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    Jessie - Sexual Assault Advocate

A Greater Community – The National Sexual Assault Conference from One Advocate’s Perspective

All over the United States, there are people hard at work to end sexual assault and rape. We work full-time or part-time. Sometimes we volunteer. We go to hospitals to be with survivors at midnight after an assault. We are there beside victims as they talk to the police. We are the counselors and group leaders who support trauma survivors as they recall grueling memories. We are the educators who work with teens and the schools to stop rape and harassment on campus. We advocate to local, state, and federal government officials to make our society more just. We visit jails and prisons when someone is victimized while incarcerated. We hear heartbreak. We see tears, courage, and strength.

We listen. We believe. We are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

All over the United States, there are people working to end sexual violence. And once a year the people who support sexual assault victims get the chance to come together in one place. We learn and exchange wisdom and ideas; we support each other. We challenge one another to reach further, create change sooner, and spread sexual assault awareness wider.

NSAC GroupThis once-a-year event is at the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC).

This year, it was hosted by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) in Los Angeles, California. I and a couple coworkers from Tri-Valley Haven’s Rape Crisis Center were fortunate enough to be able to attend the event. The theme was “Inspired by Progress, United by Purpose.”

We were definitely both.

I am sure that anyone who attended the conference would have many stories to tell about what they learned. I am only one person, so I will just talk about what I experienced. And what I experienced was… WOW!

I met the most amazing people at the conference…and amazing barely covers it. Participants included survivors who have become teachers and healers in the NSAC Plenarymovement; people who have been fighting the anti-sexual violence fight for their entire professional lives, and people who have just begun; people who work with survivors individually and people who carry on the anti-rape movement to the White House itself. There were young people, lighting the sky on fire with their passion and their vision, and older people who have contributed to decades of change and know there are still mountains to overcome.

The most wonderful part, for me, of going to the conference was that it embodies the same affirmation that means so much to survivors of violence themselves: You are not alone. For those of us working in the Rape Crisis Movement across the country, our world can seem very small sometimes. We work in cities or suburbs or rural communities. We know everybody in the field near us and rely on them for connection and support. To step into a greater fellowship of human beings all working together to make the world a better, safer, and more just place is just plain moving; humbling.

We had a number of topics this year: building safer college and campus communities, fighting back against rape culture, educating our young men and women to bring change now that will echo for years to come.

Another spotlight was put on ending sexual violence in the military. A recent study shows that sexual violence in the military is far higher than previously reported (new data released by the U.S. Defense Department). Collaborations between rape crisis experts and the military to address sexual violence are so very important. Our soldiers in active service and our veterans both deserve better.

NSAC Forge BoothOther topics included serving survivors of sexual assault in detention, working with male survivors and LGBTQ survivors, preventing child sexual abuse, and much more.

At the conference, I concentrated on the Prison Rape Elimination Act “PREA track”. This training dealt with stopping rape and sexual assault in detention – for example, jail or prison, juvenile detention or an immigration facility.

I have spent the past two years working as a Tri-Valley Haven Sexual Assault Advocate and Crisis Counselor, responding to our local county jail when an inmate calls and requests support after an assault. I am glad to say that the jail staff has been universally welcoming to me, good partners with the Haven, and committed to making their jail safer. Even so, responding to the jail carries with it an emotional weight. I felt that I had already heard some arduous stories. With that being said, the stories I heard from survivors at NSAC stayed with me at night.

Sometimes, society seems to think that anything that happens to a person who is behind the walls of a jail or prison is deserved – they broke the law; they’re getting what is coming to them. Here is a truth: Rape is never part of the sentence. Allowing rape to happen to the people we put in detention, turning a blind eye to it, condoning it in society through jokes…does not make our country safer, quite the opposite. It adds trauma on top of trauma, and ultimately makes us all lesser.

PREA SLIDE 2Roxane Gay summarizes what many people feel about victims of sexual assault in her piece, Bad Victims. “People who have been sexually assaulted know there are good victims and bad victims. Good victims, of course, do not exist but they are an elaborate ideal. They are assaulted in a dark alley by an unknown criminal who has a knife or a gun. They are modestly dressed. They report their assault immediately to law enforcement and submit, willingly, to a rape exam. They answer all questions about their assault lucidly and completely as many times as is necessary. They are adequately prepared for trial. They don’t pester the prosecutor as he or she prepares for trial. When they testify, they are modestly dressed. They are the girl next door. They deserve justice because they are so righteous in their victimhood.”

“Good victims” are never prostitutes. They are never men. They are never gay or transgender. They are never drug addicts. They are never mentally ill. Those are allNSAC PREA slide “bad victims.” The worst victim of them all? Someone who is already in detention.

But when it comes right down to it, we are all human beings with flaws and mistakes and dark sides. None of us is perfect. None of us is a “perfect victim.” And nobody, NOBODY, deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. Not even someone in prison.

It was good to meet other people who believe that.

It was inspiring to be at the conference with many people who are passionate about this intersection between the world of detention and the world of advocacy. It was also inspiring to see how many of us were at different levels of this journey, from the pioneers, to those who have gotten their toes wet for a few years but are still just beginning, to the people who wish to help and to learn how to do so… and whose journey is about to unfold.

The takeaway for me was that there is no such thing as a perfect survivor of rape. All human beings deserve to live in a world where there is zero tolerance for sexual assault – out on the street, or in a jail or a prison or in an I.C.E. (immigration holding facility). What we do as advocates is to connect with the strength and humanity of every survivor. We remind them of their own assets. We validate that they did not deserve what has been done to them. This is a fact, regardless if we spoke to a victim at our office, in our shelter, at a hospital… or from behind bars.

CALCASA’s National Sexual Assault Conference reminded me that there is a greater community of people working to end sexual assault; my work going into the jail to support survivors reminds me that there is an even greater community than that…the community of humanity itself.

Together, we build a world without violence.

Talking to Teens about Dating Violence and Bullying in Pleasanton High Schools

“10/10! Would do it again!”

“It was very helpful, especially since this is becoming more common.”

“We haven’t learned much about this yet, so it was great to learn about it!”

“I liked how the presenters were open and not scared to talk about anything.”

“I really thought this inspired me to take action because I noticed some random person online for being called a “b—–” for so-called bullying that they didn’t even do. I feel like standing up that person [who is being cyberbullied] now, as it wasn’t their fault.”

“I felt that Tri-Valley Haven is there for me.”

These are some of the comments we received from ninth-graders after our Healthy Relationships and Bullying Prevention presentations at Foothill High School and Amador High School in Pleasanton this semester.

During the school year, I visit local middle schools and high schools to talk to teens about healthy relationships, teen dating violence and bullying in an age-appropriate way. At the end of each presentation, I hand out surveys to see how effective our presentations are and get anonymous feedback from the students.

Recently we lost all federal and state funding for our youth education programs due to a cut in California funding. As a result, we’ve had to trim many of our presentations down from 2-day classes to 1-day condensed classes in Livermore and Dublin schools. Fortunately, the Pleasanton Youth Commission has continued to fund our Prevention Education program. Thanks to their generosity, we are able to continue providing 2-day presentations to health classes at Pleasanton schools.

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During our full 2-day presentations, we have the opportunity to do more activities with the students to talk about these topics. One of our most popular activities is called “What Would You Do?” During this activity, we read out different scenarios about dating violence or bullying. Then we ask students move to different corners of the room depending on whether they would do nothing (no intervention), step in on their own (primary intervention) or get help (secondary intervention). After each scenario, students get a chance to share what they might do.

Wow, does this activity get teens talking!

Whether we’re talking about dating violence or bullying, each student brings their own unique perspective into the conversation. Sometimes students disagree with their classmates’ suggestions for intervention; other times the entire class ends up standing in the same corner of the room. Many of the classes I visited at Foothill High and Amador High had a lot to say during this activity.

In one class, I asked students what they might do if they witnessed a guy violently shove a girl to the ground on their way to class. Many of the guys in the class said they would step in and confront the guy. In contrast, several of the girls said they would feel more comfortable getting help from a trusted adult or friend. A few of these girls mentioned that they would be afraid of getting hurt if they tried to confront a male student.

Then I told students to imagine the same scenario with one detail changed: “What would you do if you saw a girl shove a guy to the ground?”

Almost every girl said they would feel comfortable talking to the abusive student (in this scenario, another girl) by themselves. However nearly all of the guys said they would be hesitant to intervene. When I asked why, many of them said they wouldn’t know what to say or do in this situation. One student even admitted, “I’ve never heard of this happening to guys.”

This sparked a discussion between the students about assumptions or expectations we might have about who can or cannot be a victim of violence. Many of the students have been encouraged to take a stand against bullying in the past. But often our presentations are the first time students have had the chance to discuss what intervening might actually entail. As presenters, we encourage students to think of intervening indirectly, such as asking for help from a teacher or friend, as well as being assertive.

One of the handouts students fill out before we start our presentations. (via Instagram)

During the conversation, one of the guys mentioned that he would be worried about embarrassing the victim (another guy) if he told the abusive student to stop. So we discussed other ways he might intervene, such as getting help from a teacher so he didn’t have to directly intervene or checking in with the male student in private after the incident.

One of the girls who felt comfortable intervening even suggested, “You could ask one of us for help.”

Isn’t it amazing how one scenario can prompt so many different opinions? Many of the other classes had similar discussions about this particular scenario. As I tell the students, there is no “right” answer when we do this activity. There are many ways students can safely intervene when they see dating violence or bullying happen at their school.

It’s just a matter of getting students to consider their options.


3a92488 In addition to providing advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, Jessie is the newest presenter for our Prevention Education Program at Tri-Valley Haven. Learn more about our teen presentations our Teen page on our website.

Tri-Valley Haven’s Highlights of 2014

Without your generosity, we could not continue to provide vital shelter and support services to women, children and families in need throughout the Tri-Valley area. Every successful program and event at Tri-Valley Haven is made possible thanks to our local community. We are so very grateful for your support.

Before we jump into the New Year, let’s look at some highlights of 2014!

  • 2,600+ calls received on Tri-Valley Haven’s crisis line! That’s almost 10 calls every day, from women, children and families in need.
  • 267 clients served at our Domestic Violence Shelter! With 30 beds, Tri-Valley Haven’s Shiloh Domestic Violence Shelter houses and supports women and their children who are survivors of domestic violence.
  • 245 clients served through our Rape Crisis Center! Survivors of sexual assault receive advocacy and crisis counseling from state-certified advocates through our Rape Crisis Center.
  • 96 clients served at our Homeless Shelter! Sojourner House is the only homeless shelter in the Tri-Valley Area that accepts two-parent families, single fathers with children, and families with teenage boys.
  • 249 clients received counseling at Tri-Valley Haven! Tri-Valley Haven offers counseling and support group services to empower and support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Almost 30,000 visits to our Food Pantry! Each month, the Tri-Valley Haven Food Pantry distributes free groceries to more than 4,000 low-income Tri-Valley residents.
  • 70+ volunteers trained during this year! No only did we train over 30 new volunteers as crisis line and sexual assault advocates, we also trained volunteers for our food pantry, thrift store and childcare services.
  • 40+ incarcerated survivors served by our Rape Crisis Center! Now incarcerated survivors at Santa Rita Jail and FCI-Dublin are able to contact our 24-hour toll-free crisis line and request advocacy services through our agency.
  • 150+ walkers/runners participated in our annual Pace for Pace event! In the past, Pace for Peace has been a smaller event (averaging about 30 participants a year), so we were floored when over 150 participants signed up to show their support for Tri-Valley Haven.
  • $2,000 raised for Tri-Valley Haven during #GivingTuesday! On December 2nd, our Tri-Valley community joined the new tradition of generosity after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. This was TVH’s first year participating and we received $2,000 in donations!
  • 4,036 individual family members signed up for our annual Holiday Program! With your support, we were able to provide food and gifts to over 900 local families in need this holiday season. Our Tri-Valley community went above and beyond this holiday season.
  • 1 incredibly moving experience at a middle school!  After one of our presentations on healthy relationships and bullying prevention at a local middle school in Livermore, a 12-year-old told our staff that no one had ever talked to them about ways to stay safe and prevent bullying. To thank TVH, the student gave the Preventionist .30¢ as a “a tip.”

With your help, we’ll raise funds to bring hope, healing and safety for women, children and families recovering from domestic violence, sexual assault and homelessness in 2015.

Make your 2014 tax-deductible donation by midnight to help Tri-Valley Haven to meet our fundraising goals this year, to enable our services to continue forward next year.

Together we can build a world without violence!

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Why People Don’t Report Rape

This is mostly just a reblog of a blog post by Sexologist on Tumblr.  The blog itself was posted to my personal Facebook wall by a friend who knows I work at a Rape Crisis Center and exploding-headit languished a few days without my seeing it, because… you know… Facebook.  (The way Facebook decides whether or not to notify about new posts is a subject for another blog and not one related to the subject matter of this one.)  Anyway, when I did read it, I found to my dismay that my brains had exploded all over the walls of my office.  It was quite a mess.  I am still cleaning up.

Because… HOLY MOLY did darned near EVERYBODY do EVERYTHING wrong.  Thankfully, toward the end, some Good Stuff ™ happened, mostly due to the Rape Crisis Advocate who eventually came out to the scene… but nearly every other component to this endurance-race of a report was horrible.  This is a great reminder of why we, who work at Rape Crisis Centers, need to be on top of our game not just most of the time, but ALL the time.

As a sanity check for myself and my agency, I’d like to say up front that our agency does quarterly police briefings with all three local police departments in order to increase police awareness of what we do and the role of sexual assault advocates.  We also have a system where at any time, day or night, not only do we have a volunteer (highly trained in our 65-hour training) advocate on call, but we have a staff back-up to step in if the advocate for some reason can’t respond to a call, and above that person is the head of our Rape Crisis Center, who could also go out on a call in a pinch.  (Although in all the 12 years I have been here, I don’t know of a time we’ve had to fall back to that response.)

So I would fervently LIKE to think that NOBODY who reported to our local PDs or to our agency would EVER have an experience like this.  But the truth is… systems can break down.  People can become tired, or cynical, or have an off-day.  But the fact of the matter is, we can’t afford that.  Not ever.  Because one off-day for us in this support web can equal a complete emotional disaster for someone who is already struggling with one of the hardest challenges of their lives.

Without further ado… here is the original blog.

I accompanied someone to the police station to report a sexual assault, and this is what happened

Bystander Intervention – She’s Doing It Right (You Go, Shelby!)

I just wanted to cross-post a selection from a blog of one of our great advocate volunteers, Shelby Henry.  She has graciously allowed us to reference her blog from time to time, and a few days ago, I came across this amazing story.  Shelby, you are an amazing woman and thank you for the story.  You illustrate what it means to be an active bystander not only in your advocacy work but even in your day-to-day life. 🙂  (Oh, and the emphasis in the post is mine, not Shelby’s, but I could not resist highlighting it.  Hey, this is a work blog, after all!)

Shelby Henry is an advocate at Tri-Valley Haven, a passionate blogger, a dolphin rights activist, and an all-around amazing person!

Shelby Henry is an advocate at Tri-Valley Haven, a passionate blogger, a dolphin rights activist, and an all-around amazing person!

Yesterday I witnessed a man assaulting a woman, in broad daylight and on a busy street. When I drove by I only saw for maybe a second what was going on and I think that my brain tried to convince me it wasn’t what it looked like. They were probably messing around. It’s 11 AM, you would have to be insane to attack a woman in broad daylight on this busy street with all these cars driving by. I kept driving. I made it about two streets further before I finally decided it was worth at least turning around just to ease my mind and confirm that the woman was alright and nothing was going on. The woman was not alright and the man had in fact been attacking her. He was grabbing her by the hair as she tried unsuccessfully to swat him away. I turned my car in his direction and floored it. I screeched to a stop right before ramming into the sidewalk and started revving my engine at him, honking my horn, and screaming that the cops were on their way (he was probably really intimidated until he heard Etta James playing through my open car window…). The woman got away and took off, barefoot and in pajamas. The police arrived within just a couple of minutes and handled the situation.

I was horrified to think that I had almost continued about my day without going back to verify what was going on. If you’ve taken a basic psychology or sociology class you’ve probably heard of a phenomenon called the bystander effect. Basically it is when bystanders witness a crime or emergency and do nothing, either out of fear or because they think someone else will call authorities. I think that five months ago, before my training with the Tri-Valley Haven, I would have kept driving. I would have convinced myself it was nothing and that I was just crazy.

Sometimes I think people worry that they will report something incorrectly or that it won’t be worth the officer’s time to check something out. What we don’t realize is that the police are here to serve us and to protect us; it is their duty and it is what they get up everyday to do. I think that as citizens it should be our own duty to look out for each other and keep our towns as safe as possible. We have a responsibility to help police maintain city safety, as they are unable to be everywhere at all times. If you see something that catches your eye and it doesn’t seem right, call the non-emergency number in your city. Err on the side of caution, because it is always better to be safe than sorry.

“Last Night, It Was Closer to Home…” (How to make a difference.)

This afternoon, when I got to the office (I am attending an in-service later tonight, thus a late start to the day), I had several messages from a co-worker, Samantha.  Samantha is a remarkable person – she is the young, determined, extremely capable and organized, passionate and politically-savvy head of our Homeless Services program.  She manages Sojourner House, our 16-bed homeless family shelter, our Food Pantry, Thrift Store and other Homeless-centered services.  She also happens to be one of my very best resources for “what is going on around the world” in terms of human rights issues of all kinds.

Today, she had left me two items — one of them was extremely personal to her, and she gave permission to share the story.  The other is a wonderful series of posters from Missoula’s “Intervention in Action” project.  More on that in a moment.  What I want to start off with, though, is the story she told — in her own words — of how she had her faith in humanity reaffirmed last night:

Samantha is the director of Tri-Valley Haven's Homeless Services department - a one-woman powerhouse of passionate, intelligent advocacy for those in need in our community.

Samantha is the director of Tri-Valley Haven’s Homeless Services department – a one-woman powerhouse of passionate, intelligent advocacy for those in need in our community.

Sometimes being an advocate against violence can feel like you are banging your head against the wall or screaming as loud as you can at deaf ears. Rape culture and domestic violence are very prevalent in society and, through venues such as media, actually encouraged. It leaves me feeling deflated at times.  But every now and then I am reminded there is hope for this society in ending violence towards women (and all of humanity), and that the work I am doing is not futile.

 Usually I get my faith reaffirmed by an amazing news article about someone who stood up and intervened, preventing a woman from getting assaulted.  However, last night it was closer to home. I was chatting with my partner about his day and he shared with me a situation that happened to his 20-year old male cousin. His cousin lives with a couple and the other night the male party started physically assaulting his female partner. His cousin did not stand by and pretend it wasn’t happening, nor decide it was not his business and let it continue. In fact, he took a stand– intervening, calling the cops, and assisting his female roommate in establishing safety. He made a choice to say this behavior is not acceptable and he would not stand by and let it continue.

 As my partner was sharing this story with me…all I could think about is how proud I am of this 20-year-old male and that somewhere along the way he did get the message that he can stand up against violence as a bystander.

 I can’t wait to see him again and tell him how proud I am of him myself.

You know, that restores my faith in humanity, too.
Now to share her other story — this one is about a really great poster campaign by the “Intervention in Action” project, which is a group of community organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence.  This poster campaign really highlights a couple of excellent things — the ways in which moral, responsible men and women (meaning, most men and women) can take a stand in preventing sexual violence.  So often, violence happens and those who are witnesses to it stand by… oftentimes because they don’t know what to do, or how to help, or become swept up in the group-think that allows terrible situations to escalate unchallenged.  What Samantha’s story above shows was one man who broke out of that paralysis and intervened — a real-life hero.  An everyday hero in a world where such interventions happen every day… but not nearly often enough.

These posters talk about the same kind of situation, and also highlight the stereotypes that culturally give the “it’s ok, go ahead” nod to violence against women… and challenge them in a wonderful, clever way.  Here are a few of them:

I Could Tell She Was Asking For ItA Girl That Wasted Is Way Easy933871_297802630363523_2002242685_n

He Had No Shoes

Fay Piovet is the Office Manager for Tri-Valley Haven.  She has been with TVH for nearly 8 years. Before that, she worked in the corporate world.  She is a mother of three beautiful children, and two lovely mini daschund dogs.  In her spare time she likes to BBQ, shop and cuddle up in a blanket with a good book.

Fay Piovet is the Office Manager for Tri-Valley Haven. She has been with TVH for nearly 8 years. Before that, she worked in the corporate world. She is a mother of three beautiful children, and two lovely mini dachshund dogs. In her spare time she likes to BBQ, shop and cuddle up in a blanket with a good book.

  As the Office Manager at the Tri-Valley Haven Community Building, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing people here in all different lights—clients and staff at their worst and their best. Nothing means more to us here at Tri-Valley Haven than seeing our clients grow with confidence and success. Our clients come into our shelters scared and unsure of their future, and for their children this change is just as scary and confusing for them. We are a crisis shelter, which means often our clients don’t have time to pack their belongings when fleeing from an abusive situation. They are only left with the clothing on their backs.

Which brings me to a certain little boy who came into my office with his mom and baby brother looking for help; mom, holding her baby brother on her hip, was very upset. The other boy was probably no older than 11 years old; he sat very quietly in the lobby area. I was speaking to mom and she was explaining her very stressful position.  As she was talking, I glanced over at the boy and realized he had no shoes. This was such a heart-break; imagine a family so scared they have to leave without their shoes. Most of us can’t imagine it, even if we tried.

Luckily, I was able to give mom resources including information about our shelters, but while I was finding her those other resources, I was also able at that moment to call Clare, Food Pantry Coordinator of Tri-Valley Haven, and she was able to issue a voucher to Buenas Vidas Thrift Store in Livermore so that mom would be able to get her son some shoes and other items she may have needed.

When the mom and two boys left my office, the 11-year-old got up, looked up at me, and waved good-bye with a sweet, warm smile as if everything in his life was just fine. At that moment, that little boy had forever left an imprint on my heart, and it has always impressed me that even in the worst situations people are still able to smile.

Donations for the Tri-Valley Haven are extremely important; this enables us to help provide clothing and supplies for our clients when needed.  Tri-Valley Haven now has a new addition to our agency—Buenas Vidas Thrift Store. This is a great addition to our agency for the benefit of Tri-Valley Haven and our clients.

SART (And The Importance of Assertiveness)

imagesThis awesome post is by one of our recent graduates from our 65-hour advocate training. She is a great writer and will be a tremendous advocate to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I loved reading her reflections on one of the trainings (detailed here) and wanted to share with you all! 🙂

Thoughts of a Thinker

Two blog posts in 24 hours- an impressive feat, I know. If you read my first post today then you already know I went to Highland Hospital this evening as part of my training with the Tri-Valley Haven (TVH). This training session was by far the most interesting and informative of all the training classes we have had and I wanted to share some of what I learned in hopes of spreading some sort of awareness and also just to keep you guys informed. I know a lot of you are really interested in my training and what I would be doing as a volunteer and I have not been keeping you guys as informed as I had originally planned. So hopefully this post catches you up a bit.

Tonight we met with a physician’s assistant who gave a presentation detailing the entire sexual assault medical examination: the process, general…

View original post 1,211 more words

A Special Thank You for VAWA (Spreading the Love from YouTube to You!)

Teens Becoming Active Bystanders and Pledging to Support Healthy Relationships!

Teens from Dublin High School pledge to help end dating violence in their school.

Teens from Dublin High School pledge to help end dating violence in their school.

Look at all that purple!

In the, “There is Hope For The World” department of blog reporting:

Today at Dublin High School, teenagers from Tri-Valley Haven’s Be Strong Group held a Violence Prevention Event in the school’s courtyard. Male and female teens signed hearts pledging to do their part to end teen dating violence. Students also took Healthy Relationship Quizzes, and discussed ways to remain safe in dating relationships.

“Be Strong is a teen violence prevention program aimed at helping female youth define respect, healthy relationships, and support one another as they put these concepts into place,” says Linda Law, Tri-Valley Haven’s Prevention Instructor. “The Be Strong teen leaders ran today’s event and encouraged fellow students to join in!”

Sometimes hearing about healthy relationships from adults when you’re a teen isn’t exactly the most helpful or effective way to get the message.  But when you hear about it from your own friends and classmates and peers, that’s when the magic happens.

A little magic happened today.

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