open communication and independence for both partners.

Sometimes, traditional ideas about what is normal for men and women can be a barrier to forming healthy relationships. If a teenage boy believes that the man should make all the decisions and control the woman’s life, he might be at risk for perpetrating teen dating violence.

Warning signs that a teen may be a perpetrator of teen dating violence may include:

  • Threatening to hurt others in any way
  • Insulting a dating partner in public or in private
  • Thinking that violence is a solution to problems
  • Breaking things or a dating partner’s belongings

There are consequences for perpetrators, too. They could be expelled from school or even face jail time.

Parents, teachers and others who work with youth can help prevent teen dating violence. For more information see . If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship violence, please contact your local Domestic Violence Shelter. In Madison, it’s .

Sexual Harassment By Customers: What to Say

26 Sep

I read through the search terms that bring readers to my site, and the majority of searches on harassment had to do with situations where the customer or guest at work is the harasser, especially when that person is drunk.

I addressed the legal aspects of dealing with workplace harassment (including the employer’s responsibilities) in an earlier post, but I want to give some specific ideas about what you can say and do in the moment if a customer is harassing you at work.

Clearly state that the behavior is unwelcome and inappropriate.

This can be as simple as, “That was really disrespectful and/or inappropriate. Please don’t do/say that again.” Or just, “It’s not ok for you to do/say that to me.”

You can also state that enduring harassment is not part of your job description:

“My job is to serve drinks, not to let you slap me on the ass.”

Stand by what you have said in an assertive (not aggressive) way.

What most women fear is the response they will get from a harasser once they have taken a stance. The key is to stick to a professional tone and keep your emotions on the back burner if possible. Stand tall, make full eye contact (even if it makes you feel very uncomfortable), and speak in a clear, calm voice. It’s natural to feel emotional and stressed in a situation like this, but you want to fake composure until the encounter is over. Remember to take full, even breaths. That slows the stress response.

Potential responses and how to deal with them:

1)      They are embarrassed and they apologize. In this case, I think it is nice to reward their good behavior with a smile and friendly attitude or a “thank you” for the apology.

2)      They are embarrassed and resent you for making them feel uncomfortable so they retaliate with a condescending but “humorous” attitude. Ex: “Oh, she’s feisty. Hey everyone (they often try to draw attention of supporters to feel like big men again), look at this chick. She’s serious. She can’t take a compliment.” In this case I would stand very firm and repeat the initial position, adding a potential consequence. “It’s not a compliment and it’s not funny. I’m sorry you feel embarrassed, but that still does not mean you can treat me with disrespect. I’ve been perfectly professional with you. Do I need to have a male coworker/manager take care of you today? I’ll go arrange that.”

3)      They turn mean and nasty. This is a scary one, but remember that you are relatively safe in a public place. Remember if they hurl slurs like “slut”, “bitch” or “dyke”—it’s not about you. If they use a threatening tone or especially threatening words like, “You think this is bad?” or “Maybe you need to learn how to (fill in the blank that means ‘be submissive to men’),” then you should leave as soon as possible. I would say, “Now you are taking a threatening tone. I’m going to get my manager.” If you feel you are in danger, I would ask the supervisor to call the police.

If they are drunk, the same protocol applies. The important thing to remember with a drunk creeper is that they no longer register subtle hints. You need to be extra clear, sometimes using a very firm voice and often repeating yourself. Drunk people can be dangerous, so keep them just outside of grabbing distance.

Other posts you might find useful: How to Be Polite Without Inviting Unwanted Attention

Does anyone have any tips or tricks they’ve used to deal with this situation? I’d love to hear your comments!

Be A Man, Not A Jackass

9 Aug

Hi everyone. I wanted to start this post off with a brief introduction. My name is Alex Girard. I’m a friend of Ali’s, one of her students and an occasional thug for the SAFE class.

Thanks Alex, for sharing your thoughts! Alex will be interning at The Daily Show this fall. We'll miss him in Madison!!

If you’re a regular reader of this or other female empowerment/feminist blogs, the concept of a man writing a piece for such a blog probably doesn’t seem like such a foreign idea; just look at the Blogroll on the right side of this page and you’ll see blogs like “Men Stopping Rape” and “The Good Men Project.” It’s certainly not a new concept, but I’m bringing it up because in my personal experience there still seems to be a broad class of men who confuse feminism with misandry, and any male contribution to gender equality discussions to be either some sort of “betrayal” or glad-handing sycophancy.

For the former, it seems that there are men who take the phrase “Bros before Hoes” as a broad social philosophy. Bros, mainly, who are coincidentally the same people who would use the term “Hoes” to refer to women. Maybe they think it sounds like a good idea because it rhymes.

Now to be fair, I’m not referring to the phrase as it’s ostensibly supposed to be used. Problematic wording aside, the original, idealized meaning of the phrase is that your relationship with your girlfriend or wife shouldn’t cut your male friends out of your life. Fair enough, but here I’m taking it here more literally as like the adult personification of throwing a “No Girls Allowed” sign on your clubhouse. Aside from Augusta, I mean.

They make it sound like normal, respectful relationships with women are some draining force that beats the masculinity out of you. The stereotypical “man of the house,” overbearing “macho” masculinity that’s fortunately been falling more and more out of cultural favor.

For an example, I was listening in on a conversation about relationships and people were discussing the often suggested date of having your lady friend over and cooking dinner for her or together. Maybe it’s because my dad did all the cooking when I was growing up, but I’ve always felt an impetus to learn how to cook well, and I enjoy dates like these because it gives me chance to show off that I’m more well-rounded than a sitcom character (which is more than I can say about some roommates I’ve had).

Turns out, nope, big mistake. Cooking dinner for a woman shows her that you’re willing to do anything for her, and that means the rest of the relationship is going to be her walking all over you. Of course you’d never want to do something nice for someone you like unless it’s because you’re a doormat. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the conversation.

Now honestly, I’ve heard this date recommended so many times that the objection to it was probably more of a half-assed effort to sound different rather than an honest argument for “willingness to cook” as a sign of weakness. At least I’d hope so. I brought this up to a female friend who told me, and I quote, “That’s bullshit. Knowing how to cook and clean will get you a girl so fast.” I’ll take her word for it.

More commonly when I hear men give each other relationship advice, they’ll recommend (and this is a line I’ve heard verbatim multiple times) being an asshole because “women like assholes.” I was under the impression that nobody likes assholes; that’s why they get called assholes. The issue here is of course a confusion between being a jerk and being a confident person.

I’ve kind of gone all over the place here, but the basic point I’m trying to make is that being nice doesn’t make you a doormat, it means you’re nice; being an asshole doesn’t mean you’re confident, it means you’re an asshole; and being macho doesn’t make you a man. That makes you an asshole too.

Women and Drinking and Creepers, Oh My!

12 Jul

Not only are drunken creepers unpleasant, they can be dangerous, especially when our own inhibitions and judgment are impaired by alcohol and other drugs.

90% of all campus rapes occur when alcohol has been used by either the assailant or the victim. (, 2007)

Alcohol is, in fact, the most widely used predatory drug. Think about everyone you know who has been sexually assaulted or raped and ask yourself if they or the perpetrator were using alcohol or other drugs. I don’t know about you, but in my social network the statistic looks more like 100%.

Yes, more widely talked about drugs like GHB and Rohypnol are still an issue, but only in about 3% of cases. More commonly, we need to be watching the use of alcohol (present in 55-63% of victims) and marijuana (present in 30% of victims).

While binge drinking is harmful in so many ways (physically, psychologically, socially), I don’t feel I can convince the devoted drinkers to drink less with a blog post so instead…

Here are some tips for partying safely:

  • Use the buddy system. When you go out, make sure you have friends who you trust (and who are deserving of your trust) to be your better judgement if you overdo it. It’s a good idea to have a designated sober person even if nobody is driving. Do NOT separate from your group. You may have learned from experience that looking out for your drunkest friends can be a thankless job (I’ve had to physically fight with friends to keep them from going home with strangers) but it beats the alternative.
  • Resist the drunken “hook up”. First of all, you know it’s not going to be very good even in the best scenario (you may not even remember it well), and the worst scenario is that it may turn into sexual assault. One of my best friends had to stop one of his friends from going home with a creeper and he reasoned with them “If you two really think you have something here, then why don’t you exchange numbers and get together when you are sober.” Wise words.
  • Don’t let a man walk you (or your friend) home unless it is someone you trust deeply. In Madison a few years back, a young woman was kidnapped and violently murdered by a man who claimed to know her. The woman was drunk to the point where she was not fully functioning and this man told the bartender he was her friend and he would get her home safe. He was never found after the murder. I’ve also heard of more than one case in which a “friend” walked a woman home, then forced his way into her house and raped her.

I helped plan this ad campaign when I was a student! Remember: a person cannot give consent if they are incoherent or incapacitated by alcohol.

Now, to address The Drunk Creeper. Sometimes he is overtly predatory, but sometimes misguided nice guys who lack social skills can get a little creepy too when they get a little liquid courage.

From U of Minnesota's brilliant "The Other Hangover" Campaign

Things to keep in mind when dealing with drunken creepers:

  • Drunk people don’t recognize subtle social cues. I imagine I am talking to a cross between a naughty child/dog and someone who doesn’t hear very well. I use a firm voice, simple wording, and a clear message. “NO. Leave me alone NOW. I have NO interest in you now or EVER.” or “STOP. TOUCHING. HER. NOW. or I will get a bouncer to throw you OUT.” Not only are they not offended, they often still seem confused, like they think this might be a flirtatious game, so you may have to follow up with, “I am NOT joking. I am SERIOUS. Leave NOW. Bye!.. BYE! (*shooing away motions*)” etc.
  • Don’t try to reason with drunk people. If they try to argue for continued creeping, do not engage! A trick is to put your hand out firmly in front of their face like you are saying “STOP.” Drunk people can’t help but to stop when they see this, at least momentarily. In the pause, cut them off and resume assertive communication from the step above. “STOP arguing. GO AWAY NOW.” Or you can go away, if that seems like the better option.
  • Your friend may have an inner creep that comes out when he is drunk. Just because someone is a nice guy normally, doesn’t mean he gets a free pass to creep when drunk. Here you may take a slightly more compassionate stance with something like, “You’re not acting like yourself, and I don’t like this side of you. (Name the behavior:) You are being rude and you are making me feel uncomfortable. Let’s talk again when you are sober.” Then leave the situation.

7 Self Defense Myths

10 Jul

My job as a women’s self defense instructors is widely misunderstood. This is partially because there is no really credible certification system for teaching women’s self defense, so many people teach it without a complete understanding of what they are teaching and give people the wrong idea. Why should you believe me over them? Not only have I grown up studying martial arts since I was old enough to walk at a school owned by my mother, a now 7th degree black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate (a self defense based mixed martial art), but I have spent several years educating myself about violence against women through research, volunteer work and activism. Most self defense teachers understand one or the other– fighting back or what you’re fighting against. I strive to understand both sides.

These are some of the most damaging myths about self defense:

1. You need to learn how to protect yourself if someone attacks you when you are walking alone at night, because nobody you know would attack you, and if they did you would know what to do.

About 90% of violence against women falls under the category of sexual assault, and within that we know that about 85% of sexual assault is committed by someone the victim knows: a friend, acquaintance, family member or intimate partner. Most women don’t believe someone they know and trust could attack or sexually assault them, which is why their guard is down and they usually have not thought through what they would do in such a situation. A good women’s self defense class teaches more than martial arts– it teaches how to navigate dangerous social situations.

2. Women are targeted to be victims based on how they look and/or what they wear.

Attackers choose their victims based on what they think they can get away with. Who won’t tell? Who wouldn’t be believed? Who can they overpower with the least amount of struggle? This is why the majority of sexual assault victims are minors. To suggest that a woman’s appearance has anything to do with her attack is called victim blaming and it is extremely damaging.

3. Perpetrators of sexual assault and other violent crimes are sick and different, so they are easy to spot and avoid.

Most perpetrators look and act just like anyone else. I would even go as far as to say that many simply do not know better than to commit sexual violence. In a poll of college aged men whose actions fit the legal definition of rape, over 80% said their actions were “definitely not rape.” This is why it is important to talk about these issues and educate people to change our culture.

4. Self defense is mainly a set of physical skills plus screaming “NO!” and “BACK OFF!”

Self defense is first about recognizing and avoiding dangerous situations so you hopefully never have to use your physical skills, and second about recognizing that we as women are just as strong and capable of fighting back as any man. Although the material is serious, a good women’s self defense class should feel fun and empowering!

5. The hardest part about physically fighting someone off is that they are probably bigger and stronger than you and they may have a weapon.

Probably the biggest obstacle that most survivors report is the “fight, flight or freeze” response to trauma. Many women report that they didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late and then they were in such shock they were unable to think clearly or act in the way they would have thought they should. If you know how to fight back, it doesn’t matter how big or strong your opponent is. What matters is your reaction in a moment of high stress. That is why martial arts classes are great preparation– because they train your body to react to unexpected attacks with physical defenses, and because they teach how to communicate clearly while working in close quarters with other people’s bodies.

6. Women who don’t leave abusive relationships are different from me. I could never end up in a situation like that.

Any person is capable of ending up in an abusive relationship. I know many intelligent, strong, powerful women who have ended up in psychologically toxic or physically abusive relationships. If it were obvious, nobody would go there! The are so subtle and complex that the best thing you can do to avoid it is to understand and HEED the by getting out before you are too emotionally invested.

7. Pressure points and grappling are the best defenses for a woman who is not trained in martial arts.

UGH this one annoys me. Let me put it this way: most self defense classes are from 2-12 hours long. I have studied martial arts since I was a small child and I STILL have trouble using pressure points effectively. My first choice for physical defense? HIT ‘EM IN THE FACE!!! As for grappling, it’s so trendy right now with the surge in popularity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA. The thing is, joint locks are great (although too complicated for a beginner), but if you are smaller than your opponent you do NOT want to go to the ground with them. Yes, there are ways to defend on the ground but no, they are not easily accessible for someone untrained in martial arts.

Men Who Want To Protect Women

15 Jun

Most fathers, brothers, boyfriends and more are good men who respect and care about the women and girls in their lives. Many of these men feel protective of these women and girls, and I can understand why. The world is not a very good place for women in a lot of ways. 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

I’m concerned, however, that some men may have some poorly informed ideas about how to best support the safety, comfort and happiness of the women and girls they love.

Threatening, intimidating or fighting bad people doesn’t help women.

Often it’s just a joke, but sometimes it’s more serious. The sentiment of “If anyone messes with you I’ll mess him up!” is not only misguided, but could cause more harm than good.

1) Telling a woman that she essentially needs a bodyguard sends her the message that she is a victim who can’t take care of herself and is deeply disempowering, not to mention insulting.

2) Violence and posturing are the problems here, not the solutions.

3) Often the best way to stand up for someone is to help them stand up for themselves. My mother recently moved to Texas and several women there told her, “Oh I don’t need to learn self defense– my husband has a gun!” Her response: “Where is your husband right now?”

Instead of saying, “I’ll protect you,” try things like, “I”ll stand by you if you need to tell that guy off” and “No, you’re not overreacting. He has no right to treat you like that.”

Warning women or girls to distrust men or to live in fear detracts from their quality of life.

Women don’t need to change how we dress or where we go in order to protect ourselves. Over 90% of violent crime is committed by men. Those men are the ones who need to change their behavior.

Rather than warning women or girls “what guys are like” or “how some guys think”, men who care about women should spend that time and effort talking to other men about how to respect women and how not to commit sexual violence.

Women: Expecting the men in your life to protect you is dangerous for everyone involved.

While women and children are most often the victims of sexual assault, men are much more often victims of violence in general. Women are taught to avoid conflict in our society, while men are taught that “a real man doesn’t back down from a fight.” That’s how a lot of men get hurt.

I would not want or expect any man in my life to take a punch for me, any more than I would want to take a punch myself. I write mainly about keeping women safe, but honestly one of the biggest social lessons a man can learn to keep himself safe is to avoid conflict. Repeat after me: “Hey man, I don’t want to fight.”

Tips for everyone to protect your loved ones:

-Don’t laugh at sexist, hateful or. If you can, confront the joker about why it’s not funny.

-If someone you know feels unsafe, don’t brush off their feelings. Encourage them to get out of that situation in their own way.

-Understand the warning signs of and .

-Recognize that nobody “asks for it” when they are raped or sexually assaulted. , including children.

-Empower your loved ones. Don’t let them underestimate themselves or put themselves down. Build their confidence by believing in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.

When I started this blog, I thought to myself, “I’d better not get too political here.” So I pressured my brilliant activist sister to start a , instead. But you know, I’ve reached a point where I can’t not speak out against the blatant attacks on women by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin state government.

I’m talking about Governor Walker and his unquestioning, morally bankrupt Republican majority in the House and the Senate, whose latest genius idea (<- I must be angry if I’ve been driven to use sarcasm) is to defund family planning services in Wisconsin.

spell out how the proposed budget will affect family planning and health care services in the state:

All 12 Republicans in the Joint Finance Committee voted to:

  • Eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood health centers in Wisconsin
  • Against tens of thousands of women, men, and teens who rely on Planned Parenthood
  • Against lifesaving cancer screenings, HIV testing, birth control, and annual exams
  • Put the entire BadgerCare Family Planning program at risk. A program that provides 60,000 patients across the state with basic, preventive health care each year

Now, for those who may be thinking,“Well I’m opposed to abortion so I don’t know if the state should fund clinics like Planned Parenthood…” I can totally understand where you are coming from. That being said, only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s funding goes to abortion and exactly NONE of that funding comes from the state.

We’re talking about tens of thousands of uninsured, low-income and working class women and families losing access to BASIC health care such as cancer and STI screenings, breast exams and pap smears, annual check ups and access to birth control.

What will this mean for Wisconsin? A rise in unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and women dying of cervical cancer.

for the :

The medical director of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene says women will likely die of cervical cancer if Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal eliminating $266,400 for cervical cancer screening prevails.

“I see at least 1 – 2 high-grade lesions every day during cytologic evaluations,” Dr. Daniel Kurtycz says in prepared remarks to…the Joint Finance Committee…. “Without follow-up, there is no doubt that some of these lesions will become invasive. Because cervical cancer takes at least two years to run its course, sometime after 2015, we will have women dying of cervical cancer as a predictable consequence of the funding reduction for testing in this budget.”

This cannot stand. Please by contacting your representatives or volunteering. Spread the word. Organize!

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the women’s self defense classes I teach.

Generally speaking, most self defense and personal safety professionals agree that while it is a great idea to carry a cell phone for emergency calls if needed– talking on your cell phone is not the best idea when walking alone.

Keeping in mind that the vast majority of violence against women is perpetrated by someone that the victim knows and not a stranger jumping out of a dark alley, stranger attacks do happen.

Put yourself in the attacker’s shoes: a cell phone does not make the potential victim less alone, it just makes her more distracted. Attackers are essentially overgrown bullies– insecure and cowardly on the inside, posturing for power thrills on the outside. They are not looking for a fight, they are looking for an easy target. They are looking for someone who seems distracted and easily intimidated.

To avoid looking like a target, walk with confidence and appear alert. Keep your shoulders drawn back (not hunched forwards), head held high, and stay aware of your surroundings. That means no earbuds, either. Make brief but complete eye contact with anyone you see, and listen to your instincts. BONUS: You will find that walking this way will actually make you feel stronger and less fearful!


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