Sheltering Girls in Senegal

When "Khady" -- a 14-year-old girl living in Dakar, the capital of Senegal -- was arrested for picking pockets on a bus, she didn't think she had anywhere to turn. The daughter of a mentally disabled rape victim, Khady was sifting through strangers' wallets because she needed money for school fees.But getting arrested turned out to be her lucky break. Because Khady was so young at the time of her arrest, police officers took her to Ker Yaakaaru Jigeen Ni ("House of Hope for Girls"), Senegal's first ever women's shelter. There, says Judy Smith, a founder of the shelter, Khady decided that stealing was never going to get her through school.Instead, the shelter now finances Khady's education and helps out her family. On the weekends, Khady joins other girls in the shelter making beaded jewelry that is sold in Dakar and may even show up at the Smithsonian Museum in the United States before long.The shelter is a "safe place where [girls] can get themselves together and examine their lives and their possibilities for the future," says Smith.With eight beds for unmarried girls who are the victims of problems that range from unwanted pregnancy to incest, the shelter has housed more than 29 young women since it opened on August 17, 1998 -- and it runs on the equivalent of just $1,600 per month.But although the shelter's founders say they've met with cooperation from most government officials, they argue that their work still encounters resistance from a culture that doesn't necessarily recognize women's rights -- and that partially creates most of the problems the shelter works to counteract.Changing the CultureWith a population that has tripled in 25 years and an unemployment rate of 40 percent in urban centers, Senegal has undergone big societal changes in recent years, changes that have resulted in some women falling through the cracks. Currently, 33 percent of women aged 15 to 49 are at risk of an unintended pregnancy, while only 13 percent of Senegalese women practice regular contraception. Combine that with an illiteracy rate of 66 percent and a high school drop-out rate due to early marriage and pregnancy -- Senegalese women "remain a particularly vulnerable group," according to World Bank.Jan Sinck, who works in Senegal for Africa Consultants International, says that young women often come to Dakar from the interior to find work during the dry season. "It's one less mouth to feed back home," she says.But many of these women then fall prey to men who impregnate them, and the father refuses to support the woman and threatens to tell her family she's a prostitute. Women find themselves stuck in a city with no where to turn. And for Senegal's 90 percent Muslim population, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy brings shame to the entire family and is just cause for kicking a woman out of the house.Mavis Streyffeler, a United Methodist missionary in Senegal and one of the founding members of Ker Yaakaaru Jigeen Ni (KYJ), says she realized the need for a girls' shelter through her weekly visits to the women's prison. "After the girls would serve their time they would go right back into the place of harm," explains Streyffeler. "These girls would be fleeing violence, incest, or were kicked out of their house because they were pregnant.""In this society, it's not possible for a young girl to live outside of her home," Streyffeler adds.Streyffeler joined forces with Smith, wife of the former U.S. Ambassador to Senegal. "Senegalese women are in a difficult position in their society because polygamy combined with the very strong emphasis on children hinder women from living independently," says Smith.The two had trouble finding sponsors for the shelter at first. "Most people recognize the need for help for people who are mistreated, and most honest people realize that some women are mistreated," says Smith. "But some men would think the shelter is encouraging women to rebel."Smith and Streyffeler finally teamed up with Espoir Sans Frontiere (ESF), a local pan-Africa non-profit group, to form the shelter.Aida Sylla, a doctor at KYJ, says even to this day some fellow Senegalese say they are unaware of the problems that force girls onto the streets. But, she adds, "Our shelter is always full, proving that people in Senegal either refuse or do not want to accept the fact that there is a problem with young women in this changing society."Reuniting Families, or Returning Girls to the Source of Their Troubles?Unlike some U.S. shelters, which focus on helping young women become completely independent, KYJ's major goal is to reintegrate girls into their family household.Although KYJ does provide temporary shelter to girls in distress and works to strengthen girls' self-esteem, training them in activities that may help them achieve financial independence, Streyffeler says the shelter's main goal is to reinsert girls into some part of their family, after giving them tools to be more mature and to cope with whatever situation they find themselves in. But the shelter's social worker, Mame Anna Lo, says reintegrating young women with their immediate or extended families is the hardest part of her job. "Sometimes the girls have created such problems in the house, the parents have completely lost contact and even excommunicated her to a certain extent," says Lo. "Most of the girls come here because they are pregnant, so the family environment has becomes very hostile because parents won't accept pregnancies out of wedlock."The integration process takes three steps: identifying the problems the young woman is facing and notifying her parents about her whereabouts, locating a family member that will take her into their home, and following her progress with regular check-ups for two years after she leaves the center.Follow-up proves a difficult final step. "We have all kinds of problems locating some of the girls after reintegration," says Lo. "She might go to another family member's house or move without telling us."Women usually stay at the shelter for about six months, but some cases require longer stays. One current resident, who was brought to Senegal from Sierra Leone by her Senegalese boyfriend, was abandoned after living with him for two years and having a child with him.But when the woman returned to Sierra Leone, not only was she confronted with a civil war, she could find no trace of her family. She returned to Senegal only to be rejected by her ex-boyfriend's family. She has been at KYJ for more than a year waiting for the Senegalese government to grant her residency.In another case, KYJ mediated between a recent resident and her family. The young woman was kicked out of her house once her boyfriend got her pregnant, but KYJ located the young man, convinced him of his responsibility, and persuaded him to ask for her father's forgiveness. Then the KYJ staff appealed to the local religious leader to convince the young woman's father that his daughter and future grandchild needed to be in his house.Streyffeler admits that family reconciliation can be difficult -- Khandy, for example, has been returned to a household that Streyffeler recognizes is still very destructive. But, Streyffeler says, the shelter welcomes Khandy back ever weekend, when she is fed, monitored, and given a safe haven for a few days.Staying AfloatTucked away into a suburb in Dakar, KYJ is able to stay alive with numerous donations from private individuals to local businesses. Every month KYJ receives gifts of rice and cooking oil from local merchants, but also recently received a gift of $13,000 from United Nations Development Fund for Women.KYJ's expenses are $16,000 a year, and the jewelry and other crafts the young women make is not enough to cover all the expenses. KYJ depends on gifts such as the $1,000 that Mobil Oil gave this year, along with the gift of $500 from Ford Motor Company."We could not exist without the contribution of local businesses," says Streyffeler. She asks that concerned individuals send any donations or micro-enterprise ideas to KYJ, BP 16981, Dakar-Fann, Senegal.This article originally appeared on Chickclick's news channel, Eileen Parks and H.N. Blonkenfeld contributed to this story.

Better Safe than Sorry?

Part of college life is making friends. But students could soon know more about their classmates than their majors -- mainly who on campus is a sex offender.

A bill passed this month by the House would mandate that colleges and universities notify students of any convicted sexual offenders on campus.

Under the Campus Protection Act, sex offenders have to notify their state officials of whether or not they were enrolled in higher education. The state would then pass that on to a campus' police or security. And then the school would publicize where the offender lived -- even if it was off campus.

"Under current law, millions of college students around the country have virtually no way to find out if their classmate, lab partner or roommate is a convicted sex offender," said Rep. Matt Salmon (D-Ariz.), who sponsored the bill. "Convicted sex offenders aren't allowed to conceal their identity when they are off campus. Clearly they shouldn't be allowed to conceal it when they are on campus."

Another federal statute known as Megan's Law, requires all convicted sex offenders to register with the state in which they live within seven and 30 days of being released from prison. The law was passed in 1996 and named for Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl who was abducted and abused by a repeat sex offender who lived in her neighborhood.

Salmon says his bill closes a loophole in the current law that allows these same offenders to go unnoticed on U.S. campuses. As it stands now, universities that receive federal money are currently not allowed to release information about their students.

But some say the plan has pitfalls. Civil liberties advocates have lobbied against plans to widely distribute sex offender registries in the past arguing that people could be misidentified or that they will spark vigilante attacks.

For their part, college lobbyists charge that the plan will be too burdensome for colleges and universities to match their records against the records of all 50 states.

"Nobody wants to see sexual predators on campus," Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. "But we are afraid that this approach will impose a significant and financial burden on all colleges and universities."

Others say that some sex offenders don't register in the first place since the penalty for doing so is lenient in some states.

"One of the problems is that there are very weak penalties for non-compliance of sex offenders," said Mark Klaas, founder of KlassKids, an organization aimed at stopping crimes against children. Klass' daughter Polly was abducted from her California home in October 1993 and murdered by a repeat sex offender.

In California, for example, it is a felony to fail to register. But in Maine, it is a misdemeanor. "Then there's the problem of individuals moving from state to state and not registering," he added.

The bill is not yet scheduled for Senate debate. But Salmon is optimistic it will pass.

"Parents already have enough to worry about when they send their kids off to college," he said. "They shouldn't have to worry about their child being victimized by a convicted sex offender hiding out on campus."

This article originally appeared on Chickclick's news channel, Lucy Maher is ChickClick's news editor.

Virtual Panty Raid

If you thought panty raids only struck sorority row, think again.

A new CD-ROM game called Panty Raider targeted at young men will let players strip models down to their underwear to satisfy aliens threatening the Earth. But critics say the game sends a bad message, and humiliates girls and women.

Parent's and women's groups have sent numerous emails to New York publisher Simon and Schuster to try and halt the release of the game later this month.

"These gender stereotypes are really corrosive and harming both our daughters and our sons," said Joe Kelly, executive director of Daughters and Dads, an advocacy group that started the email campaign. "The notion that women are just there to be objectified is dangerously unhealthy. It's the repeated message that how a girl looks is more important than what she is capable of doing."

However, Simon and Schuster Interactive says the game is just entertainment.

"'Panty Raider: From Here to Immaturity' is a humorous game, and like all comedy might offend some people while amusing others," the company said in a statement. "The over-the-top nature of its humor is a clear indicator that it is not meant to be taken seriously. Its intention is to make light of the many pervasive stereotypes that permeate our culture."

In addition to stripping models of their clothes, players can pop in breath mints, flash credit cards, and deliver "cheesy pick-up lines to lure models out of the woods."

"No self-respecting supermodel can resist these items," Simon and Schuster said in its press release.

While some may think the game is fun, others say it goes too far.

"It's the bottom of the barrel in terms of imagination," said Corless Smith, a San Francisco State University professor, who discussed the game last week in her "Women and the Media" class. "It's supposed to be ironic and over-the-top, but why is it that women are always victims in over-the-topness?"

Schuster says the game is targeted at "age-appropriate groups" -- and the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an independent organization that rates games, says the game is appropriate for players aged 17 and older.

Industry experts said teenagers will be drawn to the game, but don't think it's cause for concern.

"It's pretty unusual," said Amer Ajami, preview editor at "I don't think there's been another game where you get a teenager who gets to decide how to dress naked models. It's something that needs to be taken lightly by grown-ups. It's just a game, and it's clearly comical."

Still, parents like Kelly say they don't get the joke.

"For them to say that it is [aimed at men] is a silly response," he said. "If this was a game for adults, it wouldn't be stripping the supermodels down only to their underwear."

This article orgininally appeared on Chickclick's news channel, Shewire.

Guinea Pigs Should Not Use Tampons

It’s that time of the month again -- when an e-mail pops up in your inbox with the subject heading "danger!" and the warning that your tampons could be killing you. The e-mail promises all sorts of scary things: manufacturers are adding asbestos to your tampons to make you bleed more so you'll buy more tampons; the bleaching of your tampon creates a chemical called dioxin, which has been linked to cancer; the synthetic fibers in your tampons are the perfect breeding ground for the staph bacteria that causes toxic shock syndrome. But just how much of this is true? And if it's true, what should you do about it?

Well, don't ask me. I have no idea just how dangerous your bleached-out synthetic tampons really are. All I know is that I spent hours investigating the "truth" behind these e-mails and I came away more confused than when I started. This tampon story, as viewed through the lurid lens of public debate, is infused with high drama and a set cast of characters, from corporate villains to incompetent government officials to Internet conspiracists. And each one of them insists the others are spreading false information. At the end of my search, I decided I needed a scorecard to keep track of which disposable tampon was going to win my disposable income:

The "Evil Corporate Empire"

First of all, everyone -- even the most rabid Internet activist -- agrees that the asbestos rumor is simply an urban legend.

But what about dioxin? Dioxin is more famously known as the toxin in Agent Orange, the one that caused cancer and other nasty diseases in Vietnam veterans. It's been found in tampons because it's a chemical byproduct of the paper bleaching process.

Dioxin is a scary chemical that you definitely don't want in your vagina. For that matter, you don't want it in your air or water either, but it's there anyway. Paper mills bleach everything from napkins to disposable diapers, and as they do, they spew out dioxins.

But the corporate giants that make your tampons want you to know that their bleaching process is safe. I called the manufacturer of Tampax tampons, Procter and Gamble -- which also makes virtually every other paper product on your supermarket shelf.

"The bleaching process that we use does not create dioxins," says P&G company spokeswoman Elaine Plummer. And to prove it, Elaine got P&G's senior scientist, Jay Gooch, on the phone. Jay explained that Procter & Gamble uses a special bleaching process called "elemental chlorine free."

He then very kindly offered to send me a scientific study that explained how safe this particular bleaching process was. After reading the study, it did seem safe to me. But I'm not a scientist, so I called up Dr. Philip Tierno, a microbiologist from New York University's Medical Center. Dr. Phil has been doing independent research on tampons for twenty years.

"Dioxin is the most potent toxin known to man," Dr. Phil told me somberly. "One millionth of a gram can kill a guinea pig." Dr. Phil has used that guinea pig statistic in several news articles before, and each time I read it, I'm convinced that guinea pigs should not use tampons.

But even if they did, Dr. Phil agrees that they would probably be OK. Since the manufacturers responded to public concern and changed their bleaching process a few years ago, he says, "The issue has become moot."

Does that let the Evil Corporate Empire off the hook? Not exactly. Instead of dioxins, Dr. Phil's worried about the synthetic fibers in our tampons. Most tampons are composed of viscose rayon, which is more absorbent than cotton. Dr. Phil pointed out that viscose rayon can be a breeding ground for the staph germ that causes toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

As a matter of fact, I asked Jay and Elaine about this, since it's an allegation that's also being spread on the Internet. In answer, I got another packet of studies explaining that rayon was similar to cotton and that neither fiber encouraged the staph germs to grow.

But in looking over these studies, I noticed that some of them were funded by the sanitary protection industry -- in other words, the scientists researching whether or not tampons are safe are getting their paychecks from the people who make and sell tampons.

This is something Dr. Phil and the Internet activists jump all over. How can a test be considered valid if the industry itself is paying for the results? Won't the researchers just tell them what they want to hear?

Jay and Elaine take that question almost personally. "In our society, there are a lot of cynical points of view," Jay says. "Just because the industry asked scientists to do research that somehow means the researcher is -- to put it bluntly -- faking data?"

Besides, Elaine points out, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the industry and monitors the testing. So it's not like there isn't independent government oversight, right?

The "Incompetent Government Officials"

One thing you need to understand about the FDA -- and this applies to all products, not just tampons -- is that the FDA rarely tests anything on its own. Instead, it relies on manufacturers to test their own products and then to submit the results to the agency for review.

So, just because the FDA report on tampons says "The available scientific evidence does not support the rumors [that tampons are dangerous]," how safe does that make you feel? I asked Dr. Phil what he thinks about this regulatory process, and he declined to comment because "if you can't say anything niceÉ"

Dr. Phil is an independent researcher, meaning he turned down the grant that Procter and Gamble offered him, so that he could do his own research. He tested different synthetic tampons for the bacteria that cause TSS.

"All the brands that used viscose rayon produced the toxin at different levels," he says. But, of the eight all-cotton brands he tested, including Tampax's own Naturals brand, none of the tampons produced the toxin.

Wait a second. Tampax, which spent an hour on the phone trying to convince me that synthetic fibers are not any different from cotton fibers, also manufactures a 100 percent all-cotton tampon?

"We're thinking of phasing it out," Elaine tells me. Procter and Gamble bought the Tampax product line from another company, Tambrands, back in 1997. And when they did, the all-cotton tampon was part of the package. But, Elaine says, it's not selling very well.

Maybe that's because it's hard to find. I live in San Francisco and I went to the drug store and to the grocery store in my neighborhood. Both are part of national chains, and neither one carried the Naturals brand. If you want to find an all-cotton tampon, which Dr. Phil says you should, you need to go to an organic health foods store or shop online.

The "Internet Conspiracists"

A week ago, I typed in "tampon safety" on an Internet search engine and received back hundreds of webpages (see related links). Aside from the obvious ones, like the FDA's official statement on tampon safety and Procter and Gamble's Tampax FAQ page, I found a link to a 1995 Village Voice article by Karen Houppert. Karen’s story, "Pulling the Plug on the Sanitary Protection Industry" had me nearly convinced that the Evil Corporate Empire was, in fact, pretty evil.

Last year, Karen wrote a follow-up book, "The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo," which I haven't read, but which I bet would convince me the rest of the way. Karen does not trust the tampon industry, and since Karen spent a considerably longer time researching these issues than I did, I'm inclined to trust her.

"I think consumers need to be skeptical about the assurances they are getting from the industry," she says. "But because of the nature of this product, it's not something that is publicly discussed. People are not going to take to the streets and demand tampon safety."

They are, however, taking to the Internet. "Did you know that major brand tampons can be deadly?" asks the S.P.O.T. website.

"Tracy," who maintains the site, read Karen Houppert's article too. But unlike me, it spurred her to action. "We have been on a mission to inform as many women as possible about the dangers of synthetic tampons!"

Some of Tracy's information seems a little outdated. For example, she encourages you to write to Tambrands and demand a 100 percent all-cotton, non-chlorine bleached tampon. Tambrands, if you remember, was bought out by Procter and Gamble several years ago. And besides, back then it was already selling an all-cotton tampon.

I e-mailed Tracy asking her for an interview and she e-mailed back with her home phone number. Trusting soul. Unfortunately, we weren't able to talk before the deadline for this story. So I contented myself with trying to track down Bio Business International, a Canadian company that supplied Tracy with some of her information about deadly synthetic tampons and which, coincidentally, markets its own brand of all-natural tampons.

Bio Business apparently is no longer in business. Their phone line was disconnected, and their webpage taken down. Last year, Forbes magazine published an article accusing Bio Business of spreading false Internet rumors about the danger of synthetic tampons in an effort to promote their own products. I don't know if that's true, but when I called Elaine at Procter and Gamble about the e-mail rumors, the first question she asked me was, "Did you see the Forbes article?"

See? It's hard to know who to trust. Ultimately, the best idea is probably Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (D-N.Y.). Last year Maloney introduced a bill, "The Tampon Research and Safety Act," calling for government funding of independent researchers. She wants the National Institutes of Health, not the industry itself, to oversee medical testing of tampons. Unfortunately, this is the second time Maloney has introduced her bill. It keeps getting shuffled to subcommittees, where it dies without ever being debated.

Why won't Congress pass the Tampon Safety Act? Maloney told a Massachusetts newspaper that several congressmen would consider supporting the bill, if she removed the word "tampon" from its title.

Bad Girls

The world watched with horror as South Carolina officials pulled a car with two little boys strapped inside out of a lake that fall of 1994.

The older son died with his hands pressed against the window, the news reported, perhaps trying to escape, perhaps screaming for his mother.

But what was more horrifying than the image was that it was Susan Smith, their mother, who buckled her babies in and pushed her car into the water.

Fast forward six years, after the murders of 13 teenagers by two boys at Columbine High School, after Jonesboro where in 1998 four girls and a teacher were killed and nine students and another teacher were wounded at an Arkansas middle school by male classmates.

But an incident this April signaled a growing trend: Boys aren't always pulling the trigger. Last month, three first-grade girls were suspended from a Lake Station, Ind. school for plotting to kill classmates.

Shocking? After all, even nursery rhymes teach that girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice." And conventional wisdom holds that boys -- gun-toting bad boys -- are the ones who commit disturbing, violent crimes.

But research demonstrates that the number of girls and young women who commit violent crimes is rising dramatically. Researchers split on what triggered that rise, or if that increase is even real. Experts connect the reported surge in violent girls to everything from strict arrest laws to the evening news to physical and sexual abuse in young women.

Decoding the Numbers

Though juvenile crime as an overall rate shows a downturn, crimes committed by young women are on the rise. In 1997, girls constituted 26 percent of the juvenile arrests made in the year, compared with 22 percent in 1986, according to the Justice Department report. Girls make up the fastest growing segment of the juvenile and criminal justice system: Between 1993 and 1997, the increases in arrests were greater for girls than boys in almost every category, the report said.

And the media reflected this trend. Traditionally, local television news rarely aired stories that showed female perpetrators. But now that seems to be changing.

In a survey by Colorado's Rocky Mountain Media Watch, 100 nighttime television news programs in 50 markets appeared to reflect the rising incidence of females committing crimes. According to the survey, in 1995, only 5 percent of those who were identified as perpetrators of murder, rape, or assault on the news were female.

But by 1998, that figure doubled to 10 percent, the study shows. So are news outlets choosing to feature more crimes by women or are they simply reflecting national trends?

Paul Klite, director of Rocky Mountain Media Watch, says the answer is unclear.

In fact, nothing is clear except the simple fact that the number of reported female crimes is on the rise, says Melissa Sickmund, a senior research associate at the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh, Penn. She says that rising numbers could simply reflect a change in how youth crime is reported.

"Keep in mind," she said, "that it might not be the behavior, but how the system reacts to the behavior." In the past, law enforcement officials may have turned a cheek from ladies in fist fights or judges may have dismissed cases to spare a woman a stain on her reputation, Sickmund said.

Tougher Laws

But that kind of leniency rarely happens anymore. Laws stemming largely from tough domestic violence legislation call for mandatory arrests in most cases. For example, with mandatory arrest laws, a woman or man who retaliates in a domestic dispute can be arrested alongside the aggressor. And this "get tough" legislation sparked even stricter laws, so that anyone who does anything even slightly aggressive, such as hair-pulling, can be arrested for assault.

These tougher arrest laws, Strickland says, could be an explanation for why the numbers appear to be rising.

The fact that girls commit violent acts is not new, says Alexander Koppleman, a spokesman from Girls Incorporated, a national advocacy group. He called the statistical rise "illusory."

"There always has been a fair amount of violent behavior found in the female population," he said.

The real change may simply be that the media, as Klite's survey suggests, is reporting more about women who commit crimes, says Jan Stanton, director of development at Girls Incorporated. Plus, she says, police and social service workers are now more apt to investigate a woman as a perpetrator of a crime.

"Girls are exposed to the same amount of violence as boys and are responding the same ways as boys," she added. "It's only now that people are thinking logically and suspecting women can commit crimes." In the past, no one wanted to acknowledge that a woman had the ability to commit crimes, she said.

Copy-Cat Crime?

Another theory is that violent girls are actually taking the lead from boys.

Sickmund says, "There is no reason to believe that girls are doing stuff because they see boys are doing stuff and got some attention from it."

But, according to Mediascope, a nonprofit research and policy organization in Studio City, Calif., evidence suggests otherwise. According to their research, juveniles do commit crimes by mimicking violence they see around them.

The group cites a list of "copy-cat crime" sparked by violence viewed in the media: Last May, a 7-year-old Texas boy killed his 3-year-old brother after imitating a professional wrestling move he saw on television. In June 1997, Timothy McVeigh told investigators he was inspired to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building after watching Red Dawn.

Some of last year's wave of bomb threats that flooded the country's schools after the Columbine incident also may have been copycat crimes, the group's research shows.

And Stephanie Carbone, a research manager at Mediascope, says girls are just as likely to engage in copy-cat behavior as boys. "The likelihood of some kind of effect happening depends on the portrayal of violence in the media," she says, "for boys or girls."

Mediascope representatives are quick to point out that most violent acts are committed only by those with a predisposition to heinous behavior. But the group's research also indicates that violence seen in the media leaves three imprints on the public: desensitization to violence, fear of being victimized, and imitation of aggressive behavior.

Klite maintains that news images and stories move people -- boys and girls -- and that the press could stop projecting violent images, if it chose.

"The country has a fascination with things that bleed," he says. "And [news organizations] feed on that frenzy to make a profit."

He doesn't suggest that reporters stop printing or airing stories about vicious crimes, he adds, only that they take more consideration into selecting them.

"[Violence] is a public health issue," Klite says. "And the newsmakers must be more responsible in their reporting."

Violence as Public Health

Stanton agrees that violence is a public health issue. Research compiled by Girls Incorporated points to many factors that lead women to commit crimes: difficulty in school, substance abuse, sexual or physical abuse, and a history of being a victim of violence.

One study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency showed that 68 percent of incarcerated women from three states shared a single, common thread in their history: All had been victims of violence.

In a four-year study of 1,000 seventh- and eighth-graders, researchers for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency found that those who had witnessed violence at home were far more likely to commit violent acts than those girls who did not.

That cycle, Stanton says, must be broken. First, society must acknowledge not only that women are victims of crime, but can commit crime as well. Second, young girls must be taught that they have a voice -- they can say no to someone who has hurt them. They need to tell a figure of authority that they have been hurt, she said. Girls also must be taught empowering skills, from math to sports to communication. Finally, whole families must seek help, she added.

Furthermore, there are only a few programs nationwide that offer services targeting female juvenile offenders, according to a Justice Department report. The California legislature passed a bill to create the first statewide juvenile female offender intervention program in 1998, though it went unsigned by then governor, Republican Pete Wilson. The bill can still be re-introduced, and if passed, could serve as a model nationwide.

"The juvenile justice system has never looked at young women in a holistic way," says 23-year-old Lateefah Simon of the Center for Young Women's Development. "When people think of juvenile hall, they think of bad boys. But we're talking about a girl struggling, and there are not many resources for her."

This article originally appeared on Shewire. Bernice Yeung contributed to this story. Erika Hobbs is a reporter in the Philadelphia region.

Who Cares About the Youth Vote?

Who can forget Bill Clinton's pandering to the youth voter during his 1992 bid for the presidency -- playing his saxophone on Arsenio Hall and doing an MTV Rock the Vote special, in which he fearlessly answered the question, "Boxers or briefs?"In these attempts to capture the youth vote, the future president seemed young, somewhat hip, and decidedly different than any candidate we had ever seen before.And all that courting had big results. That November the number of 18- to 30-year-olds who actually showed up to vote on election day went up for the first time in recorded voting history, climbing 20 percent to create a 43 percent turnout.But by 1996, the numbers were down again -- it was an incumbent year for Clinton, and Dole hardly reached out at all.So far this cycle we've seen George W. Bush on Letterman and Leno, but an all out commitment to reach the 18-30 voter hasn't materialized among either of the major candidates now heading for the general election. Indeed, Senator McCain was the only candidate with a full-time paid youth advisor on his campaign staff. His and Senator Bradley's campaigns were reinvigorating the American voter, creating higher public interest and involvement. Now it's down to two men and, apparently, business as usual.Would 'Someone Else' Please Step Forward?In a poll informally conducted on the Shewire/Snowball website, results were feeble for all candidates before the Super Tuesday primary. The results for Shewire's poll question, "If the election were held today, who would you vote for?" had "Someone Else" in the lead, with Al Gore a close second.Figuring it couldn't be as obvious as cynicism, I sought out John Dervin of Youth Vote 2000. "Neither party has much relevance to youth voters," says John. "This election so far is all about personality and the mechanics of politics. That's just noise to young people."Dervin points out that although this 44 million strong demographic has millions of marketing dollars spent trying to capture their dollars and their loyalty, very little resources are expended trying to get their vote."It's really a viscous 'chicken-and-egg' style cycle," says Dervin. "This group of people has low voter turnout, especially when compared to the over 60 age group. Although both blocks are the same size, 28 percent of the 60-plus folks vote, compared to just 13 percent of the 18-30 crowd. Consequently, there are no campaign resources directed at trying to get the youth vote. Not getting a targeted message from the candidates results in low turnout, which perpetuates the cycle."As for the general election, Julia Cohen, executive director of Youth Vote 2000, says it's still too early to forecast this year's voter turnout. "It's going to be a long, slow spring and summer heading up to election," she says. "I'm just not sure how a Gore/Bush election will go about attracting more people and keep them engaged."Alive and Kicking -- Just Not VotingAlison Byrne Fields from Rock the Vote says her organization's goal is to get young voters to understand that voting doesn't occur in a vacuum, it's part of a set of actions. "We help young people understand that actions, whether its running a 'zine, organizing within your community, or attending a town council meeting, are essential actions to take while living in a democracy."She says that low numbers at the polls aren't evidence of a lack of political engagement. One need look no further than the footage from the World Trade Organization's summit protests for evidence of youth engagement. During the days of tumultuous protests, young people marched alongside people from every age group to voice their opposition to the WTO.And Dervin points out that volunteerism among this age group is at an all-time high. In a national youth survey conducted last September by 20/20 Vision, 93 percent of respondents said "volunteering locally to help people directly" is an effective way to make change.Clearly, this is a group willing to get involved, especially at a community level. Building on that information, Youth Vote 2000 aims to build on its 50 organizations and coalitions by bringing youth together at a grass roots level, drawing them closer to national politics, and adding volume to their political voice.These voters are concerned with issues of education, crime and violence, jobs, and the future of social security, not tax cuts and defense spending. But Byrne Fields puts it best: the disconnect between the candidates and young adults is in the way candidates address the issues."Both candidates have youth advisors; I just don't think they are doing a very good job. When they address issues like crime and education, they usually direct the message towards the parents," she says. "Even the obligatory speeches at universities are merely a backdrop for the candidates to address a national audience. The political arena hasn't figured out how to market themselves to a generation of people that have instigated some of the savviest marketing ploys ever."In the end, she likens the situation to a school dance, with the youth vote as a wall flower, hoping to get asked to dance. "It's really kind of sad how they aren't being brought together. I don't want to condescend to young people when I say this, but it doesn't take much to bring young people together and get them involved."So to all the wall flowers out there: Shall we dance?This article originally appeared on Chicklick's news channel, Eileen Parks is a Shewire intern.

Separate Is Still Not Equal

It's easy to imagine that life is hard for homeless school children. But being teased by other students is just the tip of the iceberg -- they may have nowhere to store textbooks, nowhere to study and do homework, and nowhere to get a good night's sleep. But a new study shows that even deeper problems block homeless kids from getting an education.According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), many local school districts establish enrollment requirements that unwittingly deny homeless children the chance to go to school -- and denying access is against the law. The federal McKinney Act of 1987 mandates that homeless children must be given equal access to the same free, public education as provided to all other children and youth, and each state has the responsibility to ensure that barriers to education are removed. But NLCHP says that nearly 80 percent of the homeless shelters they surveyed had found that homeless children are barred access to a public school education for one reason or another.Sally McCarthy, staff attorney at NLCHP and lead author of the report, explains that many schools expect students to show up with birth certificates or medical records. "If a family has fled their home because of abuse, they might not have brought with them copies of medical records or birth certificates; so when a parent goes to enroll the child in school, they might not be allowed to enroll," McCarthy says. "Those types of barriers are supposed to be removed so that the child is not blocked from going to school."Homeless children are also denied access when schools require students to prove residency in the neighborhood or when schools fail to provide transportation options for students who move from shelter to shelter each night. Also, some schools require a child to be enrolled in school by a legal guardian, but a homeless family may have placed a child with a grandparent or friend while the parents search for a place to live.And because school districts had not revised their policies to be in line with the federal law, many homeless service providers -- the people who run shelters and meal programs -- saw more and more homeless children with no place to learn during the day. So, in many cases, homeless service providers started teaching children themselves, setting up small classrooms in shelters or church basements. NLCHP found more than 40 of these separate schools for homeless children -- and although NLCHP attorneys concede these classrooms are run by hard-working and well-meaning people, they warn that the system is inherently unfair."As a result of the failure of state and local school districts to comply with the act, makeshift programs have sprung up," McCarthy says. "They were most meant to be stop-gap measures at first. But in some communities, they have become rooted in the community and people fail to see that the underlying problem is that children don't have access to existing schools. The solution is not to set up these non-schools."In some areas, homeless-only schools have become so established that the local school district automatically refers homeless students to the homeless shelter, thereby further limiting the student's access to the regular public school.Plus, NLCHP says that many of the homeless-only schools cannot meet educational standards. Homeless shelters have very few resources, even compared to under-funded public school districts, and the homeless-only schools are likely to lack a full curriculum. Many are held in sites that do not meet health and safety standards, and few have certified teachers and separate classrooms for separate grades of children. Bret Boyce, another NLCHP staff attorney who worked on the report, says, "The homeless service providers have tried to fill in the gaps, but it doesn't really meet the educational standards -- and it's easy for state authorities to bless this convenience."Boyce admits that some homeless-only schools might not agree with the report. The Thomas J. Pappas Educational Center in Phoenix, Ariz., for example, has its own building, partnerships with local businesses, and a growing base of benefactors. Teachers here point out that homeless children need special counseling, and being in a homeless-only environment allows them to feel more confident and safer than they would in the barb-filled world of public school.Nonetheless, Boyce and McCarthy say that one of the best ways to improve access to schools for homeless children is to simply raise awareness of the federal regulations. "A big problem is a lack of understanding of how to comply with the law," McCarthy says. A McKinney coordinator in each state will receive a copy of the NLCHP report to show that the rules set out by the McKinney Act are not being followed, and NLCHP will work to ensure that the McKinney Act is re-authorized in Congress over the next few months.Awareness of the problem has already lead to improvements in certain areas. In Texas, for example, state law now mandates that students have 30 days to produce immunization records -- but students can start school on the day they show up. "Some school districts have done really innovative things with transportation policies, having flexible bus routes so busses can be rerouted to pick up children at homeless shelters or using taxi vouchers," McCarthy adds.In some cases, schools that were once homeless-only have since joined with local districts and converted their separate facility into supplemental programs. In Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, "a non-profit organization named A Child's Place that once operated a separate school for homeless children is now collaborating with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to enroll all homeless children in the district in public schools," the report states. "The school system arranges for transportation to school, while A Child's Place provides food, clothing, personal health and school supplies, arranges for referrals to physical and mental health professionals, and provides after-school tutoring programs."This kind of conversion is an ideal evolution of many homeless-only schools, NLCHP says. "We don't want the good-will and energy of these teachers and service provides to go to waste," says Boyce. "We'd like to see them channeled in supplemental services for homeless children, such as mentoring, food and clothing."This article originally appeared on Shewire. Elizabeth Hollander is a Shewire editor.

Is Your Engagement Ring Funding a Civil War?

Last month women across the country dreamed of the perfect Valentine's Day gift -- a diamond ring. After all, what better way is there to make two months' salary last forever?So asks the omnipresent ads of the world's largest diamond company, De Beers. A worldwide cartel based in South Africa that controls approximately 70 percent of the diamond trade, De Beers has been touting its diamonds in the United States for 30 years. This year the company hawked "millennium" diamonds and launched an interactive website where users can design their own engagement ring.For a company whose directors can't even set foot in the United States without fear of being prosecuted for being a monopoly, De Beers sure spends a lot of money here -- $60 million on Valentine's Day advertising alone, according to The New York Times.Why? It doesn't need to sell the brand -- it already controls the market. And it's not like consumers can flock to a De Beers store -- the company mines diamonds in Africa for sale to jewelry retailers throughout the world. And De Beers, which stopped doing business in the United States in 1945 when the Justice Department initiated anti-trust proceedings against it, can't sell diamonds here directly. It has to sell them to dealers in London, who turn around and sell them to the United States. So why swamp the states with so much pro-diamond advertising in the weeks before Valentine's Day?"Why do you think?" asks De Beers spokesman Andrew Lamont. "Advertising helps to sell diamonds." De Beers, a publicly traded company, has been run by the Oppenheimer family since 1902 -- and before that by Cecil Rhodes, a British imperialist who made a fortune consolidating diamond mines.But Lamont adds that by operating mines in Africa, De Beers helps transfer funds from first-world customers to underdeveloped countries desperate to get a piece of the global economy. "De Beers sees itself as something akin to Robin Hood. We persuade those people who can afford luxury goods to purchase those goods to help build schools in Africa."Smuggled DiamondsBut diamonds can also help build an army -- and that's just what this luxury good has been doing for the past 10 years. Rebel armies in Angola, the Congo, and Sierra Leone wage brutal civil wars funded by an extensive, smuggled diamond trade. The rebels take control of a diamond mine, falsify a few documents, and then sell the diamonds in the international markets in Antwerp and Tel Aviv. And guess who's there to buy up the majority of these smuggled diamonds? According to several sources, it's De Beers.De Beers does mine some of it's own diamonds, but it also routinely buys up all available diamonds on the market in an attempt to control the price of the gems. Human Rights Watch reported that in 1996 the Angola rebels received $760 million from the sale of their stolen gems -- the majority sold to De Beers. Rebels in Sierra Leone used their diamond money, funneled through dealers in Liberia, to build an army that started with just 400 volunteers, into a fighting force with more than 20,000 paid soldiers.And those soldiers are not lightly armed, either. In Sierra Leone, rebels use machetes to hack off the hands and feet of civilians who attempt to vote in democratic elections. And Angola, despite having signed the international Mine Ban Treaty in 1997, is contaminated from its 25-year civil war -- during which many of the country's six million land mines were placed around diamond fields by rebels anxious to protect their funding source."The human cost for this trade is simply unacceptable," says Alex Yearsley of Global Witness, a British-based coalition of human rights groups that published a report on the illicit diamond trade in 1998. "When peace initiatives consistently fail due to rebel factions being heavily armed with sophisticated weaponry, and those weapons have been paid for by diamonds which end up as jewelry in the international markets, it's evident that there are some problems to address."The United Nations attempted to address the Angola problem in July of 1998, when it placed an embargo on all diamonds sold by Angola's rebel army, UNITA. Under the conditions of the embargo, the Angolan government could continue to sell diamonds from its own mines, as long as it provided certificates of origin for each gem. The sanctions on UNITA's diamond mines, however, proved difficult to enforce. The rebel army simply falsified the required certificates of origin.De Beers admitted to the U.N. in 1999 that it may have unknowingly bought diamonds from UNITA. Last October, the company announced that it would no longer purchase any diamonds from Angola."We were concerned that loopholes in the sanctions were being exploited," Lamont says. "We wanted to be able to put our hands on our hearts and reassure our customers that our diamonds were not coming from areas where the rebels would profit from them."But some people question De Beers' sincerity."They're making a lot of noises as if they are responding," says Deborah DeYoung, an aide to Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH). DeYoung points out that De Beers didn't stop purchasing diamonds from UNITA until the U.N. imposed the sanctions in 1998, several years after it became apparent that rebels in African countries were profiting from the diamond trade.Now Rep. Hall is asking the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Sierra Leone and the Congo, similar to those placed on Angola. Although De Beers says it does not have purchasing offices in either Liberia or Sierra Leone, it does buy diamonds in the international markets of Antwerp. And Sierra Leone's rebels have been smuggling diamonds through Liberia, apparently selling them in Antwerp: Antwerp's Diamond High Council, an industry group that doubles as a regulatory body for the Belgium diamond trade, reported that its traders were importing 30 million carats of diamonds from Liberia -- although the country's diamond mines could produce only 2 percent of that amount. The other 98 percent had to come from somewhere."Officials in Antwerp have known about this for nearly a decade and have done absolutely nothing," Yearsley says. "In fact, they regarded it as something of a joke."But with the United States suddenly taking an interest in the issue of smuggled diamonds, no one's laughing anymore. Especially De Beers, which itself has an interest in American consumers, who buy at least half of all commercial diamonds worldwide.We'd Love To Help, But ...Before the U.N. sanctions against Angola, De Beers was not interested in stopping smuggling, Yearsley says. In fact, the company "actively talked about their ability to purchase on the open market the unofficial Angolan production," he says. What changed their minds this year? "They are very keen to cooperate so that they can get back into the States," Yearsley claims.De Beers officials cooperated last December by meeting with Rep. Hall to discuss how the proposed sanctions against Sierra Leone could be more effective than the ones passed on Angola. But the real opportunity for the company came when De Beers was approached by the U.S. State Department, seeking its cooperation to help end the smuggled diamond trade. The company agreed to the meeting because, Lamont says, "if America is looking for solutions for Africa, then we are prepared to talk with them."But after meeting with the State Department officials and with Rep. Hall, De Beers did something it has never done in the 50 years since it first left the Unite States under threat of anti-trust prosecution: It asked for a meeting with the U.S. Justice Department.The Justice Department has been interested in De Beers off and on since it started the anti-trust investigation more than 50 years ago. De Beers has not operated in the United States since then, and the Justice Department indicted the company in 1994 on charges of price fixing. The Justice Department accused the company of conspiring with its competitor, General Electric, to raise prices on industrial diamonds. De Beers refused to come to the United States to answer the charges. So while GE was eventually acquitted, the indictment against De Beers still stands.Now, critics say, De Beers appears to be trying to use the promise of its cooperation in the smuggling situation in Africa as leverage to get the indictment lifted and to permit the company to return to the United States."The industry could do a lot more [to stop the smuggling]," DeYoung says. "They just want to get something for it first." When Rep. Hall met with De Beers officials in December, DeYoung says, the State Department asked him not to use the indictment as a bargaining chip to gain the company's cooperation."I'm sure it would be natural for De Beers to link their cooperation with a desire to resolve the anti-trust issue," says a former state department official, who asked not to be named. "But these are really two separate issues. It's not our responsibility to get in the middle of an anti-trust suit."De Beers claims there was no connection between its meeting with the State Department officials and its overtures to the Justice Department. "We just thought it would be useful to look at some of the constraints put upon us," Lamont says.The Justice Department eventually turned down the request for the meeting, and officials there refused to comment on the De Beers case.A Diamond Boycott?DeYoung says De Beers should forget about what it can gain from the State Department and concentrate instead on what it has to save. If the diamond industry doesn't act fast to address the problem, "it's going to be a fertile ground for a consumer boycott," she says. "If they don't want diamonds to go the way of fur -- to become a symbol of butchery -- then they need to do something."But advocates around the world freeze up at the mention of a consumer boycott on diamonds."A general boycott of diamonds is an absolute no-no," Yearsley says. The majority of diamonds come from legitimate mines in southern Africa, he says, and those governments rely heavily on the diamond trade for a stable economy. De Beers' Lamont puts it a bit more dramatically."Talk like that is literally putting people's lives at risk," he says. He points out that Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world when De Beers opened a mine there in the 1960s. Now the country is one of the richest in Africa. "Put yourself in the position of a child in Botswana. You start turning people off diamonds and what will you put in place of that resource?"Besides, Lamont says, consumers have "only a 1 in one hundred chance" of buying a diamond that was sold by Angola rebels -- not a big enough reason to be concerned. "The extraordinary thing is that the world is preoccupied with the diamond industry," he says. "Wouldn't it be easier to stop the export of a tank into Angola instead?"Vikki Kratz is a freelance writer and the former research editor for Mother Jones. This story originally appeared in Shewire, at

Young Women Take on the IMF

Looking at the tens of thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C., this weekend, it was impossible not to notice the overwhelming presence of women demonstrating against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.These mostly young, white female activists traveled in droves to the nation's capital to voice their concern over a broad range of issues including Third World debt relief and the unequal flow of global capital.For Nicole Lueschow, an 18-year-old high school student from Tacoma Park, Maryland, the protest in D.C. was a chance to voice solidarity with youth activists critical of the power given to the corporate and government elite under IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO) policies. And although nearly 700 protesters had been arrested by the end of the weekend, Lueschow's resolve didn't waiver."I really feel it's important that women express themselves here," she said. "In the past, women weren't always able to express a view. Now we have a chance to come and fight for what we believe."Lueschow and her friend, 18-year-old Nicole Riley, sat patiently at a police line on the outskirts of George Washington University near the site of the meetings. Like many young women out protesting, both girls wore bandannas to protect them from the 80-degree-heat -- and the potential sting of tear gas, should events from last November's WTO protests in Seattle repeat themselves."A lot of mothers and daughters are affected by the IMF and the World Bank," said Riley, whose mother once worked in a match factory in Iran while her brothers received an education.Another woman, who would only identify herself as Khtay, said knows firsthand what Iranian women must endure. Dressed in jeans and a blazer -- clothing she said she would never be allowed to wear in her homeland -- she said she felt solidarity with the thousands of other women at the protest as she collected petition signatures for an Iranian activist facing deportation from the United States.Don't be a SAPActivists argued that IMF-mandated Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) often create the social forces that push families to send young women to work in foreign-owned factories instead of to school. In order to receive financial support from the IMF and emergency "bailout" loans from the World Bank, SAPs are imposed on these developing countries to make them more attractive targets to foreign investors. This is accomplished through a regimen of cuts in social spending, slashes in tariffs, a devaluation of the currency and an orientation to an export-dominated economy. In other words, the money is only granted if the country can prove it is on the path towards a capitalistic market model, thereby becoming a full-fledged partner in the global economy.The resulting disparity between rich and poor nations, and the effect of SAPs on the lives of the people in the global south, is a primary target of the scores of protesters who converged on the nation's capitol this weekend.According to Amanda Vender of the Filipino Worker Center in New York, young women in the Philippines who work in export processing zones are seen as expendable labor, and are often only used for several months at time. "The IMF and the World Bank enact policies that allow for the exploitation of women by multinational corporations," argued Vender."The electronic and garment industries focus on recruiting women because they have small hands, and are seen as more efficient in operating equipment or assembling electronics. Women working in department stores are forced to wear short skirts so they can't hide stolen money," Vendor continued.The exploitation of women in an export-oriented society is not uncommon, according to Pamela Sparr, head of the Women's Division of the Office of Environmental Justice and author of a book on globalization and women, "Mortgaging Women's Lives." She points out that in export-oriented zones, "Companies overtly recruited women to work for a variety of factors, in part because they thought women could be hired cheaper, be less likely to unionize, and also because they were an available labor pool to tap."SAPs can reach into the home lives of women as well: Food subsidies decline, making it harder for women to feed their families. "When the World Bank comes in, and says subsidies are a no-no, often who gets hurt are the poor, and the United Nations has estimated that 70 percent of the poor are female," Sparr said.Schools are often made fee-based under SAPs -- and the mark left on a generation of women is indelible. "As soon as families get hit with user fees, it's invariably the daughter that gets pulled out of school first," said Jason Mark, a spokesperson for the San Francisco-based fair trade group Global Exchange.However, the IMF counters it has no authority to cause governments to cut social spending -- and in fact, the IMF says it encourages countries to maintain services and is disappointed when governments "ignore this well-intentioned advice," according to an IMF publication.Dealing with DebtMany of the protesters also demanded an immediate forgiveness of the debts of impoverished countries. The IMF -- in which the US has a controlling interest, holding 18 percent of the vote -- has taken steps toward this goal with their Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, launched in 1996. The HIPC program covers 41 developing countries, and does relieve a portion of their debt, but critics say it doesn't go far enough. One protester carried a sign that said developing countries spend four times as much paying back debt as they do on health care.Latin America owes 36 percent of its gross national product (or GNP, the sum of what it produces) to other countries and financial institutions, while sub-Saharan Africa owes 83 percent of its total GNP to debt. Nicaragua is one of the world's most indebted countries, with each citizen owing the equivalent of three times her annual income. A country must comply with repayment plans, which includes adopting SAPs, in order to qualify for HIPC debt relief.But even those who advocate debt relief know that it is only the first step toward alleviating these countries' problems. Debt relief does not automatically mean that governments, free from the burden of interest payments, will go back to spending funds on health and welfare. Also, debt relief could just mean another bailout for a country's investors."Debt forgiveness is the first step in a bigger puzzle," Sparr points out. "Unless we work with more than just trading relationships and restructuring the international market, countries that are highly indebted today will immediately become indebted once again because of the way the international economy works."If we're serious about promoting sustainability, we need to work hard to challenge the WTO and trade in investment," she said.No Shut-Down in SightAlthough the protesters did not shut down the spring meetings of these two organizations, they did manage to sweep the welcome mat out from under the powerful ministers' feet. Activist Page Hawley from New York City says she's gained a new perspective from her experiences."The cops were really vicious," explained a flustered Hawley, who said she was handcuffed for six hours and held on a bus without legal representation after attempting to protest Saturday night. "They blocked us is from two sides of the street and started moving in and not letting people out. Everybody got arrested."Fellow protesters Lueschow and Riley were split on how far they were willing to go in the name of global justice. Lueschow said her solidarity with other women and the movement was strong enough to risk arrest, and her "political" parents were supporting her all the way. But Riley, who is considering politics as a career, said she didn't want a blemish on her record."Besides," she added, "my parents would kill me."Jennifer Barrios is a freelance writer and the editor of a community newspaper. David Harris is a freelance writer and documentary filmmaker from San Francisco.


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