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On trafficking stats and Irish media fail

It’s a source of constant frustration for me that Irish journalists take such a wholly uncritical approach to the spin coming out of the TORL camp. Statistics are blandly repeated as if there was no reason not to believe them, their logical connection to the TORL argument taken for granted; there is never any questioning as to whether they would really support that argument even if they were true. I’m not suggesting this type of “churnalism” is unique to Ireland, of course, but it’s too widespread here to attribute only to individual reporters or specific news organisations. Whether due to editorial direction or sheer laziness, the Irish media have essentially acted as the PR wing of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, doing their work for them by treating their every press statement, every stunt as it was the result of some real journalist’s investigative work.

The latest example of this was the media coverage of this Ruhama statement. The headline, of course, is no different to what Ruhama have been saying for a few years now, and I’m not quite sure why RTÉ thought it merited a whole video report. (Contrast with their total failure to cover a genuinely newsworthy event – the launch of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland’s policy paper a few days earlier.) I suppose the “hook”, if they needed one, was the claim that if the Oireachtas doesn’t hurry up and introduce a ban on paying for sex, there will be an influx of clients from up north in June when the Six County ban comes in. Ruhama spokesperson Sarah Benson says she knows this by reading online forums, where the clients are supposedly discussing their plans to become cross-border sex tourists once that law comes into effect. And this right here is a perfect example of how an unquestioning media becomes a propaganda delivery machine – because if they’d gone on those forums themselves they’d have seen plenty of clients discussing their intention to continue visiting escorts after the law is brought in, and even sharing tips on how to get around the law. Some do say they won’t risk it, of course, but the full picture is considerably more complex than the “pimps and punters will come south” rhetoric we’ve been hearing since Stormont passed the bill – and our journalists would find this out pretty quickly if they would just do the barest bit of research now and again instead of letting themselves be spoon-fed all the time.

But what really needed interrogating in that article is the assertion that the 82 victims of trafficking assisted by Ruhama last year were “mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa”. In itself, there’s nothing remarkable about that statement – there are certainly plenty of African women in Ireland, and most of them would have required visas to come here (a trafficking risk factor) and most of them would have no entitlement to work here on arrival (also a trafficking risk factor). So in that sense, it’s perfectly believable that they would be overrepresented in trafficking statistics.

But to state the obvious, a large number of African trafficking victims in the Irish sex industry would mean a large number of African women in the Irish sex industry – and this is where questions start to arise. Using the advanced search function on Escort Ireland, I come up with a grand total of three Sub-Saharan African women advertising tonight. Even accounting for the fact that some might have given a false nationality, there’s still a loooong way to go to reach “mostly” out of 82. Africans are not known to be over-represented in street prostitution here, and while we know some direct provision residents are forced to sell sex, the indications are this is mostly because of our appalling government policy of not letting them do any other work and forcing them to live on €19 per week – not because they have been trafficked here for prostitution.

So if we assume that 82 figure is accurate (or if it’s only the “tip of the iceberg”), then this conclusion logically follows: there is a lot of sex trafficking going on that has nothing to do with the online escort sector, nothing to do with street prostitution. It could be, as a 2012 report on sex work and trafficking in London suggested, that the market for African women operates through word-of-mouth community networks – making such cases particularly difficult to detect.

But that leaves us with another question, which is: why is it that these women are so much more likely than women of other nationalities to seek the assistance of Ruhama? Are trafficked African women somehow more likely than other trafficked women to escape their predicament and make their way to All Hallows? Are trafficked women of other nationalities drawn to different services, or to none at all? Or could it be that there just really isn’t much trafficking in the more visible sectors, so there aren’t as many non-African victims who need these services?

These are questions that need to be asked, particularly in light of the looming law change. If most sex trafficking really is taking place in a closed migrant community setting – or by other means that don’t require an Escort Ireland profile – then criminalising Escort Ireland customers won’t do much of anything to stop it. It would be the legislative equivalent of looking for a lost item in a room you didn’t lose it in just because the light is better there.

And even if that’s not the case, the fact remains that there’s a striking discrepancy between the nationalities of most of Ruhama’s clientele and the nationalities of most visible women in the Irish sex industry – a discrepancy that surely has practical significance in terms of what kind of services and prevention measures are needed. It’s worth interrogating regardless of what it means for the usefulness of the proposed law. Irish journalism really needs to start unpacking these TORL soundbites, instead of just swallowing them whole.

Happy tenth birthday to the Telegraph’s brothel job hoax

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“If you don’t take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits.” As of today, this line has been doing the rounds for a full decade. It ricochets around my brain, gradually sounding more and more like a crazed parrot. The Telegraph certainly came up with a catchy headline, and never mind that it was fiction: ten years on, this article continues to be shared regularly by wave upon wave of scandalised readers. “You couldn’t make it up,” some of them splutter. Actually: yes, mate, you could.

The story, written by one Clare Chapman (best known, apparently, for this alone), claims that a 25-year-old unemployed waitress was told by a jobcentre that she had to take a job “providing ‘sexual services’ at a brothel in Berlin”. This actually harks back to an incident reported on a German website a year and a half previously, except the waitress was in fact encouraged to contact the brothel because they needed a bartender. And even the supremely clunky autotranslation manages to let us know that “the job offer was not mandatory”. So, the staff could have handled it better – letting the woman know in advance what kind of business it was, for example – but at the end of the day there really wasn’t much of a story here, until Chapman came along and tweaked it.

A great deal of those jumping on the scandalised bandwagon seem to be oblivious to the article’s timestamp, reacting as if all of this happened just last week. Its swift debunking by Snopes, as well as by numerous other commentators, hasn’t enjoyed anything near the same amount of exposure. So far, the article has seen a combined 25,000 shares on Facebook and Twitter, though neither service was in public use when the story first came out, so let’s not forget the additional mileage it got from forum discussions and blog posts. For prohibitionists, this urban myth is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Undine de Rivière is the press spokeswoman for BesD, Germany’s Professional Organisation for Erotic and Sexual Services, and notes the broader ramifications of this story. “Although in fact the jobcentre never forced a single person into sex work,” she says, “it’s still used by abolitionists to paint a picture of what’s allegedly going to happen once we fully decriminalise (and try to destigmatise) sex work.” And of course, this strategy is employed internationally to hold up the mythical German case as a cautionary tale. Somehow, nobody seems to have paused to consider that maybe, just maybe, if legislation is introduced to legalise or decriminalise sex work (the two approaches often being conflated, of course), it might also be possible to add a clause that safeguards jobseekers from being forced into it. In fact, as de Rivière notes, “We have sexual self-determination as a fundamental right in Germany, too. That, by itself, excludes sex work from the list of ‘reasonable’ jobs (i.e. jobs you have to take on or lose part of your benefits). That’d also remain the case if we’d ever gain equal social recognition.” Veronica Munk, representative of the TAMPEP International Foundation in Germany, adds that “a job centre cannot force or threaten anyone into sex work, because sex work, although recognised as an activity, is a special one because it requires or demands physical intimacy.”

While everybody got distracted by wringing their hands over a work of fiction – or proclaiming that if it hadn’t happened yet, it was just around the corner anyway – one issue that’s generally been neglected is the reverse scenario: how does a former sex worker navigate the benefits system? First, de Rivière explains what individuals can do while still working in the sex industry: “We don’t need to register as sex workers, [but] the government is planning to change that, which would be awful. So far, all we need to work legally is a tax number, which isn’t connected to any specific profession. Sex work is taxed as ‘other income’ at our annual tax declaration, which is a good thing for those wanting to keep their job secret. We’re able to access benefits like everybody else […] dependent on residence permit status, citizenship, duration of living in Germany, having paid into the system or not, etc.”

However, although at this stage the state is friendly towards sex workers, it’s a different story for those who leave the industry and need benefits. “Accessing welfare involves an outing because you have to give details about your situation,” says de Rivière. “I’m not sure if there is a way to prevent that and [I’d imagine] there are people avoiding the welfare system because of the outing involved. I know cases of ex-sex workers having been faced with doubt by the social welfare office – they were blatantly accused of secretly continuing to work, [although] I also know quite a few cases of just that actually happening.

“I’ve heard so many shitty stories of humiliating treatment at German social welfare offices, no matter the applicants’ job histories or backgrounds, and I know several colleagues who took up sex work to avoid just that and regain their dignity. I’m actually not sure if it can get any worse for a former sex worker. [It] probably depends on the personal issues the individual official has with sex work.”

Problems faced by actual sex workers, though, are possibly too mundane compared to the imagined horrors that can take centre stage in stories by and about non-sex workers. And plenty of people are willing to accept outrageous claims at face value, often content to have them confirm pre-existing prejudices. (Besides prohibitionists, the Telegraph myth has been promoted by an impressive collection of people busily factoring it in to their arguments against liberalism, welfare, godlessness, Europe, and Israel. David Icke jumped in, too. I am just saying.)

Clare Chapman’s brothel job hoax is ten years old today. After ten years of this nonsense, it’s time for hypothetical bullshit scenarios to take a backseat, while we focus on highlighting and dismantling laws that put sex workers at risk, as well as ending demand for sensationalist, inaccurate reporting.

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

RTÉ’s outrage over protesters insulting the president illustrates the hypocrisy at the heart of the media establishment. Let’s be frank here; no one in RTÉ gives a toss about ableism. Of course it isn’t nice to see someone being called a “midget parasite”. It is ableist language and pretty nasty, and not a word that should be bandied about like that.

I’m not unfamiliar with pointing out when people use rubbish or offensive terminology, but I’m finding it really hard to jump on the condemnation here. It’s not that I think this is fine behaviour or in any way acceptable, or that I have some special regard for the office of President (although while I’m on the subject I don’t think protesting against the president because he signed a bill into law and refused to do an Article 26 referral is a good politics. It’s silly and lacks an understanding of what the implications of a finding of constitutionality under Article 26 actually are). It’s just that I literally do not care that a bunch of people did this in Finglas to register their dissent given what’s going on elsewhere.

The media are gleefully hawking this video around like snuff at a wake but their fury has nothing to do with ableism or even affording appropriate respect to the office of President. Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins called it “incitement to hatred” on twitter mere weeks after tweeting about the “free world” and the hashtag #jesuischarlie. RTE expressed outrage, and anyone who wants to say Paul Murphy is an apologist for hooliganism is given a platform to air their views. Michael D is a man that goes to League of Ireland football games, so I’m pretty sure he’s heard worse and much less cares, but to RTÉ, Finglas is rapidly taking Jobstown’s place as Ireland’s home for a feral community intent on destroying civilisation as we know it. Production staff on Morning Ireland would probably save themselves time if they just played Tony Harrison from the Mighty Boosh on a loop screaming “It’s an outrage!”

But as I said, I don’t really care about what happened in Finglas.

I really don’t care that a bunch of people said some mean things to the President when he is surrounded by a gaggle of Gardaí to protect him. Sure. They shouldn’t have said it, but I don’t care because I have watched too many videos of people being beaten with impunity by the guards and having excessive force used on them.

I don’t care because as I type this a private police force decked out in balaclavas is roaming through Stoneybatter and Broadstone assaulting people, abusing pregnant women, and filming  people coming  and going from their homes all at the behest of Irish Water. I don’t care because I have listened and watched as Irish Water staff screamed at my next door neighbour that he was a “cunt” at the top of his lungs. There are plenty of videos on youtube where the Gardaí stand by and watch as Irish Water staff abuse and assault people, and more where the guards assault people.

I don’t care because two people using the word “midget” to the president is a convenient mechanism for distraction for a lazy media (including the government mouthpiece RTÉ) who can wring their hands over this instead of airing stories about communities under siege and families in poverty looking at prospects of Irish water bills that will push them over.

That protest was last week so why is the video only coming out now? Oh that’s right. There’s a protest this weekend. It’s the equivalent of throwing a stick for dog to distract him from chewing your shoe. If there was half as much righteous indignation in the media over Garda brutality and Irish Water and GMC Sierra as there was about name-calling, it would be in much healthier shape.

The feigned shock and condemnation is hypocrisy at its worst and there really are bigger and more urgent things to worry about. People need to stop falling over themselves to try and be the most respectable game in town.

Get over it.

Get organised.

Get out on Saturday and show the zero fucks that you give about this.

More on sex trafficking in Sweden, from the Swedish police

Just over a year ago I wrote this post, analysing the Swedish police’s annual human trafficking report for 2011. A few months later, the 2012 report was published in Swedish; I didn’t have the time to Google Translate it so I figured I’d wait until the English version came out. Unusually, though, it never did. And now, I see the 2013 report is available – but again, only in Swedish. Perhaps the powers-that-be in Sweden have realised these reports aren’t exactly helpful to their international propaganda campaign.

So, Google Translate it is.  As it turns out, much of the 2013 report just repeats more-or-less-verbatim what I already quoted in my summary of the 2011 report (and I really do encourage you to read that, particularly if you still buy the TORL disinformation). But a few things jumped out at me from Section 3.1 of the current report, the section on “Human trafficking for sexual purposes”:

sex trafficking is not just an urban phenomenon but … these crimes also occur in small towns throughout Sweden (p.15)

They probably said that in the last report too, but it strikes me now how similar it is to Diarmuid Martin’s widely-reported New Year’s Mass, in which the Archbishop of Dublin solemnly informed us that trafficking is happening in every nook and cranny in Ireland. Hype about the spatial distribution of sex trafficking is an interesting subject in and of itself, though not one I’m going to spend any time on here.

In 2013 the police established a total of 41 complaints concerning trafficking for sexual purposes. … The above statistics can be compared with the situation in 2012, when 21 reports of human trafficking for sexual purposes were established. (p.15)

I’ve said repeatedly that I think trafficking statistics are pretty much meaningless, because they only measure what officials detect and identify as trafficking, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with the actual amount of activity taking place that fits the legal definition of “trafficking”. But let’s be honest – if this was a Dutch or German study showing a 95% increase in sex trafficking in a single year, don’t you think we’d be hearing all about it from the Mary Honeyballs and Rhoda Grants and Equality Nows of this world?

As in 2012, there was also in 2013 a return to more brutal methods in trafficking cases. (p.16)

Hmmm. Is this the “normative effect” Minister Fitzgerald tells us she expects from the law?

According to Europol … the victims of sex trafficking brought into the EU from third countries particularly come from Nigeria. This is the case even in Sweden. (p.16)

TORL supporters in Ireland have repeatedly claimed that this is the case in Ireland, too, which again undermines the argument that a country’s prostitution laws make the difference.

In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden and able to be contacted by the police or NGOs they are offered the opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation of human trafficking/pimping, they may in some cases be inadmissible under the Aliens Act. [Footnote: According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph of the Aliens Act, “an alien is inadmissible if it can be assumed that during their stay in Sweden they will not earn a living in an honest way.”] (p.17)

Let’s condense that a bit: “In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden but not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement, they may be deported, because we don’t want their kind here.” Such a caring compassionate approach to “women exploited in prostitution”, isn’t it?

Some victims told police that were they exploited in prostitution by sex-buying men, pimps and traffickers in several other EU countries before they were transferred to Sweden. According to Europol, it is common for criminal networks engaged in human trafficking to move victims from country to country and often within countries. This is how traffickers regularly offer men the sex-purchase of new women and maximize their profits. (p.19)

I think this is quite noteworthy, in light of previous claims that traffickers avoid Sweden because they can’t make any money there. 15 years of the sex purchase ban, and police say that traffickers are still moving victims to Sweden in order to “maximize their profits”. What does that tell you about how effective they think their law really is?

Another subsection looks at the online sector, and the last paragraph merits quoting in full:

National Police can confirm that subjects relating to the purchase of various sexual acts, escort services and prostitution activities still, despite a ban on the purchase of sexual services, engage men in Sweden. On the site Sexwork.net and on the discussion board Flashback are hundreds of pages with thousands of discussion threads about these topics. Some of the threads contain reviews, written by sex-buying men, of women who are exploited for prostitution purposes. The reviews related inter alia whether the woman corresponds to the man’s expectations of the sex purchase, her appearance, physical attributes and her willingness to perform the “services” as promised on the website. That the woman ordered is actually offered is also important information for the sex-buying man. Moreover they exchange male sex-buying experiences such as how they can avoid detection by the police or family members, or avoid being exposed to robbery or extortion. The language used by these men in reviews is often highly sexualised, derogatory and abusive towards women. The threads on the web forum Sexwork.net are divided into different regions; Sweden, other Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Europe and Thailand. (p.21)

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Now, a couple points on what’s not here. One of the most striking revelations of the report I reviewed last year was the near-trebling of Thai “massage parlour” brothels in Stockholm between 2009 and 2011-2012. There are no up-to-date figures in this report, but it does confirm those findings. So, for any pro-criminalisation people who were hoping the 2013 report would say “er that was wrong and actually there really are no brothels posing as massage parlours in Stockholm”: sorry to disappoint.

And finally, there’s a whole subsection – 3.1.3 – devoted to “Support for voluntary return and reintegration of persons trafficked for sexual exploitation or prostitution”. It takes up approximately one page of the overall five-and-a-half page section on sex trafficking. Curiously, there is no section on integrating trafficking victims into Swedish society. But then, we’ve already seen why that is: because their only value to Sweden is as a law-enforcement tool. It seems the Swedish state uses them for its own purposes, and then discards them like unwanted goods.

I’d call that exploitation.  Wouldn’t you?

ETA: The Swedish police have now released a press statement on this report, which can be read (in Swedish) here. This part of the statement is notable:

Human trafficking for sexual purposes makes most people think of foreign girls and women who are lured into sex slavery, something that the progress report also describes. But there is also a domestic problem in which minors, mostly girls, living in Sweden sell their bodies on the net. …

There are many who do not understand this explosion of girls who sell their bodies on line, says [Detective Inspector] Kajsa Wahlberg. These young girls have a need to be seen and get confirmation, while there is a great demand for young bodies.

This law is an abject failure. How can anyone claim otherwise?

Whose country is it anyway?

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I’ve been thinking about a couple of comments that Marcus Ranum made on my last post (thanks for the food for thought, by the way!). Here’s the exchange:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.19.25Now, obviously (especially since he actually said it in as many words) the suggestion wasn’t a serious one. It’s just an expression of frustration, and a legitimate one at that. I threaten to move to the far side of the Moon on a regular basis, right? It got me thinking, though.

Yes, women and people with uteri are second-class citizens in Ireland. We have a constitution that tells us that we have a special place within the home, shouldn’t be bothering our pretty little heads with economic labour, and are legally equivalent to a fertilised egg. I mean, technically you could even say that a male foetus has a higher status than a grown woman, since at least the foetus is expected to go get a job at some point in the future.

It’s grim.

Of course, women and the uterus-enabled aren’t the only ones living with second-class citizenship in this lovely country of ours. Trans people still can’t have their genders recognised, queer people are barred from equal marriage and can be legally discriminated against if we work in education, and let’s not even start on direct provision and arbitrary deportations of asylum seekers, or the abysmal way that the Travelling community are routinely dehumanised, or people on years-long waiting lists for public healthcare, or non-Catholic families being shoved down school waiting lists or.. oh, I could go on. You know I could go on. We have no shortage of second-class citizenship (or residency, or humanity) in this country.

Does being second-class citizens mean this space is less our home, though?

My answers, as ever, over at Consider the Tea Cosy

Irish women are now incubators. Even in death.

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Consent is not for Irish women: once a person in Ireland becomes pregnant, their right to refuse or to choose medical treatment is null and void. Self-determination is not for Irish women: once a person in Ireland becomes pregnant, they may no longer choose the direction of their lives within our borders, and if they do not have the right to leave their borders their lives become the property of our state. And as of today, even the right to be laid to rest after our deaths is not for any pregnant person in this country.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem that way. December 26th marked a High Court ruling on the case of a brain-dead woman who has been kept on life somatic support since her death on December 3rd. She has been kept breathing, despite the unanimous wishes of her partner and family, because at the time of her death she was ~14 weeks pregnant, and Ireland’s constitution demands that the right to life of a foetus must be protected. Because of this constitutional provision- which I’ll go into in more detail in a moment, don’t you worry- none of her doctors would allow her life support to be turned off. Her family- including her two young children- have been forced to watch as the condition of her still-breathing corpse deteriorated grotesquely, waiting for the High Court to deliberate and make its decision.

It’s a hell of a way to spend Christmas.

On the morning after, though, the High Court ruled in favour of the woman being taken off somatic support. At face value this is a positive thing. It allows the woman to finally have some kind of dignity in her death, and for her family to begin to grieve her and move on. They’re not stuck with grotesque daily updates on the deteriorating condition of her body and the foetus inside it.

It looks positive- in as much as you can use a word like that in a situation like this- unless you actually read the High Court ruling. When I say “then it becomes terrifying”, I want you to understand that I am not exaggerating for effect. The implications of this ruling are terrifying, and they are macabre, because although it provides for somatic support for this woman to be switched off, it also creates precedent for the corpses of pregnant people to be sustained in future. And within this, there is no consideration whatsoever given to the wishes of the person being used this way.

I said that consent is not for Irish women. With this ruling, neither consent nor the right to a dignified and final death are for any pregnant person in this country.

I guess it’s time to explain.

Continued at Consider the Tea Cosy

Thoughts on the High Court case

As the three High Court judges retire to consider their decision in the latest Irish abortion law tragedy/farce, I’ve been thinking about the options open to them and their implications for the future. As I see it, there are four possibilities:

1. They could uphold the right to life of the “unborn”, thus compelling the woman to be kept on life support until the foetus can either be induced or dies itself. This is the family’s nightmare scenario. Probability of appeal: certain.

2. They could find the 8th amendment applicable to situations of this type generally, but exclude its applicability to this case on the basis of the overwhelming medical evidence that the foetus will not survive anyway. This would have implications for future fatal foetal abnormality cases; essentially it would vindicate the argument that no referendum is needed to allow for abortions in cases where the foetus’s condition is “incompatible with life”. However, the question would then arise of exactly how incompatible it must be, and who gets to decide and how. We would likely be looking at the FFA version of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, for which there is likely to be just as much enthusiasm. Probably of appeal: fairly low, I would think.

3. They could find that the 8th amendment doesn’t apply at all, as it was strictly intended to prevent abortion. This argument was used in court by John Rogers SC, counsel for the women’s family, and is consistent with previous judgments such as Roche v Roche and O v Minister for Justice. Such a ruling would have implications for maternity care in Ireland, in particular the noxious National Consent Policy’s exclusion of pregnant women from the right of all other adults to autonomy in health care decisions, and the threatened use of court-ordered Caesarean sections. For this reason I would imagine the probability of an appeal would be fairly high.

4. Lastly, they could sidestep all the difficult issues above and simply rule that in all the circumstances of this particular case, it would create an injustice to force the woman to continue on life support. This is probably the best option for the family; there is virtually no chance of an appeal, and it would allow the Court to have regard to the woman’s own right to dignity rather than making that conditional on the prospects for foetal survival. Unfortunately, it would also mean that the underlying issues remain unsettled. And if there’s one thing that’s become increasingly apparent, from Savita to Ms Y to now, it’s that there really is no such thing as a “uniquely difficult” case. We are far from seeing the last “tragedy” of a woman whose pregnancy tests the 8th amendment in ways its supporters would have deemed too fanciful to rate as valid arguments against it.

The cowardice of most of our political parties to deal with this issue is something that simply can no longer be tolerated. And it is not simply the politicians who I am addressing that to. It’s time for us as voters to make this a red-line issue, to let our elected reps and candidates know that a preference from us depends on their support for repeal, and to stick to that pledge regardless of partisan or personal loyalty. Because if we vote back in another government that refuses to be the one to hold a referendum, every one who does so will be complicit in what’s been happening in that hospital since December 3rd.

Note: This post was written on an iPad Mini thousands of miles away from Ireland; please excuse lack of links and possible missed details.

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