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Hazing is seen in many different types of social groups, including gangs, sports teams, schools, military units, and fraternities and sororities. The initiation rites can range from relatively benign pranks, to protracted patterns of behavior that rise to the level of abuse or criminal misconduct. Hazing is often prohibited by law and may comprise either physical or psychological abuse. It may also include nudity and/or sexually based offences.
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In some languages, terms with a christening theme or etymology are preferred (e.g. "baptême" in French, "doop" in Dutch — both mostly used in Belgium) or variations on a theme of naïveté and the rite of passage such as a derivation from a term for freshman (e.g. "bizutage" in French -mostly used in France-, "ontgroening" (de-green[horn]ing) in Dutch —mostly used in the Netherlands—, "novatada" in Spanish, from "novato," meaning newcomer) or a combination of both, such as in the Finnish "mopokaste" (literally "moped baptism", "moped" being the nickname for newcomers, stemming from the concept that they would be forced to drive the children bicycle or tri-cycle). In Latvian, the word "iesvētības", which literally means "in-blessings," is used, also standing for religious rites of passage, especially confirmation. In Swedish, the term used is "nollning", literally "zeroing." In Portugal, the term "praxe", which literally means "practice" or "habit," is used for initiation. In Brazil, it's called "trote" and is usually practiced at universities by older students ("veteranos") against newcomers ("calouros") in the first week of their first semester. In the Italian military, instead, the term used was "nonnismo", from "nonno" (literally "grandfather"), a jargon term used for the soldiers who had already served for most of their draft period. A similar equivalent term exists in the Russian military, where a hazing phenomenon knowing as Dedovshchina exists, meaning roughly "grandfather" or the slang term "gramps" (referring to the senior corps of soldiers in their final year of conscription). At education establishments in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, this practice involves existing students baiting new students and is called ragging. In Polish schools, hazing is known as "kocenie" (literally catting, coming from the noun "kot" - "cat". It often features cat-related activities, like competitive milk drinking. Other popular tasks include measuring a long distance (i.e. hallways) with matches.
Often most or all of the endurance or the more serious ordeal is concentrated in a single session, which may be called hell night, or prolonged to a hell week, sometimes again at the pledge's birthday (e.g. by birthday spanking), but some traditions keep terrorizing pledges over a long period, resembling fagging.
In Israel, the practice is called "zubur" (an Arabic-derived Hebrew slang word roughly equivalent to 'willie') and exists primarily in Israeli Defense Force combat units and the Israel Air Force. Unlike hazing in many other places, "zubur" is typically used to mark the achievement of important milestones (in an ironic 'don't get too big for your britches' way), such as after a pilot's first solo flight.
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Hazing activities can involve forms of ridicule and humiliation within the group or in public, while other hazing incidents are akin to pranks. A snipe hunt is such a prank, when a newcomer or credulous person is given an impossible task. Examples of snipe hunts include being sent to find a "dough repair kit" in a bakery, while in the early 1900s rookies in the Canadian military were ordered to obtain a "brass magnet" when brass is not magnetic.
Spanking is done mainly in the form of paddling among fraternities, sororities and similar clubs, sometimes over a lap, a knee, furniture or a pillow, but mostly with the victim "assuming the position," i.e., simply bending over forward. A variation of this (also as punishment) is trading licks. This practice is also used in the military. Alternative modes (including bare-buttock paddling, strapping and switching, as well as mock forms of antiquated forms of physical punishments such as stocks, walking the plank and running the gauntlet) have been reported.
The hazee may be humiliated by being hosed or by sprinkler, buckets or hoses; covered with dirt or with (sometimes rotten) food, even urinated upon. Olive or baby oil may be used to "show off" the bare skin, for wrestling or just slipperiness, e.g., to complicate pole climbing. Cleaning may be limited to a dive into water, hosing down or even paddling the worst off. They may have to do tedious cleaning including swabbing the decks or cleaning the toilets with a toothbrush. In fraternities, pledges often must clean up a mess intentionally made by brothers which can include fecal matter, urine, and dead animals.
Servitude such as waiting on others (as at fraternity parties) or various other forms of housework, often with tests of obedience. In some cases, the hazee may be made to eat raw eggs, peppers, hot sauce, or drink too much alcohol. Some hazing even includes eating or drinking vile things such as bugs or rotting food.
The hazee may have to wear an imposed piece of clothing, outfit, item or something else worn by the victim in a way that would bring negative attention to the wearer. Examples include a uniform (e.g. toga); a leash and/or collar (also associated with bondage); infantile and other humiliating dress and attire.
Markings may also be made on clothing or bare skin. They are painted, written, tattooed or shaved on, sometimes collectively forming a message (one letter, syllable or word on each pledge) or may receive tarring and feathering (or rather a mock version using some glue) or branding.
Submission to senior members of the group is common. Abject "etiquette" required of pledges or subordinates may include prostration, kneeling, literal groveling, and kissing body parts.
Other physical feats may be required, such as calisthenics and other physical tests, such as mud wrestling, forming a human pyramid, or climbing a greased pole. Exposure to the elements may be required, such as swimming or diving in cold water or snow.
Orientation tests may be held, such as abandoning pledges without transport. Dares include jumping from some height, stealing from police or rival teams and obedience. Blood pinning among military aviators (and many other elite groups) to celebrate becoming new pilots by piercing their chests with the sharp pins of aviator wings.
On their first crossing the equator in military and commercial navigation, each "pollywog" is subjected to a series of tests usually including running and/or crawling a gauntlet of abuse and various scenes supposedly situated at King Neptune's court. A pledge auction is a variation on the slave auction, where people bid on the paraded pledges.
Hazing may also include subjecting the pledge to severe sleep deprivation until physical or mental impairment or hallucinations, including cardiac, digestive or excretory disturbances, are induced, and deliberate food poisonings unbeknownst to the pledge, sometimes through food outlets that are owned or franchised by members of the group, as well as public incidents, stunt accidents and vehicle collisions directed at the pledge by other persons using false identities who are unfamiliar to the pledge, and the practice of "The Silence", which is to pretend not to know anything about the hazing or anything about the arguments being presented by the hazing, in order to force the pledge to doubt his or her sanity or self-worth. "The Silence" is exercised through covert means of infliction, at a distance, which makes it difficult for the victim to prove to law enforcement or to others. This method usually attempts to make everything that could go wrong, go wrong to the fault of the pledge, even when such errors are discreetly inflicted by the hazers. The hazers may deny the validity of the pledge's witness to events, discoveries, ideas and inventions, tangible reality, or falsify personal relationships.
When the hazers are associated with a larger organization, for instance, a major university that controls the local public hospitals, a pledge may encounter abusive behaviors or neglect when seeking needed medical help when the doctors or personnel are of the fraternity. This may also occur when the pledge seeks help from public employees who are also associated. This is done in order to isolate the pledge from their personal identity, their needs and others.
Hazings may occur in the home against nonconsenting, involuntary pledges when the family or cohabitants are already members of an organization or group that exercises hazing as a prerequisite for membership, even when "the pledge" has refused to join the group. The pledge may not have previously been informed of his or her cohabitant's association, particularly when such associations involve a covert organization. The hazers may attempt to inflict guilt on a sleep-deprived and beleaguered pledge "for providing a home", or they may fake "family emergencies or tragedies" against any prevailing medical needs of the pledge due to neglect and abuse. In this instance, the subject may be branded as "Pariah" or as an "Outcast", in which case they are then subjected to neglect, abuse, violence, and/or methods such as "The Silence", and at risk of persecution if and when they speak of their hazing experiences to others outside of the group. This may be particularly true when the organization or group has violated Civil Rights, or the law. "The Silence" may include the hazers speaking in cryptic puns and double-entendre in order to either communicate their instructions to the pledge in a manner that they cannot be held accountable for, or to mislead the pledge. They may mislead the pledge due to a financial conflict-of-interest, for instance, a hazing by a family who is in charge of a guardian trust belonging to the pledge, or due to taking unlawful advantage of the pledge, their person or their property rights. This form of hazing may be unlawfully executed in order to force the pledge to release the hazers from their liabilities, as an act of Extortion.
Hazing also occurs for apprentices in some trades. In printing, it consists of applying bronze blue to the apprentice's penis and testicles, a color made by mixing black printers ink and dark blue printers ink, which takes a long time to wash off. Similarly, mechanics get their groins smeared with old dirty grease.
Psychology, purpose, and effects
Hazing supposedly serves a deliberate purpose, of building solidarity. Psychologist Robert Cialdini uses the framework of consistency and commitment to explain the phenomenon of hazing, and the vigor and zeal to which practitioners of hazing persist in and defend these activities even when they are made illegal. Cialdini cites a 1959 study in which the researchers observed that "persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort." The 1959 study shaped the development of cognitive dissonance theory by Leon Festinger.
Beyond a legal approach, eliminating or lessening the dangers of hazing requires an understanding and application of psychological and sociological factors. This is especially critical when many view hazing as an effective way to teach respect and develop discipline and loyalty within the group, and believe that hazing is a necessary component of initiation rites.
Dissonance can produce feelings of group attraction or social identity among initiates after the hazing experience because they want to justify the effort used. Rewards during initiations or hazing rituals matter in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity. As well as increasing group attraction, hazing can produce conformity among new members. Hazing could also increase feelings of affiliation because of the stressful nature of the hazing experience.
According to one of the largest US National Surveys regarding hazing including over 60,000 student athletes from 2,400 colleges and universities:
Over 325,000 athletes at more than 1,000 National Collegiate Athletic Association schools in the US participated in intercollegiate sports during 1998-99. Of these athletes:
- More than a quarter of a million experienced some form of hazing to join a college athletic team.
- One in five was subjected to unacceptable and potentially illegal hazing. They were kidnapped, beaten or tied up and abandoned. They were also forced to commit crimes – destroying property, making prank phone calls or harassing others.
- Half were required to participate in drinking contests or alcohol-related hazing.
- Two in five consumed alcohol on recruitment visits even before enrolling.
- Two-thirds were subjected to humiliating hazing, such as being yelled or sworn at, forced to wear embarrassing clothing (if any clothing at all) or forced to deprive themselves of sleep, food or personal hygiene.
- One in five participated exclusively in positive initiations, such as team trips or ropes courses.
The survey found that 79% of college athletes experienced some form of hazing to join their team, yet 60% of the student-athletes respondents indicated that they would not report incidents of hazing.
A 2007 survey at American colleges found 55% of students in "clubs, teams, and organizations" experienced behavior the survey defined as hazing, including in varsity athletics and Greek-letter organizations. This survey found 47% of respondents experienced hazing before college, and in 25% of hazing cases, school staff were aware of the activity. 90% of students who experienced behavior the researchers defined as hazing did not consider themselves to have been hazed, and 95% of those who experienced what they themselves defined as hazing did not report it. The most common hazing-related activities reported in student groups included alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation, and sex acts.
Some chapters of fraternities and sororities have developed complex hazing rituals that range from demeaning tasks to embarrassing ceremonies. These practices are most common in, but not limited to, North American schools. Other groups within university life that have hazing rituals include competition teams, fan clubs, social groups, secret societies and even certain service clubs. While hazing is less common in high schools, some secondary education institutions have developed hazing rituals.
The armed forces have long had hazing rituals, which often involve violence and punishments. The United States military defines hazing as unnecessarily exposing a fellow soldier to an act which is cruel, abusive, oppressive, or harmful. In the modern western military, which combines discipline with welfare priorities, initiation practices can cause controversy. There is a tradition in many military – especially elite – corps of subjecting the newly trained ranks to a hell night-like "joining run," a macho preparation of men in the prime of their lives for the ordeals of warfare, going beyond what most civilians (and even many service personnel) would find acceptable; it usually combines humiliation (such as nudity) with physical endurance.
Police forces, especially those with a paramilitary tradition, or sub-units of police forces such as tactical teams, may also have hazing rituals. Rescue services, such as lifeguards or air-sea rescue teams may have hazing rituals.
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The practice of ritual abuse among social groups is not clearly understood. This is partly due to the secretive nature of the activities, especially within collegiate fraternities and sororities, and in part a result of long-term acceptance of hazing. Thus, it has been difficult for researchers to agree on the underlying social and psychological mechanisms that perpetuate hazing. In military circles hazing is sometimes assumed to test recruits under situations of stress and hostility. Although in no way a recreation of combat, hazing does put people into stressful situations that they are unable to control, which allegedly should weed out the weaker members prior to being put in situations where failure to perform will cost lives. A portion of the military training course known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) simulates as closely as is feasible the physical and psychological conditions of a POW camp.
The problem with this approach, according to opponents, is that the stress and hostility comes from inside the group, and not from outside as in actual combat situation, creating suspicion and distrust towards the superiors and comrades-in-arms. Willing participants may be motivated by a desire to prove to senior soldiers their stability in future combat situations, making the unit more secure, but blatantly brutal hazing can in fact produce negative results, making the units more prone to break, desert or mutiny than those without hazing traditions, as observed in the Russian army in Chechnya, where units with the strongest traditions of dedovschina were the first to break and desert under enemy fire. At worst, hazing may lead into fragging incidents.
Colleges and universities sometimes avoid publicizing hazing incidents for fear of damaging institutional reputations or incurring financial liability to victims.
In a 1999 study, a survey of 3,293 collegiate athletes, coaches, athletic directors and deans found a variety of approaches to prevent hazing, including strong disciplinary and corrective measures for known cases, implementation of athletic, behavioral, and academic standards guiding recruitment; provisions for alternative bonding and recognition events for teams to prevent hazing; and law enforcement involvement in monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting hazing incidents. Hoover's research suggested half of all college athletes are involved in alcohol-related hazing incidents, while one in five are involved in potentially illegal hazing incidents. Only another one in five was involved in what Hoover described as positive initiation events, such as taking team trips or running obstacle courses.
"Athletes most at risk for any kind of hazing for college sports were men; non-Greek members; and either swimmers, divers, soccer players, or lacrosse players. The campuses where hazing was most likely to occur were primarily in eastern or southern states with no anti-hazing laws. The campuses were rural, residential, and had Greek systems," Hoover wrote. (Hoover uses the term "Greek" to refer to U.S.-style fraternities and sororities.) Non-fraternity members were most at risk of hazing, Hoover reported. Football players are most at risk of potentially dangerous or illegal hazing, the study found. In the May issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Michelle Finkel reported that hazing injuries are often not recognized for their true cause in emergency medical centers. The doctor said hazing victims sometimes hide the real cause of injuries out of shame or to protect those who caused the harm. In protecting their abusers, hazing victims can be compared with victims of domestic violence, Finkel wrote.
Finkel cites hazing incidents including "beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calisthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females." Reported coerced sexual activity is sometimes considered "horseplay" rather than rape, she wrote. Finkel quoted from Hank Nuwer's book "Wrongs of Passage" which counted 56 hazing deaths between 1970 and 1999.
In November 2005, controversy arose over a video showing Royal Marines fighting naked and intoxicated as part of a hazing ritual. The fight culminated with one soldier receiving a kick to the face, rendering him unconscious. The victim, according to the BBC, said "It's just Marine humour". The Marine who leaked the video said "The guy laid out was inches from being dead." Under further investigation, the Marines had just returned from a six-month tour of Iraq, and were in their "cooling down" period, in which they spend two weeks at a naval base before they are allowed back into society. The man who suffered the kick to the head did not press charges.
In 2008, a national hazing study was conducted by Dr Elizabeth Allan and Dr Mary Madden from the University of Maine. This investigation is the most comprehensive study of hazing to date and includes survey responses from more than 11,000 undergraduate students at 53 colleges and universities in different regions of the U.S. and interviews with more than 300 students and staff at 18 of these campuses. Through the vision and efforts of many, this study fills a major gap in the research and extends the breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding about hazing. Ten initial findings are described in the report, Hazing in View: College Students at Risk. These include:
- More than half of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing.
- Nearly half (47%) of students have experienced hazing prior to coming to college.
- Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts are hazing practices common across student groups.
- 1495: Leipzig University banned the hazing of freshmen by other students: "Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation."
- 1684: Cambridge, MA, a Harvard Student, Joseph Webb, was expelled for hazing.
- 1873: a New York Times headline read: "West Point. "Hazing" at the Academy – An Evil That Should be Entirely Rooted Out"
- 1900: Oscar Booz began at Westpoint in June 1898 in good physical health. Four months later, he resigned due to health problems. He died in December 1900 of tuberculosis. During his long struggle with the illness, he blamed the illness on hazing he received at West Point in 1898, claiming he had hot sauce poured down his throat on three occasions as well as a number of other grueling hazing practices, such as brutal beatings and having hot wax poured on him in the night. His family claimed that scarring from the hot sauce made him more susceptible to the infection, causing his death. Among other things, Booz claimed that his devotion to Christianity made him a target and that he was tormented for reading his Bible.
- The practice of hazing at West Point entered the national spotlight following his death. Congressional hearings investigated his death and the pattern of systemic hazing of first-year students, and serious efforts were made to reform the system and end hazing at West Point.
- 1903: Three young boys, aged 11, 10, and 7, read about hazing practices in college and decided to try it themselves. They built a fire in a pasture behind the schoolhouse and led 9-year-old Ralph Canning to the spot. They heated a number of stones until they were red hot. The boys forced Canning to both sit and stand on the hot stones and held him there despite his screams. The boys then either walked or jumped on him (depending on the source). He was finally allowed to leave and he crawled home, where he died two weeks later. The public was stunned by the young age of the perpetrators.
- 1925: The tradition of "tubbing" came under fire following the death of Reginald Stringfellow at the University of Utah. Tubbing was a hazing ritual that involved pushing the victim's head under water until they can no longer hold their breath and gasp for air under the water. His death through class hazing – hazing of freshmen by upperclassmen – led to the practice being banned at the University of Utah and brought greater recognition to the dangers of the practice.
- 1959: USC pledge Richard Swanson choked to death during a hazing stunt for Kappa Sigma fraternity. Pledges were told to swallow a quarter pound piece of raw liver soaked in oil without chewing. The liver lodged in his throat and he began choking. The fraternity brothers omitted the cause of his trouble breathing, telling police and ambulance workers instead that he was suffering from a "nervous spasm". He died 2 hours later. The incident inspired the 1977 film Fraternity Row as well as an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation called Pledging Mr. Johnson.
- 1967: Delta Kappa Epsilon, Yale University. Future president George W. Bush was implicated in a scandal where members of the DKE fraternity were accused of branding triangles onto the lower back of pledges. Mr. Bush is quoted as dismissing the injuries as "only a cigarette burn." The fraternity received a fine for their behavior.
- 1974: Pledge William Flowers, along with other pledges, were digging a deep hole in the sand (said to be a symbolic grave), when the walls collapsed and Flowers was buried, causing his death. His death spurred an anti-hazing statute in New York. Flowers would have been the first black member of ZBT at Monmouth had he survived.
- 1975: Rupa Rathnaseeli, a 22-year-old student of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka became paralyzed as a result of jumping from the second floor of the hostel "Ramanathan Hall" to escape the physical ragging carried out by older students. It was reported that she was about to have a candle inserted in her vagina just before she had jumped out of the hostel building. She committed suicide in 2002.
- 1978: Alfred University in western New York, student Chuck Stenzel died in a fraternity hazing incident from aspirated vomit while passed out following an evening of drinking at Klan Alpine fraternity. He had been transported to the frat house in a car trunk along with two other pledges. Following his death, his mother formed CHUCK, the Committee to Halt Useless College Killings to help stop hazing practices on college campuses.
- 1993-2007: in Indonesia, 35 people died as a result of hazing initiation rites in the Institute of Public Service (IPDN). The most recent was in April 2007 when Cliff Muntu died after being beaten by the seniors.
- 1997: Selvanayagam Varapragash – a first-year engineering student at University of Peradeniya was murdered on the campus due to hazing. He was subjected to sadistic ragging and in the post-mortem a large quantity of tooth paste was found in his rectum.
- 2004: In Sandwich, MA nine high school football players faced felony charges after a freshman teammate lost his spleen in a hazing ritual.
- 2004: On September 16, 2004, Lynn Gordon Baily Jr died at the age of 18 during a hazing ritual that he participated in. He was a part of the Chi Psi Fraternity at the University of Colorado.
- 2005: Matthew Carrington was killed at Chico State University during a hazing activity on February 2, 2005. Matt's Law, named in Carrington's memory, was passed by the California legislature into law to eliminate hazing in California.
- 2005: The victim of a high-profile hazing attack in Russia, Andrei Sychyov, required the amputation of his legs and genitalia after he was forced to squat for four hours whilst being beaten and tortured by a military group on New Year's Eve, 2005. President Vladimir Putin spoke out about the incident and ordered Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov "to submit proposals on legal and organizational matters to improve educational work in the army and navy."
- 2007: At Rider University, one fraternity pledge died and another was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning, during what a judge called, "knowingly or recklessly organized, promoted, facilitated or engaged in conduct which resulted in serious bodily injury." Five people were charged, including two university administrators.
- 2007: On June 26 at the Tokisukaze stable, 17-year-old Sumo wrestler Takashi Saito was beaten to death by his fellow rikishi with a beer bottle and metal baseball bat at the direction of his trainer, Jun'ichi Yamamoto. Though originally reported as heart failure, Saito's father demanded an autopsy, which uncovered evidence of the beating. Both Yamamoto and the other rikishi were charged with manslaughter.
- 2011: Two Andover High School basketball players were expelled and five were suspended for pressuring underclassmen to play "wet biscuit," where the loser was forced to eat a semen-soaked cookie."
- 2011: Thirteen students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University attacked drum major Robert Champion on a bus after a marching band performance, beating him to death. Since the 2011 death, a series of reports of abuse and hazing within the band have been documented. In May of 2012, 2 faculty members resigned in connection with a hazing investigation and 13 people were charged with felony or misdemeanor hazing crimes. Eleven of those individuals face one count of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death, which is punishable by up to six years in prison. The FAMU incident prompted Florida Governor Rick Scott to order all state universities to examine their hazing and harassment policies in December. Scott also asked all university presidents to remind their students, faculty and staff "how detrimental hazing can be."
- 2013: Chun Hsien Deng, a freshman at Baruch College, died during a hazing incident after he was blindfolded and made to wear a backpack weighted with sand while trying to make his way across a frozen yard as members of a fraternity, Pi Delta Psi, tried to tackle him. During at least one tackle, he was lifted up and dropped on the ground in a move known as spearing. He complained his head hurt but continued participating and was eventually knocked out. After Mr. Deng was knocked unconscious, the authorities said the fraternity members delayed in seeking medical help.
- 2013: Tyler Lawrence, a student at Wilmington College (Ohio), lost a testicle as a result of hazing.
- 2014: Seven members of the Sayreville War Memorial High School football team in Sayreville, New Jersey, were arrested and charged with sexual assaults on younger players. "In the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen. Then, the victim would be lifted to his feet" and sexually abused. Six of the team members were sentenced for lesser crimes, and the seventh case was still pending in 2016.
- 2015: James Taylor (Auckland, New Zealand) was forced into riding his motorbike naked from Auckland North Shore to Eden Park in order to join an elite gang. 2 km into the ride he was arrested and charged with public indecency.
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