A Conversation About Abusive Relationships: Shame, Victim Blaming & Shattering Myths / Stereotypes

If you’ve been listening for a while you know I talk about some pretty “uncomfortable” things around here.  Well today is no exception, in fact it may be the most uncomfortable episode I have ever recorded. Today is a conversation about abusive relationships, and I want to be clear that this episode does not have the answers, it is about opening the door to a highly uncomfortable, stigmatized, and difficult topic, and offering some perspectives you may not have previously considered.

 I’ll be sharing;

  • Some very startling and stark facts, research, and statistics around reported abuse globally in a variety of different demographics
  • The Definition of trauma bonding and what could make it a huge factor in why someone stays in an abusive relationship
  • Falsehoods, stereotypes, misconceptions and a lack of empathy I’ve heard around this topic over the years all while speaking about why we need to shatter these and speak up and out about abuse in relationships.
  • And more…

Are you ready? Let’s go

For the full transcription of today’s episode scroll down to get reading, otherwise hit the play button above to listen now!

References from today’s episode: 

If you are experiencing abuse of any kind and need assistance please check out the websites below:

https://www.ontario.ca/page/get-help-if-you-are-experiencing-violence

Domestice Violence Statistics Globally: 

  1. https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2019
  2. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200909/dq200909a-eng.htm
  3. https://vawnet.org/sc/serving-trans-and-non-binary-survivors-domestic-and-sexual-violence/violence-against-trans-and
  4. https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Fact_Sheet_Violence_Against_Aboriginal_Women.pdf
  5. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/rd3-rr3/p3.html
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499891/
  7. https://www.scie.org.uk/safeguarding/adults/introduction/types-and-indicators-of-abuse
  8. https://talkingparents.com/blog/july-2019/why-domestic-violence-goes-unreported
  9. https://vawnet.org/sc/scope-problem-intimate-partner-homicide-statistics
  10. https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS
  11. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/12/us/domestic-violence-victims.html
  12. https://www.femicideincanada.ca/about/trends
  13. https://www.thespec.com/news/world/2017/09/15/homicide-now-second-leading-cause-of-death-for-pregnant-women-in-the-us.html
  14. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women
  15. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/canada-domestic-violence-double-covid-pandemic_ca_6033dadac5b67c32961f779f
  16. https://time.com/5928539/domestic-violence-covid-19/
  17. https://www.socialsolutions.com/blog/domestic-violence-statistics-2018/
  18. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/stop-family-violence/publications/intimate-partner-abuse-against-men.html
  19. https://ifstudies.org/blog/eight-reasons-women-stay-in-abusive-relationships

TRANSCRIPTION:

You’re listening to Episode 281 of the room to grow pot. I’m Emily Goff, a human connection coach, speaker and mental health advocate with an insatiable sense of curiosity and adventure, always asking more questions and using the power of stories to teach, learn and grow. It’s about allowing for room to grow. And this podcast focuses on three main pillars: human connection, personal growth, and freedom. We cover topics like relationships, and cultivating genuine supportive connections with ourselves and others, speaking your truth, shattering personal barriers, radical self acceptance, and courageously leaning into your skill sets. Whether it’s a solo episode, or bringing on highly curated guests with incredible stories, experiences and expertise to share, we’re leaning in and taking the entire idea of growth to the next level, all while still covering the uncomfortable topics that many of us like to avoid, there’s always more room to grow. Let’s do this.

Hey, welcome back to the Room To Grow Podcast, Emily here. And today we’re going to be having I mean, you know that I often talk about uncomfortable topics on this podcast. But this one is even more uncomfortable than I sometimes cover. And I have thought about doing an episode like this for a long time. And I have danced around it, because I don’t think and I still frankly, don’t feel that I am the one to have this conversation. But this is just opening the door to potentially a different way of thinking about that. So we’re going to be talking about abuse in relationships, and the shame that can come with that, the victim blaming and a lot of the societal stigmas that need to be broken. This episode does not have the answers, I need to be very clear and honest with you, that this episode does not have the answers, I do not have the answers. This is simply about opening the door to a highly uncomfortable stigmatized and difficult topic and offering some perspectives that you may not have previously considered. Because I truly can’t stress this enough, I do not feel equipped to be discussing this topic. I really, really don’t. And I’ve said this before, and I will say it again, I am not a mental health professional. I am not a mental health professional, this podcast while it’s very much rooted in mental health advocacy, it is not professional mental health advice. But this topic around abusive relationships has come up in many, many private conversations that I’ve had. And I have been on the receiving end of some emotional abuse myself in a past relationship. And I have others in my life, who have experienced a variety of different kinds of abuse as well. I hear a lot of misinformation and stigmas about abuse floating around that needs to be addressed because otherwise, it simply adds to the same issues that many people experience around this topic. And it actually silences people who might otherwise come forward to seek help and support. That’s why I am talking about this, I am not an expert in this area at all, I do not have the answers, I’m simply trying to shine a light on an area that’s often sidestepped and is incredibly layered and complex. And everything I’m going to be talking about here today is only scratching the surface, barely scratching the surface of the many, many complexities and dynamics that can be a play when it comes to something like abuse. And if you’re being abused, please do whatever you can to seek support. I’m going to list a handful of hotlines that you can call in the show notes. But it will obviously depend on what area you’re in, what country you’re in, the type of support that you need as well. So if it’s at all possible, and you’re experiencing something like this, I urge you to seek support in whatever way that you possibly can. And truly, I really do often believe that mental health professionals are absolutely required for something like this. If someone came to me to recover from abuse, I would recommend that and I will always recommend that they see a mental health professional who is both trained and equipped to help someone move through those levels of trauma, because that is something that I am simply not equipped for.

My friend, Traver Boem, and I actually touched on abuse a little bit from a couple different angles back in Episode 266. I highly, highly recommend that episode. For a variety of reasons. The abuse aspect is one small portion of it, but that is one of my favorite episodes on the entire Room To Grow Podcast. And many people have reached out to me with just incredible feedback about it. So please go check that out. He and I do touch on abuse briefly. And he had some really, really interesting perspectives. Basically we talked sort of about how abuse often goes unaddressed and unsupported. And some of the issues that can come up alongside it, along with a variety of other crucially important topics around men’s mental health and violence against women. So go check out Episode 266. It’ll be referenced in the show notes as well. But ultimately, what triggered me finally doing this episode? Oh, there’s a lot. There are just a lot of falsehoods and a distinct lack of empathy that I have heard around the topic of abuse over the years, along with both personal experience both myself and with many, many others. Most recently, what ultimately pushed me to do this, it was sort of the final straw that pushed me to do this episode was I listened to a podcast recently, where the woman conducting the interview, the podcast host was emphatic that she would never in her life under any circumstances, have ever tolerated anyone not treating her right in a relationship, in a romantic relationship, that she couldn’t understand why women put up with shitty behavior and would just tell them to just get rid of these partners. Okay. By the way, as you know, anyone who’s ever listened to this podcast knows that I laugh at uncomfortable topics. So if I’m laughing at all, during this episode, please do not mistake it as me laughing at the topic being funny, there’s nothing funny about any of this, I just tend to laugh when I get uncomfortable. So if you hear me giggling, that is why there’s nothing at all amusing about this topic. But this conversation really needs to be had. Because that type of approach that I heard that podcast host taking completely ignores the nuance that is required to navigate the complexity of relationships. And it shows a lack of both understanding and humanity regarding how abusive relationships happen. And also, I’m going to be covering this topic from a wide range of different angles here. So stick around, because I’m going to be talking about abuse when it comes to men being abused as well as women, because that is a topic that does not get discussed. Very often, transgender, abuse abuse against Aboriginal and indigenous women in particular. There’s so many different angles here. So stick with me, because I’m also going to be giving you some numbers and some statistics that I think are really, really important. And I know many, many women who are strong willed, independent, powerful personalities, just these incredibly powerful personalities, who have ended up in abusive relationships, often emotional abuse, but physical and potentially sexual abuse as well, in some other cases. And there’s a long list of different kinds of abuse, I’m going to be referencing a number of different sources that I researched for this episode. So those you know, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, those are only three different kinds of abuses. There are a variety of different kinds of abuse that sometimes don’t even get discussed, very commonly. So I’m going to be referencing different sources and stuff. So you can go take a look at the show notes over at roomtogrowpodcast.com for this one. 

But it is an absolute myth and falsehood, I cannot underscore that enough. It is an absolute myth and a falsehood that anyone who ends up in an abusive relationship is weak, broken, or that there’s something wrong with them. Abuse doesn’t generally start the day you meet someone, at least not usually in a super obvious way at all. It can be incredibly slow, gradual, and can start to happen over such a long stretch of time, that you don’t even realize that the behavior you’ve begun to tolerate has simply become normalized for you incrementally, so slowly that you didn’t even notice it happening. Sometimes you don’t even notice it until months or even years have passed before you realize that it’s actually not normal, and that it’s far from healthy. I saw one article that phrased it perfectly, the article said “it’s hard to leave if you can’t find the door”. If you don’t even realize that what you’re putting up with isn’t okay or that all you’ve ever known is abuse in relationships, then this type of behavior would probably feel normal to you. And I think we tend to have this sort of societal idea that abuse only seems to take place if someone is meek, mild mannered and easily manipulated. And that is a gross under underestimation, and simply inaccurate. Not only that, but emotional psychological abuse can be very difficult to identify. When my nine year relationship ended, for more than that, you can check out Episode 117, and I began to really unpack what I had been tolerating in what had been normalized in the context of that relationship, it was incredibly difficult to come to terms with the fact that I was someone who had ended up in the position that I had. I vividly remember looking at myself in the mirror in the weeks that followed the ending of that relationship and wondering who the hell I even was anymore because it went against everything I thought myself to be. Things like being lied to, and gaslighted for so many years and having my entire reality manipulated. Sometimes during that time frame, I would have moments where I thought I was losing my mind, because I would be certain that something would be true only to have it turned around on me, or twisted into a story that didn’t quite make sense. But I was convinced to believe it anyway. And I chose to believe it. And I was and always have been so strong willed that I believe I was actually more difficult to control in that relationship than perhaps would have been ideal for the other involved party. And yet, even then, I still spent nearly a decade being lied to every single day. There’s something called trauma bonding, and trauma bonding can be a factor in many abusive relationships as well. Trauma bonding typically occurs when the abused person begins to develop sympathy or affection for the abuser. And this type of bond can develop over days, weeks, or even months. And not everyone who experiences abuse develops a trauma bond. But the person who is experiencing abuse can sometimes begin to rationalize the actions of the person who’s abusing them. So I’m linking an article about trauma bonding as well. And you can Google that as well. There’s all kinds of things out there about trauma bonding now, so you can go take a look at all that. We’re going to get more into this in a moment, as well, but even if things like the finances, or kids or other major considerations aren’t an issue in holding someone into a relationship, the emotional pull back to an interview to an abuser is very, very real for many people. I have read beautifully written letters or emails from men to their former partners professing their deep grief over a relationship that has ended that would bring tears to your eyes from any outside perspective. Those same men have also physically abused the women that they’re writing to you by punching them in the face and shoving them into broken glass. The manipulation is next level in those types of instances. And when we’re questioning how people end up in abusive relationships, sure, there can absolutely be factors to examine such as self worth, and childhood trauma, all of those things that can be explored with a mental health professional. And I’m not saying that there aren’t underlying issues of internal work that need to be done to heal, by the person who may have been on the receiving end of the abuse. But that could also be argued for literally any and every human being on the planet too,  plus, we haven’t even gotten into the reasons why women in particular, may be more likely to stay in abusive relationships. One of the big ones is money, finances and financial dependence. That can be an absolutely crucial part of the puzzle, where if you’re entirely financially dependent on someone to live it makes it pretty hard to get out of that relationship. Sometimes people have nowhere else to go. Maybe people, especially women are staying for the kids, potentially, partly because they don’t have the finances to support the kids on their own. Or maybe because their kids would be taken away if they tried to leave, loss of custody, trying to make sure that their kids don’t come from a so-called broken home. There can be a huge number of reasons and factors that play into just that one aspect of it. Another reason can be maybe the person is blaming themselves, and believing that it’s not the fault of their abuser. So thinking things like I made him do it. If you know, I made him angry, I set him off, it’s my fault. Sometimes there might be worries often legitimate, very legitimate by the way that others won’t believe them. Or that there may be a huge amount of shame around leaving or pressure to stay from friends or family members depending on the situation. Again, sometimes you may not even realize that there’s abuse happening too. We tend to associate abuse with very obvious physical symptoms like a black eye or a broken arm. And that is absolutely a form of abuse as well. But it’s much harder to identify emotional abuse, especially if you’re being told that it’s all in your head over and over again. 

Maybe you have a deep belief that the other person will change as well. And this is just a short list. There are many, many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. And the biggest reason why women, in particular, stay in abusive relationships is fear for their lives. allow that to really sink in for a moment. When you think about that, and then you think about looking a woman in the face who has been abused, and questioning why she didn’t just get rid of the guy and question her for, for putting up with some shitty behavior, imagine being in the position we’re trying to leave a relationship could very likely cost you your life. Really think about that for a minute. And I’m saying that because I want, I want you to, I want anyone listening, I want anyone out there to not make wildly dismissive statements about abuse, unless you’ve walked a mile in those shoes as the saying goes. Because to be able to easily leave from the standpoint of things like finances, that’s a privilege that’s afforded to the very small minority, many people have to stay because of the money and may not have other support, financial, emotional or otherwise. And again, that’s just one of the reasons why people often stay is the finances. And when it comes to, also not leaving, because of a lack of support, part of the abuse is often isolating the person from their support system, whether that’s close friends, family members, or otherwise. And then that also traps them in the relationship because they feel like they don’t have anywhere else to go emotionally, physically or otherwise. Right. If for anyone who doesn’t know, I have a university degree in criminology, I spent years not only examining the systemic issues in the criminal justice system, I also actively studied serial killers. I know it sounds a little weird, but I took entire semester-long courses that were dedicated to nothing but serial killers, and, and really examining, you know, different serial killers in different time periods, how they managed to go undetected. The psychological aspects that went into it, it was just so involved and it was, it was fascinating. But I’m bringing this up because I think of someone like Ted Bundy, just to use a more sort of highly publicized example of a serial killer that most people would be familiar with. He was good looking, he was charming, he was approachable, easy to get along with, would you tell the women that he came after and murdered that they should have known to tolerate being treated better, he treated them just fine until he killed them. And obviously, I realized that we tend to be talking about at least slightly longer term relationships, and we’re having conversations about this type of abuse. But it’s not nearly as far off as you think. And I know we’ve been talking about mostly women here, but I do want to bring men into this conversation from the other side of things. Because men being abused is something that is not discussed nearly often enough. Yes, the majority of abuse cases are women. And again, we’re speaking in binary terms here. But groups such as the transgender community is not to be ignored here either. And they suffer astronomical and disproportionate levels of both abuse and murder. And I have some statistics on that, that I’m gonna get to in a little bit.  

But these statistics of men being abused are also not really an accurate reflection when it comes to abuse. Because it often goes unreported. So, just to give you some examples here about both men and women. According to the CDC, one in four women and one in seven men will experience physical violence by their intimate partner at some point during their lifetimes. About one in three women and nearly one in six men experienced some form of sexual violence during their lifetimes as well. So many cases of women being abused go unreported. And the number of cases of men being abused, going unreported, may actually be even higher, because there can be even more shame for men to come forward because of all the societal stigmas attached to it. That doesn’t mean that the overall numbers of men being abused are higher. I mean, that proportionately here there’s some indications that far fewer cases of males being abused get reported at all overall. And, you know, when I speak of societal stigmas, I’m thinking of the types of phrases like “Be a man” or “man up” or “Don’t be such a pussy”, right, like those types of things. And, again, men being abused. This can also come from a variety of different angles, like emotional, physical, sexual, there’s all kinds of different abuses. Men already have a distinct lack of support when it comes to mental health. I get into that in a few different episodes Episode 130. With my friend Tom McClelland, we talk about men’s mental health in their Episode 229 with my friend Scott Baker, we talk about men’s mental health in the workplace. And again, I’m going to reference this one this is how important this episode is, is Episode 266 with my friend, Traver Boem, really, really fascinating episode an absolute must listen, in this case it absolutely, highly recommend if you only listen to one other episode in this podcast, go listen to Episode 266. But overall, the conversation around abuse has to change. When I hear comments, like the one I heard on that podcast that that podcast host made, and that’s just one example I could give of many, I hear victim blaming, and I hear shaming and I hear a complete lack of empathy, compassion and understanding. 85% of domestic violence victims are female, and 15% are male. Women with disabilities have a 40% greater risk of intimate partner violence, especially severe violence than women without disabilities. Homicide rates in general are higher for men, but women are more likely to be killed by intimate partners five times more likely than men to be killed by intimate partners. In 2017, it was reported that homicide was the second leading cause of death for pregnant women. The only thing that it was second to was car accidents. That in and of itself is appalling. And some of these statistics are a little bit more international. Again, I’m going to reference all of these stats in the show notes so that you can go check them out. Some of them are Canadian, some of them are international, some of them are from the US. From the Canadian Department of Justice it said, “violence within the domestic context is the most pervasive form of victimization experienced by Aboriginal women. Nearly one quarter 24% of Aboriginal women in Canada reported having been assaulted by a current or former spouse compared to only 7% of non Aboriginal women”. The Native Women’s Association of Canada also said that Aboriginal women 15 years and older are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non Aboriginal women. between 1997 and 2000, the homicide rates of Aboriginal females were almost seven times higher than those of non Aboriginal females and homicides involving Aboriginal women are more likely to go unsolved. This has been a really hot button issue in Canada in particular, over the past, I would say five to 10 years, because only 53% of murder cases of Aboriginal women have been solved, compared to 84% of all murder cases across the country. Then here’s another one for the gay community from stats Canada, gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexual minority people in Canada were almost 3 times more likely than heterosexual Canadians to report that they had been physically or sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months in 2018. And more than twice as likely to report having been violently victimized since the age of 15. And there’s some necessary things we need to talk about here with the transgender community as well. There was a US study done back in 2015, with the transgender community where nearly half of the risks of the respondents had been verbally harassed in the past year because of being transgender, and one in 10 had been physically attacked in the past year for the same reason. Nearly half, 47% of the people who responded were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. And 1 in 10 were sexually assaulted in the past year. Again, this is all the transgender community. In communities of color, these numbers are higher. 53% of Black respondents were sexually assaulted in their lifetime and 13% were sexually assaulted in the last year, in in the transgender community, and then within the transgender community, within the community of color disproportionately higher numbers of transgender respondents have also experienced homelessness compared to people who are not and more than half experienced some form of intimate partner violence, including acts involving coercive control and physical harm. And then I do want to touch on men here. So there was a I thought it was actually really well done a government of Canada article all about abuse that men experience. And it talks about some of the many, many limitations when it comes to studying abuse against men and gathering data. Because, “some research has found evidence that men under report the abuse hat they have sustained and inflicted while women under report perpetuating abuse as their age and education increases. This makes it difficult to capture actual abuse rates accurately”. So the number of reports of spousal abuse against men has actually shown increases in the past 20 years, potentially because of the changing conversation around abuse, and a greater willingness to actually report the abuse happening along with some changes in legislation and stuff as well. But having been abused by a woman, I thought this was really interesting, and this also ties very closely with Episode 266 with Traver. One thing in the article said that having been abused by a woman, the men felt that they had failed to achieve culturally defined masculine characteristics, such as independence, strength, toughness and self reliance. As a result, the men felt emasculated and marginalized and tended not to express their fears, ask for help or even discuss details of their violent experiences. During the interviews, the abused men repeatedly expressed shame and embarrassment. And they indicated that their disclosures of abuse were often met with reactions of disbelief, surprise and skepticism from the staff of domestic abuse shelters, legal based institutions and hospitals, as well as friends and neighbors. Those reactions may cause male victims to feel even more abused. That’s all pulled from this, this one article, Government of Canada article about men and the abuse that they can suffer. And this is really important, because what do you think the implications of that are? Where do you think those feelings are going to go? And then we look at men and wonder why sometimes they’re so shut down, and they’re emotionally unavailable. And all of these are the things that we hear and maybe think, and all of that there’s so much involved with this because this is part of a bigger conversation here. And the pandemic has created a whole set of unique issues in and of itself Domestic violence calls in Canada almost doubled during the pandemic, according to one report that was released in February of 2021. And the United Nations reported that domestic violence has spiked globally during the pandemic as well, which was something that was predicted from the very beginning of lockdowns. There have been surveys done around the world that have shown domestic abuse spiking since January of 2020, right before the pandemic started a huge job compared to the year over year in the same period of time, including violence increasing 300% in one area of China, 25% in Argentina, 30% in Cyprus, 33% in Singapore, and 50% in Brazil, these numbers are frightening, all of these numbers are frightening. I really wanted to highlight that most commonly we talk about abuse against women, because women are the most likely to be abused by far, that should not ignore the fact that men are also and can also be abused, and that they may actually disproportionately under report, the abuse, as well as women, often not reporting for reasons that we know as well have a long list of reasons that we’re very well aware of. the transgender community suffers disproportionate levels of abuse, the Aboriginal community, particularly in Aboriginal women specifically suffer disproportionate levels of abuse. And the pandemic has layered on whole new issues with us with being trapped at home with abusers. And, maybe people who weren’t violent before whether that be emotionally violent, or physically or otherwise, before the pandemic, there may have been so many stressors added on during the pandemic, that has changed too,  this is so complex. This is so complex. And truly, even after doing the research and all the things, I really don’t feel like I’m the one equipped to talk about this. I still do not feel that I am equipped to talk about this. This is purely an informational episode. I just want to throw some things at you to consider the next time you either hear someone else talk about abuse in a way that is not showing a full, full kind of way of understanding and empathy with the problem. Or if you maybe catch yourself having some of those thoughts as well. Like, well, why doesn’t she just leave? Why doesn’t she just get out of there? Why does she stay in these relationships? There are so many reasons, so many reasons. So please share this episode with somebody who needs to hear this. If you are someone who is experiencing abuse, again, I’m going to encourage you to seek support wherever you can find it. I also deeply understand the obstacles that can get in the way. And I just want to change the conversation around something like abuse, because it is so complex, there’s so many dynamics at play, that we may never realize what somebody is going through and experiencing. So just approaching things with that level of empathy, can change the conversation by itself, that can already start to show more support for this. And to just bring more awareness to an issue that is so misunderstood, incredibly misunderstood. So thank you for listening, thank you for bearing with me, especially through all the stats, I don’t usually give that many statistics because I know that it can seem a little bit dry, but I really think that they are so necessary, I looked up way more than that. And I tried to shorten it as much as possible to include the most relevant ones that would kind of highlight some of the biggest issues. But there are so many statistics that are astonishing, and, frankly, frightening when it comes to abuse. So if you know someone who is experiencing abuse, please offer your support, however best you can. And if you are somebody who is the one experiencing abuse, again, I’m going to encourage you to seek support in whatever way feels even remotely good to you. And in those situations, I’m not sure that anything feels good, necessarily, but I hope that you can find the support that you need. Okay, so thank you for listening. I know that this one was a little bit different than what we usually do here. But I felt that it was really important, especially because we talk about relationships so much on this podcast, it kind of felt like leaving out a giant part of the conversation if we didn’t touch on this, because this is something that is far more common and prevalent than we’d like to believe. And that there are also different groups and communities who suffer from this much, much more disproportionately than others too. And there’s a lot involved in this. So thank you for bearing with me. Thank you for listening. Please share this with somebody, and we’ll be back soon.

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast today. It means the absolute world to me and I’m so grateful for any references in the episode and all show notes. Be sure to jump over to roomtogrowpodcast.com, and if this episode touched your heart, it would mean so much if you would take a quick second to hit subscribe, write a review and share on social media over someone who really needs to hear today’s message. It makes such a difference to keep this podcast going so I can continue to bring you amazing content and absolutely incredible guests. Be sure to tag me on Instagram @emilygoughcoach so that I can thank you in real time for listening and connect with you. We’re back every Tuesday and Thursday with new episodes and I’m looking forward to growing with you

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