Ask a Feminist

Dear Ask A Feminist,

My husband and I were married in the temple over eight years ago. I hold a calling teaching Relief Society. My testimony is strong, but painfully damaged. To make a long story short. My husband is addicted to pornography and has been physically, verbally, financially and emotionally abusive. Not to mention treats me like an object. My efforts with six bishops in eight years has been disappointing. My husband has even admitted some things to these bishops and yet he still has not ever been even put on church probation. One bishop gave him a calling and a temple recommend, but them the stake president refused to sign it. Especially the last three bishops are disappointing as they know he has now been arrested for domestic violence and yet they have continued to do nothing. My husband consistently intimidates me and the children with scary anger and threats. My husband is a full tithe payer and goes to church every week, but does nothing at all to change. Does the money protect his position and lack of action? He sleeps through church and if awake says prayers and makes intellectual scriptural based comments. These comments make me cringe considering the way he treated me that day and nearly every day. Talk about feeling unequal. Even our Heavenly Father punishes us and we as parents punish our children. Not because we want to see them miserable, but because we are trying to facilitate or motivate a change. I have been blamed by his parents and by bishops. I have been asked if I am “taking care of his needs” when discussing his pornography usage. There are so many more details. I feel beaten down and want to leave him, but I haven’t worked in six years. I have an accounting degree, but I am afraid that I might lose my children if I can’t get a job and provide for them. I have gone to weekly counseling for two years now to get stronger. I’m assured, by my counselor, that I am not even depressed, just dealing with a lot. So why does this treatment of me not make sense? Why are the bishops leaving all the consequences up to me. Like if I don’t like it then leave him mentality. I feel neglected and unsupported. Is there something in the bishop’s handbook about allowing this behavior?



Dear Unsupported,

This story breaks my heart and I want to give you the best support possible. As such, I am passing along this question to one of the WAVE board members that specializes in abuse cases. Thank you for being brave enough to come forward and I hope you realize that your words will help countless women to know that they are not alone and (some) bishops to do a better job of helping them.

With all sincerity and love, Ask a Feminist

Dear Unsupported,

Let me begin by expressing my heartache for what you have suffered and are currently suffering at the hands of your husband. No woman should have to experience this. And I am saddened that you have been failed by our religious institution, even though it purports to comfort the weary and heavy laden. That being said, I am so impressed by your assertiveness and bravery in writing us about this issue. Domestic violence maintains its power through the silence and shame of its victims; you have taken several steps to break that power.

To introduce myself briefly, I have worked as a domestic violence advocate for five years, three of those years at a shelter counseling victims. I am currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration with a concentration in domestic violence policy as well as staying at home with my three young children.

I’m going to break my response to you into two sections: I’ll address the logistical issues that you face as a victim of domestic violence first and then discuss some of the questions you asked concerning the way you have been treated by our church.


For any victim of intimate partner abuse, it is extremely difficult to react appropriately to the abuse that has been perpetrated. These choices can be overwhelming but they can also be empowering in that it allows you to re-take control over your life. I assume that since you wrote to us you do not want to perpetuate the status quo any longer. This leaves you with three general options:

1) Leave your marriage immediately.

In your first email you mention that your husband has been physically, emotionally, verbally, financially and spiritually abusive. You are well within your rights to leave this marriage. I recognize, however, that leaving an abusive relationship is complicated, especially if there are children involved. I do not presume to know what is best for anybody in this situation—that is a very personal decision that only you can make—but my first concern is always safety. Are you physically safe remaining in this relationship? If you are not, it may be in your best interest to leave your husband and go to a safe place. Again, leaving is complicated and you should be aware that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is after she leaves the relationship. It would be beneficial to talk with a domestic violence advocate and develop a safety plan for this time.

When women choose to leave their abusers, I generally recommend that they get an Order of Protection first. I say generally because sometimes getting a protection order is not in your best interest, only you can know that. An Order of Protection is just a piece of paper but it does provide some protection in that it lets the criminal justice system know that something is going on in your relationship that is not right. If you choose to get a protection order I highly recommend utilizing a lawyer or legal advocate;  they understand the intricacies of the system and will be able to provide you with the most comprehensive Order of Protection possible. Most superior courts have legal advocates on staff and can help victims navigate the complicated legal system for free. If not, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline and they can provide you resources to find legal help.

Let me talk about domestic violence shelters briefly. I worked at a shelter and know intimately the good that they do for women trying to get out of abusive situations. However, shelter life is hard and may be especially overwhelming if you’re used to the privacy of your own home. Also, the recession has hit non-profit organizations hard so programs like domestic violence shelters have fewer resources to offer you. If you have family that you can go to, this might be a preferable situation for you and your children. If this is not possible then DV shelters are a safe, supportive place to go and they offer wonderful services. Domestic violence shelters will provide food and shelter, support groups and domestic violence education, resources for your children as well as targeted case management to help you get back on your feet.  You can get referrals to local domestic violence shelters through the National DV Hotline linked to above.


2) Wait to leave

You may make the decision to leave your husband but know that the time isn’t right for whatever reason. In that case, I would encourage you to get prepared now. Gather all of your important documents and basic necessities and have them ready in case you have to leave quickly. During this waiting time you may even want to build up a little “nest egg” fund in preparation. You said your husband was financially abusive but even if you could save the change from your grocery money it could really help.

You mentioned that you are already in counseling but it might also be beneficial to attend an outpatient domestic violence support group. There you will receive more domestic violence education and connect with other women in similar situations. Many social service agencies have these kinds of support groups. Once again, you can call the hotline for referrals for groups in your area. You may even want to utilize case management services from a domestic violence advocate who can help you plan for your eventual escape. Hopefully, an advocate can provide you with resources to help you get back into the workforce so that you can financially support your family. Ask the advocate about transitional housing programs in your area as this is a useful stepping stone in the process of getting self sufficient.


3) Remain in the relationship

Sometimes it is in the best interest of the woman and her family to remain in the relationship.  Only you can know what is best for you and your children and it is never the place of an advocate, family member, friend or religious leader to make that decision for you. However, staying in an abusive marriage must be considered carefully: What are the potential ramifications to your physical and emotional health? What effect will this have on your children both now and in the future? You are in the unenviable position of having to weigh these realities

If you do chose to stay I would encourage you once again to join a domestic violence support group and continue seeing your therapist as you will need the emotional support. I would also recommend finding something outside of your home that makes you feel good about yourself. This could be anything from getting a part-time job, going to the gym, or taking a class for something you’re interested in—anything that will build your self-esteem.

I would also encourage you to practice as much assertiveness as is safe with your husband. You state in your email that your husband treats you like an object, this is a common characteristic of abusive personalities because they fail to recognize the humanity of the people around them. So when your husband says something hurtful to you, call him on it. Using assertive, “I”-focused language say something like: “I feel hurt and disrespected when you talk to me like that.” One of two things will happen, he won’t ever get it and will continue to be abusive or he will begin to understand over time that you do have feelings that he is negatively impacting. If he does catch on, great! If he doesn’t, at least you’ve reaffirmed to yourself that you have feelings and they are valid.

I would also be honest about what it will take from him for you to continue to stay in the marriage. From everything you’ve described about your husband, he needs treatment for his abusive personality. There are programs for abusers that seek to change abusive behavior through a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, education and group responsibility. Find out what programs exist in your community and if it is safe to do so, inform your husband that he must participate in one of these programs if he wants to keep the family together. I must tell you that Batterer Intervention Programs have a high recidivism rate but it is my opinion that some treatment is better than no treatment. I would try to find a program that lasts at least six months, if not longer since those have better success rates. I generally don’t recommend anger management for abusers since anger management is not the root of the problem. And under no circumstances would I recommend seeking marriage counseling with your husband. The problem is not yours, it is his and many abusers use marriage counseling as a sanctioned time to emotionally abuse their partner. Please let me know if you would like more information about treatment options or help finding a decent provider in your community. If you chose to stay with your husband hopefully the trust can be rebuilt and you can go on to have a mutually fulfilling relationship.

Religious Issues

It breaks my heart that you have had the experiences you have had with church leadership. I agree with you that bishops should be a source of support for individuals who are being abused by their marriage partner. The fact that you have had six bishops who have either looked the other way or blamed you for your husband’s sins is inexcusable in my book. That being said, it is not especially surprising to me that this has been your experience. The Mormon Church is certainly not alone in failing victims of domestic violence, many religions struggle with giving adequate support to women who are suffering from this evil. What makes your experience frustrating, however, is that the general authorities have been quite clear that there is no room for any form of abuse in a marriage relationship. For example, the Church Handbook of Instructions specifically states:

The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Those who abuse or are cruel to their spouse, children, other family members, or anyone else violate the laws of God and man…Members who have abused others are subject to Church discipline.

I cannot tell you exactly why your leaders have failed to support you and act appropriately when Church policy is so clear. I do have some thoughts, however, that might help you in the future when you turn to a bishop for help.

Bishops face a complicated situation. Because of the importance we rightly put on eternal families, I can understand that no bishop wants to be responsible for the breakup of a family. Most bishops have no training in the dynamics of intimate partner abuse and so will often provide inappropriate counsel in an effort to keep a family together. From what you have described it seems that your current bishop wants to let you make the decision of whether to remain in the marriage without giving you outright permission to leave.  According to church policy and the rhetoric of our general authorities, you are well within your rights to do so. My suggestion is to prayerfully decide which option is best for you and your children, whether it be leaving your husband, remaining in the marriage for the time being, or sticking it out for the long haul. When you have decided this, go to your bishop with your decision and see how he can support you in your plan. You may find that he is more supportive once he knows which direction you will take.

More likely than not your bishops have had absolutely no training in counseling, let alone the dynamics of intimate partner abuse. Because of this, they have not recognized how serious your complaint was. It is also possible that your bishops got caught on the pornography problem since that is what gets focused on so much by general authorities. Unfortunately, pornography abuse is so common in the church that some bishops may feel it does not warrant church discipline. In your case, however, your bishops have failed to see that your husband’s pornography use is only a symptom of a much larger problem.

This is where I think you could be a wonderful advocate and agent of change, not only for yourself but for other women who find themselves in a similar circumstance. Domestic violence experts have developed a wonderful tool to help identify abuse in a relationship called the Power and Control Wheel. Take this tool to your bishop and identify the ways in which your husband has abused you. Give him specific examples.  Then I would show your bishop the Equality Wheel which visually represents what equal partnership in a relationship should look like. Your bishop should see that the qualities listed in the Equality Wheel are the same ones that general authorities tout when they speak of equal partnership in marriage.

I recognize how unfair it is that you must be the one to educate your bishop about abuse. The church should be doing a better job training their ecclesiastical leaders to recognize and respond to these situations appropriately. Statistically, one in three women will be a victim of intimate partner abuse; think of how many women are suffering in your ward and in the worldwide church. You can use your negative experience for good here and help your leaders do a better job ministering to women who have been victims of domestic violence. If you feel comfortable, maybe go to your stake president and share your experience with him. You could even write letters to your area authority, the general Relief Society Presidency and the First Presidency. The more women like you are willing to speak about the abuse they have suffered and the failure of church leaders to respond compassionately and appropriately, the greater likelihood that the general leadership will put structures in place that will address these needs. And as the statistics show us, the need is very real.

I commend you, dear Unsupported, for your bravery in writing to us and your desire to be an advocate for change. I know that you can make a big difference in the lives of many women. I hope and pray that you can find peace, justice and happiness in your own life. Please know that WAVE is one place, among many, where you are truly supported.

With love,

Meghan Raynes Matthews


Visit the following websites for further information and support:

National Domestic Violence Hotline:



  1. I could have written that story years ago. I got no support from bishops, to speak of, but our Stk Pres didn’t step in. I will tell you a few things I did that helped:
    1. I set boundaries. I stopped tolerating the abuse. I grabbed our child and drove away. I stayed with friends. I called the cops. I told him no more. I stopped letting his abuse affect me emotionally. (That’s the toughest.) I got therapy.
    2. I started telling people. I wouldn’t let it be our dirty secret anymore.
    3. I prayed that someone else would intervene. I think this is integral. It turned out my husband got written up @ work for anger issues. He was put on meds that helped. He had other issues @ work that caused him to have a total nervous breakdown. He admitted all his sexual acting out, from before our marriage and since. Praying that someone else would help was the true miracle.
    4. He has repented and I have been slowly healing. I am still angry after a year. He has been healing from the breakdown. It’s been a rough year, but miles better than it had been.
    5. I took my husband to the dr and a shrink and it turned out many of the meds and over the counter drugs he was taking were causing some of the raging.
    6. If he hadn’t repented, I’d be planning my leaving. Abusers don’t always stop. I didn’t ‘make’ my husband stop, but I certainly encouraged it.
    7. Getting help with a domestic violence group is important. Abusers are tricky as well as dangerous.
    8. Remember, if you don’t get some help, you could have your kids taken away from you for not getting out and exposing them to abuse. This motivated me to make some changes and choices.
    I wouldn’t count on any church leaders to intervene. I would trust the laws of the land more. However, I’d keep going to church leaders up and up the line until you can get someone to hear you. I don’t care if you end up trying to talk to Pres Monson.
    Good luck and God bless.

    • I have been the target of abuse, as have my five children. i am alone becasue as a family we moved overseas several years ago. In that time I have taken my fear and concerns to three different bishops. The first promiosed to help and all he did was give my family a movie pass. He spoke with my husband, promised support then never followed through. The second bishop, was a retired police officer, so I ahd high hopes that he would understand about domestic violence. He allowed me to be without home teachers for 9 months until I left the ward. I was financially dependant on my husband and my bishop was very eager to remind me on multiple occasions that I could only have church financial assistance for a very short time. My children are screwed up. They all require counselling, we have family therapy, one of my children has extreme anxiety as a result of PTSD, we are all living with fear and pain. I moved from that ward becasue i couldn’t afford to keep up the rent payments and needed somewhere less expensive. so we moved again. The new ward I felt I had finally found a bishop who cared. but still despite my social isolation it took me 5 months to get home and visiting teachers. I have repeatedly told my bishop, his counsellor, RS president, home and visiting teacher and HP group leader that the income I receive does not cover my expenditure. I ahve arouind $30 a week for food for 6 people, one of whom requires expensive food due to allergies ( eg one loaf of bread for her is $8 and 1 litre of lactose free milk is $5) Despite this I ahve spent the last month eating only one meal a day, while I ensure my children ahve adequate nutrition by selling everything I can possibly sell. In desperation my mother tried on at least ten times to contact my bishop, to no avail. He finally made himself available for a conversation and hung up on her. Prior to that he told her I should exercise my faith and approach him for help. I ahd already approached him, his counsellor, RS president, home teachers and visiting teachers, my situation is not going to change. my daughter will require long term 24hour care to enable her to cope with her psychological issues as a result of the abuse. through it all,memebershave given my husband a car, a place to live when he returned to the country following abandoning his family for 8 months, they have given him a job and are paying for his legal representation…Also he regularlty attends the Temple despite my bishop reading my daughter’s statement in which she catalogues multiple evidences of child abuse. My daughter has also disclosed to two counsellors, a therapist, a psychologist and a court appointed barrister who has opnly sanctioned supervised contact at a contact centre for my children. I now am too frightened to attend the Temple in case he is there. his stake temple night is the same as mine. I am aslo scared to attend my ward in case he turns up and I ahve to face him. In the past nine months I have only sen him for ten minutes in court and did not speak to him. i live in fear and am struggling to maintain my, always previuosly strong testimony…I feel betrayed and uncared for by the church, the very community I believed would be my sanctuary. We attended church this week, but my daughter with anxiety disorders was as terrified as I am. I am told I am not allowed to contact area authority about this or general authorities or I will get in trouble with my local leaders. I desperately need financial support so that i can build up my reservoirs of strength to return to the workplace. Along with my non lds counsellor that is my plan for 2014, but this year is about healing myself and my children, we have meetings with therapists or psychologists several times a week…I ahve lost faith in church leadership, for me and my very isolated family they just DON’T CARE…I didn’t attend church for 5 weeks and noone noticed/cared…I am crying out for help and it is not there. In my pre abused life I was a confident, articulate professional, now I ama shell of that person and desperately need support to heal emotionally and spiritually…

  2. A little after-the-fact here, but, Dear Unsupported, The bishop’s handbook is not the answer in your situation.

    I highly recommend the book, “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. This book will help you understand what is happening, see your husband’s behaviors more clearly and may help free you from the confusion created by ill-informed bishops. It will also help strengthen you and diminish the self-doubt and the twisted thinking invariably caused by living with someone like your husband.

    God doesn’t expect you to “endure” any of what you describe above. He loves you and wants you to be free – in every sense of the word. And happy too.

  3. Dean MFT says:

    Dear Unsupported,
    It saddens me deeply that you have had to struggle with this for so long and are so alone in your struggles.

    I really like the two previous suggestions. Lundy Bancroft’s book has been very helpful to many women.

    Here are a couple of more suggestions for you to consider very prayerfully.

    Authorize your therapist, in writing, to speak to your Bishop and Stake President. Ask your therapist to call both and give them a full report of the abuse and its affect on you.

    Quantify your abuse by putting a number behind each statement below, corresponding to the legend above the statements, and add up your score. Give copies of the results to your therapist, Bishop and Stake President along with copies of the Power and Control Wheel and the Equality Wheel (links are on this site.) Those “wheels” need to have your sincere comments on them. The Bishop’s wife should also answer the questions below to give the Bishop a score to judge by.

    Bishops and Stake Presidents are obviously limited in their options but you sincerely feel the injustice of his “full fellowship” while breaking such fundamental and critically important commandments.

    You asked the question, “Is there something in the bishop’s handbook about allowing this behavior?” A two part answer: 1) Agency prohibits the Bishop from changing your husband’s behavior. And 2) the handbook requires the Bishop, when informed, to find out the facts, make righteous judgments and administer church discipline as appropriate. The church has prepared a special video and handouts to train him in this area. You might ask him to review those materials very carefully before your next meeting.

    God Bless you. I’ll be praying for you.

    How My Partner Treats Me

    None of the time, 0
    Very rarely, 1
    A little of the time, 2
    Some of the time, 3
    A good part of the time 4
    Most of the time 5
    All of the time 6

    1 My partner belittles me.
    2 My partner demands obedience to his or her whims.
    3 My partner becomes surly and angry if I say he or she is drinking too much.
    4 My partner demands that I perform sex acts that I do not enjoy or like.
    5 My partner becomes very upset if my work is not done when he or she thinks it should be.
    6 My partner does not want me to have any male friends.
    7 My partner tells me I am ugly and unattractive.
    8 My partner tells me I couldn’t manage or take care of myself without him or her.
    9 My partner acts like I am his or her personal servant.
    10 My partner insults or shames me in front of others.
    11 My partner becomes very angry if I disagree with his or her point of view.
    12 My partner is stingy in giving me money.
    13 My partner belittles me intellectually.
    14 My partner demands that I stay home.
    15 My partner feels that I should not work or go to school.
    16 My partner does not want me to socialize with my female friends.
    17 My partner demands sex whether I want it or not.
    18 My partner screams and yells at me.
    19 My partner shouts and screams at me when he or she drinks.
    20 My partner orders me around.
    21 My partner has no respect for my feelings.
    22 My partner acts like a bully towards me.
    23 My partner frightens me.
    24 My partner treats me like a dunce.
    25 My partner is surly and rude to me.

  4. I agree with the earlier commentators – only you know what is best for you to do in your circumstances. I just wanted to say as a man in the Church I am so angry that your priesthood leaders have failed you. When I hear things like “was arrested for domestic violence” and “treats me like an object” I can’t imagine how any ecclesiastical leader wouldn’t consider this among the top spiritual needs in the ward. It goes against everything they are trained to do and everything being taught from the pulpit. At this point you need to find professional resources and not expect your ecclesiastical leaders to help solve the problem. It is clear they are not capable/willing. You can contact LDS family services as well as your therapist and the local organizations their to help.

    If you still feel the need to seek help from the LDS lay ministry one piece of advice is to look around your ward and your stake for an ecclesiastic leader who you feel would be more reasonable and sympathetic. This may be a councilor in the presidencies or the bishoprics or maybe even the stake relief society president. Prepare and lay out for them the facts of the situation. Ask them to help you help the bishop and/or SP understand the severity of what is going on. There has to be a leader willing to push your cause and not let the bishop and SP off the hook in avoiding your situation. Ask them to attend the meeting with you and the bishop/SP. It is far easier to dismiss things in a one on one encounter than it is when there are more than two people. You deserve to have a helper/advocate with you. This is NOT inappropriate. Just choose someone who is strong and has lots of credibility with the leaders and won’t just acquiesce. (People who were former bishops or SPs are good candidates.)

    I also think that in this case, talking directly with the area authority is appropriate! They need to know that abuse issues are being mishandled systematically in their area. Again prepare to lay out for them who you talked to and when and what you told them as well what is happening on a day to day basis. They will want to know! You may help many other women and children now and in the future.

    Finally, I fear for the safety of you and your children as well as the lessons your children might be learning. You sound like a strong woman ready to face probably the biggest challenge of your life. I hope you aren’t staying because you believe that somehow the temple marriage is more important than your well-being. Marriages are only sacred to the extent that they are between loving equal partners no matter by what authority they were made. If, as you say, your husband is showing no signs of even trying to curtail his behavior then I think that is a good signal to (safely) walk away no matter what the cost. Even if he says and tries to change I don’t think there is any, any obligation for you to help him do that if you don’t want to. Again only you can decide if, when and how but please don’t stay out of some sense of religious or doctrinal obligation. There simply is none. I recommend you read Tresa Edmonds recent article in Exponent II on this point. (Unfortunately it is not up on the web yet, only in hard copy!) Maybe one of the ladies here can get it for you?

    Crying and praying for you!


    PS For what it is worth, I would guess that pornography is not the causal element here but a symptom. I would be wary of anyone that pitches the idea that if he just gets his pornography habit under control things will change. This is something we like to think in the church. Your case goes way, way beyond this.

  5. It is a common belief that abuser can be “fixed” this is generally not true. I have a Criminal Justice degree, and one of my focuses is assault/abuse. You probably find yourself going through the abusive circle: the abuse, the apology , and the honeymoon. It cycles again and again. I am going to admit I have not the foggiest what the Bishop handbook says, but I do know that if someone has broken a federal law, then they have to report it, at least that is the law of the land. Also, if he is abusing your children, or is creating a harmful environment for them to live in, he is required to report it and call child services. This makes me so sad that these men have not helped you. My advice, leave, but don’t do it on your own. Ask family or friends for help, and once you leave besides legal proceedings, do not have ANY contact with him. He may call and tell you that he has changed, but it’s just a ploy; he may threaten to hurt himself, or your kids, don’t fall for it. If you have to call the police, let them escort you somewhere, then cut all ties and get a protective order if you must. This is NOT ok, don’t talk yourself into staying, or trying to get him help; if he loves you he will seek the help he needs and reform on his own. Also, the part about your Bishop, go to the Relief Society president, or other members of the Priesthood. Even the stake president. You might think it is traitorous, but you need to report these Bishops to a higher authority, this is inexcusable, and you SHOULD NOT have to deal with this on your own. The church is supposed to be about support and love. If they are not living up to those standards, then they need to be released. I am praying for you, and please email me if you need any more help.

  6. the Bishops aren’t allowing this, YOU are. Leave him now. Do whatever you have to do. You are in danger. Quit blaming others. Leave now and forge a new, safe, life for yourself and your children.

  7. I know this is way after the fact, but I’ve been through a similar experience. I was in a severly abusive marriage for 25 years. I’ve been working with my Bishop and Stake President for the last two year, trying to “save” my marriage, because my husband finally came in to talk with them (after being in-active for 20+ years). They have been viewing the problem pirmarily as a pornography issue, and have sort of looked the other way on the abuse stuff. My husband WAS ex-communicated, but mostly on infedelity issues. I finally filed for divorce, and in conjuctions with that filed a domestic violence protection order and had him removed from our home by a sherrif two months ago. While that sounds harsh, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Getting help from the local domestic violence program was key in my being able to take the steps I needed to to get out of the situation. My church leaders were still trying to help us make the marriage work, when it was way beyond salvage. I do believe they were trying to be supportive, I just don’t think they really understand abuse, and they were trying to look at our marriage as if it were a ‘normal’ marriage, and trying to help us work on communication etc, which just does not help when there is a complete skewing of power due to DV and abuse. Reading Lundy Bancroft’s book gave me the clarity I needed to finally “let go” of the idea that if I was just “good enough” and tried hard enough, my husband woulf finally stop being abusive and we could make things work.


  1. […] Read some of her amazing blog posts here: Meghan’s advice to a Mormon victim of DV. […]

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