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Andrew Bolt

Jul 6, 2009

The Navy sex "scandal" - is it about consent or culture?

Over the weekend a story broke about several navy seamen allegedly betting on who could sleep with th

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Over the weekend a story broke about several navy seamen allegedly betting on who could sleep with the most female shipmates (more coverage at ABC News). We’ll be seeing a range of comments from politicians and media commentators, so I thought I’d kick off a post to discuss it.

Andrew Bolt, in a post today and on Insiders yesterday, is discussing it as an issue of consent – in much the same way as he approached the issue of group sex in football earlier this year. I think this overlooks the real issue, which is one of organisational culture. The problem here is that it appears some male seamen regarded their female counterparts as potential conquests, and that raises questions about attitudes toward and treatment of women in the Navy. Arguably, this is similar to the issue arising from certain high-profile sportsmen being involved in group sex or other activities that, regardless of whether they were consensual and irrespective of the fact that nothing criminal took place, involved treating women as objects in a sexual game.

Feel free to post links to commentary as well as your own opinions. Is this a media and/or political beat-up? Are there real issues here and, if so, are they being addressed by the media? Or are they being overlooked for the sensationalism of a sex scandal?

ELSEWHERE: Discussion of the issues at Blogocrats.

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31 comments

31 thoughts on “The Navy sex “scandal” – is it about consent or culture?

  1. Point missed - Pure Poison

    […] Bolt is apparently puzzled by the sex ledger at sea incident being a “scandal”: THE navy is shocked – shocked! – that healthy young men cooped up on […]

  2. baldrick

    I think that it is appropriate to mention the support and complaint mechanisms that are currently available for serving defence personnel. There are equity officers outside the chain of command who are obligated not to reveal the details of the complaint to the complaintaints chain of command and refer the matter to independent authorities who have very substantial powers of investigation. I myself have had a fellow officer in a regiment (he was an equity officer) inform me that one of my subordinates had made a complaint to him about another of my subordinates. He was a good mate and I naturally asked him who it was that he was talking about and what were the circumstances. He declined and stated that in his role as equity officer he could not discuss it with me. I realised what I had asked him, understood his position, and told him that I respected his role, would STFU about it, and could he please buy me another beer as it was his shout. The mechanisms exist and I think that the fact that this has made the headlines, the system is working. Don’t just assume that because something happens it is endorsed, indicative of a overall culture, or has any support from the people charged with looking after peoples welfare in the ADF.

  3. Cassie

    Morale and trust are too important in a military workplace to be weakened so the ‘boys can have their fun’. Women know when guys are acting creepy and predatory. The agression rolls off them and it makes women uncomfortable. How are you supposed to work efficiently in a work environment like that? Or in a warzone? There have been documented rapes in the army, so where do you draw the line with sexual inappropriateness? If you worked in a professional workplace like a law firm and you thought a group of male workmates were acting predatory you would report it so that you could get on with your job without being subject to crap like that. A professional workplace should promote an attitude of sexual appropriateness, and i wonder if the armed forces can offer that freedom from discrimination to their soldiers. There is a point of view being voiced here that this bet is just a normal healthy expression of something male. Sure it might be, but is that sort of thing appropriate in a workplace? I don’t think that it is, i think this bet is disrespectful and suggestive that as a woman in the army it is acceptable and a given to be prey to men’s power games and prey to men’s sexualities. This isn’t about consenting adults shagging, it about sexual power. If a group of male soldiers got together and decided to bet on who could engage in sexual act with another particular male soldier, would that be different? I’m pretty sure that the target male soldier in question would cotton on pretty quick that he was being targeted and socially victimised and feel anxiety and stress. Men and women soldiers deserve a more professional workplace.

  4. Bronwyn Turner

    This sort of thing happens all over society. Guys on campus at the college I went to would put a carton of beer on the heads of the fresher girls at various times during the year, so you didn’t sleep with anyone on campus. But this was uni not a closed environment like a ship.

    I agree that a relationship on the ship is corrosive to morale, but I think the main point here was that a book was put on results. this happens and I think as long as nothing happened then only minor discipline should occur.

    Face it people sexual harrasement (this is NOT sexual harrassment in my view) happens in the vast majority of workplaces in this country many times a year and often more often. I work in mining which is a partially closed environment and you just have to grow a skin that harrassment bounces off. Though I’ve always had a problem with working out what harrassment is because according to people I have worked with I have been subjected to it, but was unaware of it, probably because I don’t care what people say to or about me and I stand up for myself if someone is going too far.

    There is a certain hysteria in relation to this issue that indicates the press in particular is becoming prudish. Let the boys have their fun and make sure that all sailors and officers are aware with examples of what is and is not acceptable behaviour, then discipline, with counselling first before drastic action such as removing them from the ship! Grow up girls this is the big wide world

  5. Josh

    baldrick: I agree with you it’s not a culture issue with the military it’s more a culture issue with society at large and where Navy personnel come from.

    You hit the nail on the head with the breakup issues. That more than any other reason is why no one should have a sexual relationship with anyone else they are serving with on a ship. It is completely corrosive to morale. When the relationship sours it just destroys efficiency on the ship, but even when it’s going strong you get all the attendant problems of other personnel feeling that X or Y is getting preferential treatment because of who their sleeping with. All in all it’s a disaster.

  6. Josh

    Tee: “During working hours there are rules of course, but not the rest of the day, the 16 hours, which of course makes this problematic.”

    What are you drinking mate? At sea on a warship you’re always on duty which is one of the reasons you get extra pay for being at sea. You may not have to be a particular duty station but you are always on call. That’s why you can’t do things like get drunk.

  7. Denise Muir-McCarey

    I. Consensual sex isn’t the issue.
    2. Power is.
    3. Individual counselling and organisational change programs will hopefully help if the ‘top brass’ take responsibility for gender balance and respect. And promote staff accordingly – that is, based on a balance of their technical/theoretical and practical skills in the ADF as well as their emotional intelligence and demonstrated respect for others.
    4. The worst thing about all of this is that nothing’s changing for the better given the pretty basic view being publicised. The best leaders/CEO’s I have met/worked for were the ones who addressed any form of unprofessional conduct immediately and made certain that all staff were trained/educated; given an opportunity to ask questions and challenge ‘old hat’ views; and encouraged not to use language like ‘politically correct’ to blatantly disregard a more modern, elegant perspective on life.

    Good luck to the ADF in taking this on board – let’s hope some of the very retro and quite limited stereotypes/assumptions get shaken up!

  8. Ungulate

    Tee, I’m really struggling to understand your logic here, in particular your focus on the fact that no one had done anything illegal. Are you arguing that employees should be able to do anything they like as long as it’s legal?

  9. Ungulate

    “No, but there’s no possible way to stop that sort of thing.”

    There’s a pretty good way to strongly discourage it, and that’s to discipline people who engage in that sort of behaviour.

  10. tee

    Tee, where have I suggested anything about regulating how people think??? What on earth are you talking about “controlling essentially private conversation”?

    Well that’s what the end result is from the position you’ve taken. There’s no way you can back out of that.

    I’m afraid acceptable IS the question to be asking. A Naval ship is a workplace. There are all sorts of rules and policies and regulations in place in all workplaces that aren’t solely about legality, they are about creating an environment that people feel safe and comfortable working in, and one that helps people to best do the job they’re being paid to do.

    During working hours there are rules of course, but not the rest of the day, the 16 hours, which of course makes this problematic. Let’s say they were off duty army personnel instead of sailors and weren’t on a boat would you want to control their time off if they weren’t doing anything illegal?

    And you’re right, it’s not like any other office. In fact that’s perhaps an argument to be even more careful about behaviour – there’s no escape at the end of a shift. These people are stuck together “24 hours a day”.

    Exactly, they are stuck there 24 hours a day.

    This isn’t about controlling morality issues. I’ve already conceded that banning “fraternization” altogether is unrealistic.

    Yea well, with one hand you give and with the other you take.

    Hell – let them have off-duty gang bangs, if they’re all up for it.

    Yes, they’re adults and if an adult decides to partake in consensual sex with multiple partners etc. that’s their issue.

    This is about women being treated as objects in a sexual game by their “comrades-in-arms”.

    Yea, and men and women who marry for money too. The point being that it’s impossible to worry about the why’s and the how’s.

    If the women concerned were all willing participants in this arrangement then maybe there’s no problem, but somehow I doubt that’s the case.

    You don’t know and even if they were it’s not illegal although morally suspect as we both agree… But it’s not illegal.

    Again, I ask you: how would you feel having your daughter/sister/wife enlist to be stuck on a ship with those sorts of Neanderthals? Would you be proud as punch over her price tag?

    No, but there’s no possible way to stop that sort of thing.

    At least you’re not bullshitting on like Tobs has about “organizational problems. FFS

  11. baldrick

    Its all about not crapping where you eat. I have seen young female soldiers target young male officers, and young (and old) male soldiers target female officers for ‘some action’. You succeed, you are an absolute legend and will tell all and sundry straight away. Hence why young female and male officers suddenly disappear from posting localities overnight – there are no secrets, either for males or females.

    I have taken command of sub-units where there had been breakups and it poisoned morale like nothing I had seen before. That’s why I personally had always enforced a no fraternisation policy, enforced through a ‘don’t ask, better hope I don’t find out about it’ methodology – ie, do what you want in your personal time but don’t bring your personal issues to work or one of you is getting reposted out of the same unit. I imagine its the same in the navy. The guys who ran this scheme were idiots and should get the arse from that particular ship. But any women who ended up ‘paying out’ on that ledger were not professional and should have thought about their reputation a little harder. As in a Army unit, there are no secrets on a Navy ship and you are going to be talked about – best you find a different place to crap than where you eat.

    Not P.C. and definately not what the brass want the public image of their respective service to be, but thats the way the world is. And I disagree with Josh on one point – I have seen and experienced attitudes out of the dark ages from some of the most educated (civilian tertiary institutions and military tertiary institutions) staff in the Defence force – as I have from civilian counterparts. Its about the individual, not the supposed ‘culture’.

  12. Ungulate

    Tee, where have I suggested anything about regulating how people think??? What on earth are you talking about “controlling essentially private conversation”?

    I’m afraid acceptable IS the question to be asking. A Naval ship is a workplace. There are all sorts of rules and policies and regulations in place in all workplaces that aren’t solely about legality, they are about creating an environment that people feel safe and comfortable working in, and one that helps people to best do the job they’re being paid to do.

    And you’re right, it’s not like any other office. In fact that’s perhaps an argument to be even more careful about behaviour – there’s no escape at the end of a shift. These people are stuck together “24 hours a day”.

    This isn’t about controlling morality issues. I’ve already conceded that banning “fraternization” altogether is unrealistic. Hell – let them have off-duty gang bangs, if they’re all up for it. This is about women being treated as objects in a sexual game by their “comrades-in-arms”. If the women concerned were all willing participants in this arrangement then maybe there’s no problem, but somehow I doubt that’s the case.

    Again, I ask you: how would you feel having your daughter/sister/wife enlist to be stuck on a ship with those sorts of Neanderthals? Would you be proud as punch over her price tag?

  13. tee

    Tee, in your world of “freed up s-x rules” would placing money on people’s heads (presumably without their knowledge) as bounty for getting into their pants be acceptable behaviour for our military personnel?

    Acceptable is not the question to be asking. Is it legal ought the right question. What people do in their private time is up to them unless of course they’ve signed a morality clause in their contract in which case it makes this different. Are there morality clauses in their contracts? Do you know?

    If not then you point is totally redundant.

    Do you think it would benefit crew morale (other than amongst the halfwits participating in the competition)? Would it make people feel comfortable about joining the Navy?

    So go ahead, try to control morality issues as broad as this. Be my guest.

  14. tee

    Ungulate:

    So now we’re about to regulate how people think? You and I may think it’s deplorable however so what. We should now control essentially private conversation because they may be unacceptable to our senses?
    Wow, we’ve come a long way full circle…

  15. Ungulate

    Well put Josh.

    Tee, in your world of “freed up s-x rules” would placing money on people’s heads (presumably without their knowledge) as bounty for getting into their pants be acceptable behaviour for our military personnel? Do you think it would benefit crew morale (other than amongst the halfwits participating in the competition)? Would it make people feel comfortable about joining the Navy?

    You may have a point about banning s-xual relations outright being unrealistic. But that’s not the issue here. Try to pay attention.

  16. Ungulate

    Tee – you seem to be missing the point. The sailors weren’t sent home for having s-x. They were sent home for running a betting competition which placed dollar signs on their female crewmates’ heads (with officers and lesbians drawing higher prizes). If you think that’s acceptable behaviour then ask yourself how you’d feel having your daughter/sister/wife enlist to be stuck on a ship with those sorts of Neanderthals.

    Tobias – the answer to the question you pose (”is it about consent or culture?”) was answered pretty well today by a sailor interviewed on Hack (Triple J) this afternoon. He claimed that he heard stories like this “all the time” and that this sort of thing is pretty stock standard. The podcast should be available for download shortly.

  17. tee

    The only problem in this one is that it suggests a culture on the part of some sailrs that treats female members of the defence force as sex objects.

    And, even if they do, there’s no specific law that says they can’t.

    They might need some counselling as to what’s appropriate in the workplace, but that’s about it.

    Leftie. They’re on a boat for months with members of the opposite sex. What could anyone reasonable person think is going to be the outcome?

    And counseling for what exactly: to somehow deaden the desire to have sex?

    The idea that you can stick people on a boat for months and expect that they behave and then to demand the commanders to supervise people aren’t having sex is frankly ridiculous.

    They aren’t working for 24 hours a day so they do have personal time, which makes the whole exercise totally different than say a normal office situation.
    You either have freed up sex rules or you don’t have males and females on a boat for 6 months together.

  18. Jeremy Sear

    This has nothing to do with consent – there’s no suggestion any women were coerced or put in a position where they couldn’t say no. Nice attempt to confuse the issue in the football incidents.

    The only problem in this one is that it suggests a culture on the part of some sailrs that treats female members of the defence force as sex objects. They might need some counselling as to what’s appropriate in the workplace, but that’s about it.

  19. Ungulate

    @Tee – you seem to be missing the point. The sailors weren’t sent home for having s-x. They were sent home for running a betting competition which placed dollar signs on their female crewmates’ heads (with officers and lesbians drawing higher prizes). If you think that’s acceptable behaviour then ask yourself how you’d feel having your daughter/sister/wife enlist to be stuck on a ship with those sorts of Neanderthals.

    @Tobias – the answer to the question you pose (”is it about consent or culture?”) was answered pretty well today by a sailor interviewed on Hack (Triple J) this afternoon. He claimed that he heard stories like this “all the time” and that this sort of thing is pretty stock standard. The podcast should be available for download shortly.

  20. Josh

    Tee, from reading some of your comments on other threads I honestly think you’re a bit of a moron who it isn’t worth the effort to try and educate.

    However without reading all your rant, I’ll just comment on the first thing you say; your “consensual sex between adults” quip and leave it at that. You quite obviously have never served in the military or you would understand that in a disciplined military force with a strictly enforced rank structure the concept of consent is a huge problem between different ranks but especially between commissioned and enlisted personnel on active duty. In a normal workplace power differential sexual harrassment can be a big problem, in the military it is of a whole other order of magnitude.

    Mate I would suggest in future you stick to commenting on stuff you know something about however much that will probably limit your contributions.

  21. Ungulate

    @Tee – you seem to be missing the point. The sailors weren’t sent home for having sex. They were sent home for running a betting competition which placed dollar signs on their female crewmates’ heads (with officers and lesbians drawing higher prizes). If you think that’s acceptable behaviour then ask yourself how you’d feel having your daughter/sister/wife enlist to be stuck on a ship with those sorts of Neanderthals.

    @Tobias – the answer to the question you pose (“is it about consent or culture?”) was answered pretty well today by a sailor interviewed on Hack (Triple J) this afternoon. He claimed that he heard stories like this “all the time” and that this sort of thing is pretty stock standard. The podcast should be available for download shortly.

  22. phyllis stein

    A caller to Mr Faine’s program today served in the Navy for 6 plus years. She mentioned a public competitive list stuck to the fridge tallying orgasms achieved through self stimulation by the male trainees. She said alcohol was a problem, she said work/team cohesion necessarily trumped individual complaints/issues. Re fraternization, arent’ women employed as junior sailors too?

  23. tee

    Respect for your fellow colleagues is vital in environment such as working on a Naval ship. The last thing we want is for our ships to become a sexual free for all.

    How on earth are you going to prevent young men and women from fraternizing in all sorts of ways on a ship when they’re away for months on end? isn’t this avoiding the obvious in that sexual attraction does happen and it is impossible and indeed puts the officers in charge in the impossible position of trying to stop natural attraction from happening.

    People have sex, young people try to have lots of sex. If we’re going to have a mixed navy it would be far more honest if we simply allowed fraternization to take place rather than playing these stupid games. it would be better than letting old fuddy duddy types like Tobs here who would only allow conventional sex behind a locked room.

  24. tee

    The problem here is that it appears some male seamen regarded their female counterparts as potential conquests, and that raises questions about attitudes toward and treatment of women in the Navy.

    So consensual sex between adults (even if you dislike what they are doing) is a “conquest” now is, Tob? This is obviously patent nonsense and treats females as a gender unable to make decisions for themselves. Have you even considered the possibility that the women were just as interested?

    So would you argue that such practices like wife swapping and sex with multiple partners should be banned?

    Arguably, this is similar to the issue arising from certain high-profile sportsmen being involved in group sex or other activities that, regardless of whether they were consensual and irrespective of the fact that nothing criminal took place, involved treating women as objects in a sexual game.

    WTF? So you’re not distinguishing between what is consensual sex and think of it as something akin to rape?

    Perhaps you should be explaining to your female readers why exactly you think they are unable to make decisions for themselves even into adult age.

    You simply don’t know information to be making any sort of conclusion, Tobs unless of course you think women aren’t capable of deciding the type of sex they want.

  25. Josh

    Spot, I never served on a Sub but I think one of the big differences is the size of the work environment. Fraternisation on a large ship like Success is much easier to get away with than on a cramped sub – opportunity, idle hands, devils work etc. I also think that the sub branch attracts a different sort of sailor. More disciplined and career motivated then a resupply ship like success. A mate of mine served for a while on one of the oceanagraphic vessels and he said it was not like being in the military at all.

    As to women officers and junior male saliors, well there is a lot more inter-rank mingling nowadays especially with junior officers. But I also see it as being a bit like those cases where a prison warder or lawyer ends up getting into a relationship with a prisoner despite the likely consequences. Also I think it’s a lot harder for female officers in many respects. There is I’m sure still a certain level of resentment amongst a lot of male officers about women serving (regardless of all the protestations about equality). I never had a problem with women serving but to be honest my service was quite mecernary in that I joined to get qualifications and put something on my CV and left as soon as my return of service expired. Some guys that joined with me really wanted to be warriors and I think they didn’t like the idea that they were doing jobs that the “weaker” sex could do. In my intial officer course the largest cause of resentment though developed around the equivalency fitness requirements. ie guys running 3.5kms for the fitness test; women 2.6km; no. of chinups, situps etc all downgraded similarily.
    Anyway in my experience a lot of the female officers were the personality types that needed to prove they could be as good as the guys, breaking down barriers etc and there never seemed to be the same camaraderie amongst the women as amongst the men. Obviously some girls got on better with the guys then others. I think then that at sea for a lot of junior female officers its hard to find a sympathetic ear amongst their officer comrades at sea if they’re having any problems, personal or otherwise and so they end up unloading on some junior sailor over who they have power and who is unlikely to criticise them. Also I noticed that in general female officers are more diligent in their divisonal duties and take more interest in the sailor’s welfare outside of their service duties therefore they have a higher level of more personal contact then just telling them what to do and evaluating their performance. (eg if a junior sailor is having girlfriend or wife problems they’re more likely to talk about it with a female officer who will be sympathetic and offer probably better advice, this then can lead to a more close personal relationship which eventually screws up their careers.)

  26. spot the bigger dog

    Josh, I’m an ex-submariner from the 1980’s and as such I never served with women. I find this idea that female officers having sex with junior sailors just bizarre. My memory is that officers and junior sailers never mixed and when an officer did try to associate with us they were brought into line very quickly by the XO. Clearly thinks have changed.

    The issue here seems to be about creating a working environment that works. How do you work somewhere where you have to be constantly looking over your shoulder. Respect for your fellow colleagues is vital in environment such as working on a Naval ship. The last thing we want is for our ships to become a sexual free for all.

  27. GavinM

    Hi Tobias,

    Its an interesting issue — I don’t believe its similar to the footballing instances we’ve seen, as far as I can tell there hasn’t been any reports of group or forced sex and although its possibly unfortuneate, it is true that many young blokes boast about their sexual achievements to their mates, so in many ways this betting game can perhaps be seen as an extension of that boasting.

    The problem here is that it is a moral and potentially an efficiency issue. A warship requires discipline, respect and trust amongst its crew to run efficiently and I can’t see how there could be too much respect amongst the male sailors taking part in this betting game for their female counterparts. Along with that, I reckon it wouldn’t be too long before the secret got out on board, and that would then see the end of any trust that the women would have for their male shipmates — hence no respect and trust amongst the crew, which would almost inevitably lead to a collapse of morale and discipline.

    As an aside and although I don’t believe that it’s the real issue in this case, perhaps if the Navy doesn’t want its male and female personnel to engage in sexual relations with each other, they should think twice about sending shiploads of 18 – 30-something year old men and women to sea together for months at a time….

  28. Josh

    kym, I’m presuming none of the women in the tote book had actually slept with the men sent back or at least didn’t admit to it and there was no real evidence that they had. The Navy has pretty much a zero tolerance policy towards fraternisation especially at Sea, so I would expect that short of a servicemember (male or female) filling a position where they couldn’t be replaced and was vital to the ship’s operation that any women would also have been removed. Further the military now-a-days employs some pretty bright people for PR work (generally from the legal services branch), and I’m sure their first advice to the brass was for them to remove any women if they had evidence they had fraternised. Of course you never know though, I served under some pretty stupid senior officers in my time, so anything is possible and I won’t be surprised if something that stupid was allowed to happen.

  29. Josh

    As someone who has served in the Navy as a commissioned officer during the 1990’s firstly I’d like to say that the Navy brass takes this sort of thing very seriously and the commanding officer of the ship acted quickly to remove the accused men from the ship. Personally I think it’s a beat-up, but at the end of the day the problem the military faces, the Navy and Army moreso than the Airforce is that military service especially in the enlisted ranks in certain categories attracts specific types of individuals. In many ways junior sailors are a lot like footballers and come from generally similar backgrounds. First and foremost they tend to be risk takers, they have a work hard/play hard mentality and they are young. They also almost exclusively come through the public school system and from family environments where feminism as practised and advocated by the tertiary educated people of this world is almost non-existent. It is very, very difficult to change these lifelong ingrained attitudes in the relatively short recruit training periods before they are deployed at sea. They also get treated by a lot of girls much the same way as footballers. Whilst lacking the individual celebrity of a footballer the reality is that your average Navy sailor does very well with the ladies regardless of his looks (and this is predominately something that happens to male sailors) purely out of the fact that he is a sailor, especially if in uniform. I have literally seen women throw themselves at groups of sailors when we visited ports.

    Life at sea is for the most part boring and repetitive especially serving on what is effectively a non-combat ship like Success. It is not what you would call a sought after posting and so attracts not necessarily the dregs of the ranks but certainly your not getting the cream of the crop.

    At the end of the day I think this sort of thing is pretty much unavoidable from time to time in an occupation that attracts the sort of people that are willing to serve in this sort of job and reflects more generally on the way young men from certain segments of society are raised, nurtured and educated more than it does on any cultural defect in the Navy’s ranks. I will be very surprised if any of the sailors involved are not junior ranks.

  30. confessions

    Consent! WTF? he also said we were being too prudish or words to that affect.

    As someone esle on insiders said if daring to have sex and gambling on it happened in any workplace it would be considered harrassment. Sex between consenting workmates is not the issue here, it’s the issue of what this alleged behaviour says about the culture of the navy, and what it says about creating a professional environment in which women feel an equal part of the team, not some knuckle-dragger’s sexual conquest fantasy.

  31. kym f durance

    I figured the guys were sent back ( I guess AB sees this as discriminatory ) and not the girls – not for shagging, but for what essentialliy meant incessant revelations about ostensibly private matters – maybe a niaive assumption by the lasses involved – as well as runnig a tote on the outcome – if AB was concerned about equality it might not be an issue if the lassess were part of the joke – but they werent – essentially in the eyes on the men they were the joke.

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