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From:!!aaron (Aaron Larson) To: ehsnet!!David.Bloomberg Date: Thu, 8 Dec 94 03:19 EST (c) Playboy, October, 1992, Vol. 39, No. 10, Pg. 84 Cry incest; victims of childhood sexual abuse By Debbie Nathan Incest has become a media obsession. Self-described victims are fodder for talk shows, TV movies, People magazine cover stories, celebrity bios and PBS specials. Lurid stories force America to think about the unthinkable. But what if not all the stories are true? "When someone asks you, 'Were you sexually abused as a child?' there are only two answers: One of them is 'Yes,' and one of them is 'I don't know.' You can't say 'No.'" -- Roseanne Arnold, on The Oprah Winfrey Show "Even if your memories are incomplete, even if your family insists nothing ever happened, you still must believe yourself." -- From The Courage To Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." -- The White Queen, in Through The Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll Eileen Franklin-Lipsker had a flashback. She remembered that she had watched her father molest and murder her eight-year-old friend 20 years earlier. Her father was later convicted of the crime. In therapy, Carolivia Herron, a professor at Mount Holyoke College, had flashbacks. While still a preschooler, she was raped by a relative. Her aunt pimped her in Washington, D.C., whorehouses; at home, Herron watched several people murdered. The aunt is dead, the relative denies the charges and a retired Washington policeman says that the murders likely never happened. Roseanne Arnold had a flashback that her parents had molested her and her sisters, starting when Roseanne was only six months old. Her parents and sisters deny the charge. Is every memory of incest true? Must we always believe? If some aren't true, where do false claims come from? Is it possible to forget a horrible experience and to remember it years later? To find out, I immersed myself in the incest survivors' movement. I spoke with psychologists and psychiatrists about memory. I read popular and professional literature about incest and incest therapy. I attended meetings of Incest Survivors Anonymous (ISA), a group modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program. I met women who were trying to deal with real incest-rape by male relatives who were drunks, druggies and plain sick jerks -- while resisting attempts by therapists to persuade them that their relatives were actually members of organized satanic cults. I met women wearing sweat shirts emblazoned "I SURVIVED," as if childhood were the equivalent of an earthquake or deportation to Buchenwald. I met women clutching teddy bears, women who, coaxed by support groups and therapists, were only beginning to remember and who were starting to have weird dreams of sex with their fathers. I attended a marathon retreat for survivors of abuse. These are the images that occupy my memory: Friday morning: Donna* already knew about the mattresses and the rubber hoses, but she balked at getting graphic with me. We were sipping coffee at a conference center in the woods outside an East Coast city. Near us sat three dozen other women from all over the U.S. and Canada. We would soon start a four day retreat for survivors of childhood abuse. The retreat was advertised as a place for dealing with the scars of all sorts of trauma -- physical, emotional and sexual. But I had polled several women at breakfast, and from what they said about themselves, it seemed we would focus on incest. Donna told me this was her second retreat, but she paused at my neophyte's question. "The first thing that happens? I don't want to lay it out for you in advance. It's better to just go with the flow," she answered. "But, uh, torture. We'll be doing something like torture." She smiled ruefully. In fact, the first thing we did was crowd together in a room furnished only with mattresses. In front of us sat six therapists, one of whom wore a T-shirt that sported an ancient Egyptian face and the words "JUST CALL ME CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF DENIAL." The rest of us clutched stuffed animals. I have attended enough 12-step meetings to know that cuddly toys are a must for "inner children," and that if my inner child wasn't evident in the next few days, people would become suspicious. I glanced over at Donna. She was gazing at the therapists. Yet when they asked us to tell our first names and why we were here, she suddenly looked less cheerful. "I'm Lucy and I'm an incest survivor," said one woman. "Marion, sexual abuse by a neighbor," continued another. "Physical and sexual abuse by my father." "Incest. My mother." "Satanic ritual abuse -- I think." "Incest." "Torture by my family's devil-worshiping cult." It was Donna's turn. "I'm a survivor of emotional abuse," she began calmly, then her face contorted with sobs. "See," she said between tears, "I feel like I don't deserve to be here. I'm ashamed, because I have no memories of incest." The head therapist, a social worker named Beth, wasn't fazed. "How many of you have no memories of your abuse?" she asked. Eleven women raised their hands. "Look around you," Beth told us brightly. "Look at all the people who have no memories. You all deserve to be here. No matter if you can or can't remember. No matter what happened or didn't." Donna squeezed her teddy bear and stopped crying. Within a few minutes, she and several other women were squatting over the mattresses, brandishing rubber hoses. On each mattress was a telephone book. "Pretend the phone books are your perpetrators," Beth instructed us. "Get mad at them. Beat the fuckers with the hoses. Scream! Scream as loud as you can! Hit as hard as you can! Challenge yourself to get angry. Then your inner children will take over. Your rage will come. Your healing. And your memories." The women nodded, got down to work, and suddenly the room sounded like a cross between the third degree in some Depression-era jailhouse and a Sixties primal-scream workshop. Thwock! Bang! Bash! went the hoses. "You bastard! Abuser! Molester! Kill you! I want you dead!" A petite, pageboy-coiffed woman who seconds before looked as prim as a Senator's wife now shrieked at the top of her lungs. "I hate you." Bam. "I hate you!" yelled another. "Slice off your penis!" Whack. "Bury it in the grave!" Donna bent over a mattress. She thought she had a perpetrator -- her father. But this first day, with hose in hand, she had no memories and no words. She screamed and flailed, anyway, and shreds of the Yellow Pages filled the air. How widespread is incest? No one knows the real numbers. Less than a generation ago, medical literature estimated that, at most, five cases per 1,000,000 people occurred every year. But between 1940 and 1978, several studies revealed that as many as one third of American women remembered sexual experiences with men that they had as children. Some occurred within the family: At least four women in 100 remembered sexual experiences -- from witnessing exhibitionism to being propositioned to actual sexual contact-with a relative, and one in 100 said the perpetrator was her father or stepfather. The secret was out, and for feminists -- who had a special interest in understanding female sexuality, as well as in combating violence against women-that was progress. Unfortunately, given conventional understanding of molestation and incest, not all the progress was justified in fact. The work of sociologist Diana Russell, for instance, typifies some of the distortion. After interviewing several hundred women in San Francisco, Russell reports in her book, The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women, that 16 percent were incest victims -- much higher than previous studies' findings. Further, one woman in 22 reported that she had been abused by her father or stepfather, more than four times the incidence reported earlier. But it took some scrutiny to realize how drastically the numbers were inflated. Incest perpetrators weren't just fathers or uncles or older brothers anymore. They were any relatives. Russell's definition of abuse also included acts such as sexual kissing, stroking a leg or grabbing at clothed breasts or buttocks. And the perpetrator didn't actually have to accomplish these things. For Russell, a botched attempt carried as much weight as a successful one. In reporting their reactions to these episodes of incest, 54 percent of the women termed themselves extremely upset over intrusive or disturbing advances. Slightly more than half felt the incidents had inflicted a range of problems: self-hatred, shame, depression, anxiety and nightmares. A smaller group (27 percent) described the trauma as minimal, and 22 percent reported no long-term effects at all. A few women reported positive memories. Russell was profoundly suspicious when respondents said they had not suffered grave trauma. She introduced the idea that such women were victims of repression and denial. She also assumed that her statistics underreported the prevalence of incest because she felt it was common for victims to forget incidents, especially those from early childhood. Since Russell's Secret Trauma was published in 1986, denial, forgetting and repression have become catchwords for incest diagnosis and treatment. If you've forgotten the abuse, how do you come to suspect your past? The clues are everywhere: Does sex feel dirty? Do you have an eating disorder or wear baggy clothes? Do you feel different? Are you quiet-voiced? Suffering from breast lumps? Do you feel powerless? Find it hard to trust your intuitions? Have trouble expressing your feelings? Are you unable to say no? Super alert? Interested in religions? Afraid of coffins? Do you have a desire to change your name? Are you constipated? Stuck on welfare? A workaholic? Suffering from the need to control everything? Do you feel terminal vagueness? All these items come from checklists in E. Sue Blume's Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest and Its Aftereffects in Women, from pamphlets distributed by ISA, from The Courage to Heal (a women's sex-abuse recovery guide by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis) and from John Bradshaw's Bradshaw on the Family. Dig, they say, and the memories will come -- from beyond the cradle if need be. An ISA pamphlet claims "there are many ways a survivor can be victimized between conception and birth." One woman claims to remember a conversation her mother had about aborting her -- while she was in utero. But how accurate are these memories? Researchers agree that memories can apparently erupt to consciousness years later, when triggered by ordinary or unusual events. Are such memories accurate? They can be, says University of New Mexico psychology professor Henry Ellis. But some recall is evoked under intense pressures. And whether spontaneous or induced, "there is virtually no scientific documentation of the reliability of these kinds of memories," warns University of Washington psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on memory and suggestibility. Her research has shown that leading questions can trigger forgotten memories. Sudden recollections from childhood, she thinks, are even more problematic. Enough is already known to cast doubt on some memories. Emory University cognitive psychologist Ulric Neisser is particularly suspicious of recollections dating to early childhood. His research indicates that people can't recall what happened before they were two years old unless it was a repetitive act, such as drinking from a bottle. Before the age of one, they probably can't remember anything. The hippocampus -- where the brain processes episodic memories -- doesn't mature until then, Neisser notes, and neither do necessary psychological structures. Where does that leave Roseanne Arnold, who says she remembers incest from the age of six months? And what about her later memories, which her sisters staunchly contradict? For years, both professionals and the public have likened memory to recording devices such as VCRs, which store everything they're exposed to. For access, you hit rewind -- using hypnosis, perhaps, or therapy. But not everyone accepts this analogy. As Yale University psychologist George Bonanno noted in a 1990 article in Psychotherapy, research shows that memory is far from archival. Memory resembles an incoherent, dreamlike world where the past is constantly reinterpreted and re-created with material drawn from the present. But some people contend that the truth of memory doesn't even matter. "If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were," Bass and Davis assure readers in The Courage to Heal. "If you don't remember your abuse, you are not alone. Many women don't have memories. This doesn't mean they weren't abused." Bass appears to be proud that she has no academic training in psychology. Davis' claim to expertise is that she is an incest survivor (who did not remember her now-deceased grandfather abusing her until she was an adult). Since its publication in 1988, Courage has sold more than half a million copies. At the survivors' retreat, many women kept it on their dressers by their contact-lens solutions and their New Testaments. Donna had a copy. Saturday morning: Donna didn't sleep well last night. Nobody did. When the therapists asked how the mattress work made us feel, people answered, "Sick to my stomach," "Scared," "Angry," "Like being in a concentration camp." Nobody had retired peacefully, even after we'd made a circle and sang songs like KumBa-Yah and On Top of Spaghetti, and even though a therapist named Ina read aloud Bedtime for Frances. Donna told me she had strange dreams, but about what she couldn't quite remember. She told me about herself. She was 33, a college grad who seemed impressively normal. Unlike several other women I chatted with, Donna had never spent time in a psychiatric hospital. She had a job, one that she liked very much, running an English-language school for refugees. She had lots of friends, too. But she suffered from "relationship" problems. She was supercompetitive and a control freak. These problems, her therapist had told her, most certainly stemmed from incest. Indeed, upon reflection, Donna realized that she hated her father -- though, before therapy, she used to think this was because he was cold and hypercritical. She had always felt that he wanted a son, not a daughter. Now Donna was rethinking everything. Why couldn't she remember incest? She had a theory that her father was a pedophile, but that she was so young that she'd repressed everything. Still, she'd done some mental detective work. Such as remembering a time when she was out of college and working in her dad's office, and one day walking in unannounced and finding him having sex with his secretary. "That's what I think he did to me," Donna said. "But this secretary," I asked, "wasn't she a woman? An adult woman?" "Well, yeah." "Well, pedophiles aren't attracted to adults." "Yeah, but, oh, I don't know. All I. know is that I have this feeling." I didn't say anything else. Beth had warned us not to intrude on anyone else's "work," and especially not to question their reality. To do so, she said, was the same as "perpetrating" on them. After breakfast we sang more songs: "The echoes of childhood whisper violence. Cold wind beating out of the past. Rage in your throat, muffled silence. Hold on, I will stand fast." As we sang, women sobbed. Yesterday this had struck me as odd and disturbing. By now, I was often teary-eyed myself. In a way, all this crying felt deliciously self-indulgent, sort of like visiting the Lancome counter at a department store and getting a good makeover. But it was also assaultive, as was the unremitting violence emanating from the rubber-hose sessions. My ego was starting to feel mugged by mass emotion. And we still had three days to go ! Next on the itinerary was "sharing." That meant we would take turns sitting in front of everyone else and talking about our abuse. Many women looked fearstruck. But Beth said we had to do this. For one thing, she said, hearing the other stories might trigger memories. First up was Andrea. She was short, overweight, in her early 30s and from a family she said belonged to a satanic sex and-torture cult. Andrea talked disjointedly about the rituals practiced when she was a child. Black robes, candles stuck up a child's vagina and anus. Knives and swords fatally impaling a child. A sacrifice. Body parts consumed to glorify the Devil. She shook and cried while speaking, and seven other women moaned in sympathy like some strange Greek chorus. They, too, were ritual-abuse survivors. Most suffered from multiple-personality disorder. Andrea had a terrible problem: In her memories she saw her mother in the cult. Yet her mother was a good person, Andrea loved her. So what did this mean? "I don't know if what I'm remembering is really true!" she sobbed. "I don't want the memories to be true! I don't want them to!" Distraught, she burrowed into Beth's bosom. Beth clucked philosophically. "Andrea, all the wants in the world can't change what you know. You really know inside what happened, but you spend all your energy saying, 'No, it didn't.' You need to face those memories, that rage. I want you to get onto a mattress. Now." After Andrea, a competition began over satanic abuse. Cathy said she'd been in a cult where she killed three children. Babies! And not only did she wield the fatal knife but she also excised the livers. Of her own kids! After Cathy hobbled hysterically to the mattresses, Teresa told us that her father was the king of a cult with headquarters just a few miles down the road. Just three weeks earlier, he had summoned her to the headquarters and raped her. The idea, Teresa said, was to impregnate her, let her go, then capture her in nine months and sacrifice her newborn. Everybody gasped at this horrible conspiracy involving a rapist active in the local area, as well as a plan to murder someone. But not one person suggested calling the police. I didn't either -- I didn't want to be seen as a perpetrator interfering with Teresa's work. "God," Donna said later. "People who were sexually abused in satanic cults. After that, who wants to listen to how Dad used to criticize my schoolwork?" Indeed, a good ritual-abuse story at this retreat was about as hard an act to follow as a confession in Salem village -- and, according to many experts, just as bogus. Myths about evil adults torturing children are universal. Such tales express people's anxieties about their own infantile aggressive and sexual impulses, fear of other groups and forebodings about social change. The Romans accused Christians of sacrificing Roman babies. The Christians leveled similar charges against Gnostics, and later against Jews for slaughtering gentile children to make Passover matzo. But what if a thoroughly modern adult talks about growing up in a cell of a transgenerational, international satanic megacult, being raped on an altar, suffering ritual abortions and eating fetuses? Since the early Eighties, hundreds of women -- and some men -- have claimed they remembered such scenarios. Once, they would have been labeled hysterical, schizophrenic or borderline-personality fantasizers. Today, many are diagnosed as suffering from multiple-personality disorder. Because this disorder is thought to resuit from severe childhood abuse, many therapists now take the ritual-abuse survivors' stories literally. The problem is, no one can find evidence to back up these stories. With hundreds of people talking about thousands having killed tens of thousands, one would expect to run into something -- a body, skull, finger bone, missing-children reports or the cults' financial ledgers. Yet despite extensive police investigations, nothing has turned up. Lack of evidence has made skeptics of officials such as Kenneth V. Lanning, the FBI's expert on ritual-abuse claims. In a recent issue of the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, he concluded that because "victims'" stories are so unsubstantiated, it is now "up to mental health professionals, not law enforcement, to explain why victims are alleging things that don't seem to be true." Sunday: Day three, and I was half deaf from the banshee mattress noise, sick of hearing every emotion and statement fractured into humanoid slivers. ("That's your inner two-year-old crying," the therapists would tell anyone who started weeping. To anyone who joked, argued or cursed, they would say, "What a cute, rebellious inner teenager you have!") It was also tiresome to be handed a piece of hose and ordered to pretend a phone book was my mother or father. ("I can't," I would say, "I'm not that mad." They urged me to just fake it.) But it was never tiresome to hear the complicated reality that poked through the most bizarre stories, and that could be found on top of even the ordinary ones. The improbable accounts, for instance, seemed fraught with guilt about normal sexuality. Ritual-abuse survivor Cathy fingered a crucifix as she recited, in rote tone, details of eating the livers of newborn babies. Real emotion didn't come until she told of having "fallen in love with a married man when I was in school," in the early Sixties. "I was a virgin then -- at least I thought I was until I remembered the cult stuff recently -- and the first time we had sex, I got pregnant. He wouldn't get a divorce. So I had an abortion. I killed my own baby! My own baby. The worst thing I've ever done!" Louise seemed bored when describing how her mother administered electroshocks to her vagina when she was four months old. Yet, she moaned, mortified, as she remembered getting pregnant in high school and having her mother send her away to give up the baby. There were also stories that were so prosaic in their detail that they could be nothing but real. Carol covered her eyes as she told about the time her mother was hospitalized, and Carol was starving for attention. At night her father started getting into her bed and fondling her genitals. At first she was grateful for the affection, but then she knew it was wrong. Later, when she told her mother, the family had a powwow. Her father said, "What's the problem? I didn't penetrate her! Besides, she wanted it." Then her brothers beat her black and blue for embarrassing their father. A housepainter who worked mostly alongside men, Kim had an exceptionally generous take on the world (she tried to deal nicely with co-workers who called her things like honey or bitch). But she was terrified of male violence. During the Vietnam war, she said, if she and her sisters suggested that Nixon shouldn't bomb Cambodia, her Army colonel father would beat them until the girls said, "Yes, Daddy, yes, we support the war." Stories like these seemed too unadorned and too concrete to be concocted, intentionally or not. They moved me to tears, and to anger -- anger at the big and little indignities girls and women commonly suffer at the hands of men and patriarchy. But anger, too, at the swimsuit competition atmosphere of this retreat. At least at Atlantic City, I thought, you'd be allowed to take the stage if you presented the requisite tits, ass and coiffure. Here, you couldn't go on unless you qualified as a victim -- and not just any victim. The only kind that cut it here was one who'd suffered the stigmata of rape, torture and black robes. Then there was the talent show. You had to demonstrate how perfectly you could mother your sweet, innocent inner child. The therapists kept talking about how we were uniting here to heal from incest, how this was so liberating for womankind. I couldn't quite see it. From Miss America to some postmodern Virgin Mary? Is this how far we'd come? The prospect seemed discouraging. The reward -- to mount those mattresses and go noisy and muscular with anger -- was tempting. Clearly, the women here lusted to do this. And why not? As we sat bunched together, I remembered the old Sixties' consciousness-raising groups, those dialogs about our daily lives, histories and miseries, where we hammered out how they all formed patterns, and how we should change things politically. Now we were in the Nineties: monologs, higher powers, stuffed animals. Still, it was seductive to pound on things, to scream, to say dirty words as loud as we could, to cry. But what happened to people who couldn't remember their victimization? Marilyn, who had been only battered, ran around raging in piteous frustration: "No one's paying attention to me!" she wailed. Lee, a stockbroker whose mother was merely alcoholic, shrugged in disgust and vowed never again to attend a retreat. Others felt abashed but resigned. "I have to live with the fact that I may never remember anything," one person sighed. In another city not far from this room full of mattresses, a woman who calls herself Jane Doe sat working. She is one of a growing number of people whose children are accusing them -- wrongly, the parents say -- of sexual abuse. Many alleged abusers are grandparents, if not retired. Their offspring are long grown. These adult children are claiming their parents did terrible sexual things to them when they were small, and even when they were not so small. Jane's 33-year-old daughter, for instance, has accused her father of molesting her from when she was three and raping her between the ages of 14 and 16. Yet she did not remember any of this until two years ago, when she went into therapy. She revealed her memories to her parents during the Christmas holidays in 1990, when she invited them to fly cross-country for a visit to her home, and then kicked them out hours after they got off the plane. She told them they couldn't see their grandchildren again. Jane and her husband have known each other since they were young children, and she swears he is psychologically incapable either of committing incest or lying if he had. Robert Brisentine, Jr., a nationally known polygraph expert, has given Jane's husband a lie detector test and concludes he is truthful when he denies abusing his daughter. Jane believes her husband unstintingly. After she published an anonymous article about her family in the journal Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, and after The Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned the episode, both publications were deluged with calls from people reporting similar experiences. Concerned parents in Philadelphia formed the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. The foundation has heard from more than 550 parents throughout North America. Their children are scattered around the country, too, but all seem to share one experience: Only after they were exposed to therapy did they recall incestuous abuse that their relatives swear didn't happen. A spokesman for the False Memory Syndrome Foundation says they reveal common patterns. Most accusers are well educated, from upper-middle-class families with the usual tensions. Some have serious problems: Roseanne Arnold's father, for instance, who with his wife belongs to the organization, admits to having beaten Roseanne once. Often, the group says, children's letters of accusation arrive on Mother's or Father's day. Some accusers sue their putative molesters for damages. Even if things are resolved before they reach court, families can be estranged. Janice Haaken, a professor of psychology' at Portland State University, has written about the relationship of fantasy, memory and reality. She is disturbed that some therapists fail to distinguish the difference. In The Courage to Heal, readers are assured that "no one fantasizes abuse." "Only 'real' memories are deemed worthy of attention," Haaken says. "If you say, This actually happened to me," the therapist's concern is elicited. If you describe a fantasy, it isn't." Haaken thinks she knows why the incest recovery movement -- even one based on false memories -- is so seductive. "Women are experiencing tremendous splits. On one level they have achieved tremendous gains, fundamentally challenging traditional gender roles and discrediting discriminatory practices. Yet much is still the same, and though women may feel more competent in their public roles, their personal lives feel harder. The contradiction can make them feel troubled, preoccupied with primitive rage." According to Haaken, women and their therapists are often at a loss to justify this rage. "Many of my patients are feminists," she says. "They've drawn on concepts of goodness in women, and they don't know what to do with psychic material that expresses aggression." Therapists may seek easy ways to assure women that their aggressive impulses lie outside them. A simple way to do this is to conclude that violence really happened, to seek out literal culprits and traumas. "This kind of therapy assumes women have no aggressive fantasies, none of their own sexual agency," says Haaken. But the therapeutic rush to fracture women cripples their ability to understand themselves and reality. If this is unfortunate for family members who may be illogically and falsely accused, it evokes another tragedy. "I worry about the cry wolf phenomenon," says Richard Green, who teaches law and psychiatry at UCLA and who edits the Archives of Sexual Behavior. "We may one day look back at this period as just another fad in psychiatry, part of an antisexual backlash we're experiencing in many areas now. But meanwhile, there really is abuse out there, and if enough people make false accusations, eventually no one's going to believe anything." Monday morning: On the retreat's final day, we sang Little Rabbit Foo Foo and Michael Row the Boat Ashore, and Kim the painter stood up to say how wonderful it was that we'd made a community of women here in these woods. The therapists nodded, and people cried and hugged. Then Donna addressed the group. "I had a dream last night," she said. "An incest dream." She looked calm, relieved. "Besides my father, other people were there. It felt good. But that makes me feel ashamed." Beth the therapist answered on cue. "Donna," she said, "you've made your start. When your kids inside are ready, more memories will come." Everyone smiled. The retreat was ending. People were already signing up for the next one. Beth gave us titles of books to read to help us with our healing. One was by the daughter of a dead Hollywood screenwriter. This screenwriter, his daughter says in the book, used to stick a fire poker and parts of a doll up her vagina, but she didn't remember it until she was in her 40s and was hypnotized. Learn how to hypnotize yourself, she says. And don't give up hope, because victims are sometimes visited by "beings of white light." Donna put down her teddy bear and began taking notes. I did, too. I will keep her last name in my notes. I wonder when her parents will show up in the False Memory Syndrome Foundation files. * The names of the women at the retreat have been changed.


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