How to Stay Safe Among the Horrific Scope of Sexual Assault in the Modeling Industry

How to Stay Safe Among the Horrific Scope of Sexual Assault in the Modeling Industry

Models and photographers who shoot nude or implied images have every right to do so, but this industry is full of some bad people with bad intentions. Here are some tips on how to stay safe.

The Photography Industry Has Lots of Predators

Sexual assault, in general, is an epidemic. According to the US Department of Justice, a woman is sexually assaulted in the US every 68 seconds. If you know at least four women, chances are that you know someone who has been subject to a completed (14.8% of all women in the U.S.) or attempted rape (2.8% of all women in the U.S). You can find more statistics on the RAINN website. And these numbers don’t even include the non-reported numbers. According to a study performed by the Model Alliance, a New York-based agency dedicated to advocating for model safety, nearly one in three models (29.7%) has experienced inappropriate touching during a shoot.

The photography industry by its nature creates giant loopholes and room for people with bad intentions. For example, according to a study found on the National Institute of Health website, at New York Fashion Week in 2018, less than half of the models were given private areas to change. Some were forced to change in areas where photographers were taking pictures.

There are a lot of photographers who, once they buy a camera and hold it in their hands, suddenly get this new feeling of control where they can tell a woman how to pose and what to wear (or not wear). There are a lot of photographers who, when they see a model dressed attractively and smiling into the camera, their brain gets confused and they feel that they need to enter into flirt mode. All of this is compounded by the fact that in this industry, a lot of models, in the normal course of business, seek out photographers to take bikini, lingerie, or nude/implied nude photos. The entire situation creates an environment where predators can get paired up with models and models get hurt.

For the sake of simplicity, throughout this article, I will be using male pronouns to refer to photographers and female pronouns to refer to models, even though it is important to note that men can be assaulted and harassed at shoots and women can also do the harassing.

The Harm Is not Always Obvious

The vast majority of the time, the harm that is caused at photo shoots is not physical harm. It is psychological harm that does not involve bruises or touching. The psychological harm can fall into a few general categories: 1) when a model feels pressured into doing something that she did not want to do, or 2) a model is demoralized by being harassed.

Some of you might be thinking: “What do you mean, she’s asked to do something that she didn’t want to do? Give me a break! She can just say she doesn’t want to! She’s an adult!” According to the Model Alliance, 86.8% of models have been asked to shoot nude without any prior agreement. Of those models, 27.5% ultimately shot nude when they didn’t want to.

For all of those in the There’s-No-Harm-In-Asking camp, when you ask a model in the middle of a shoot to shoot nude, or even to push the boundaries beyond what she feels comfortable with and what was agreed upon, you are unfairly placing a fork in the road in front of that model and forcing her to make a split decision and evaluate the following on the spot while you wait there with your camera staring at her: 1) Is this normal in the industry? Am I making too big of a deal out of it?  2) Am I going to make him mad if I say no? What happens if he’s mad and he has all of the pictures? 3) I’d like to work with him again. If I say no, am I cutting off my chances? 4) Is he going to tell his friends to not shoot with me? 5) How do I politely explain to him that I am a model, but I’m not comfortable changing or being in my underwear or being nude or partially nude in front of him? 6) Is it going to kill the energy if I say no? 7) What if I only kind of don’t care, but I’m worried that because we never discussed this in any of our planning, what if he pushes it further while I’m already half-naked?

Approaching a model to shoot nude or in revealing clothing is not by itself inappropriate if it is done timely and respectfully. It is unfair and puts this pressure on the model to make these decisions on the spot when it is raised during a shoot for the first time. If there is any point where the photographer feels that the shoot might involve nudity or pushing the boundaries, that should always be discussed beforehand so that the model is not under undue pressure and still has an easy option to back out of the shoot, set boundaries, or at least think about it for a while.

Making Matters Worse

The damage is further compounded by the gaslighting that takes place from even friends, family members, or anyone who might hear the model out about her experience.

Gaslighting is a manipulative psychological attack, intentional or unintentional, to make someone think they are crazy. If a model tells someone that she went to a shoot and felt pressured into shooting nude and ultimately said yes, undoubtedly, she will face a lot of gaslighting attacks in the form of: “What? You should have just said no! It’s your fault, silly!” or “So what, who cares, it’s not that big of a deal.” Gaslighting isolates the model and makes her the victim of the harassment and then also a victim of isolation and self-doubt, which lead to depression and anxiety. This is all caused by a photographer’s whim to see someone naked or partly naked coupled with a lack of courtesy to properly address the issue well in advance of the shoot.

Always discuss level of comfort with the models in the early planning stages of a shoot to make sure the model does not feel undue pressure.

Ways to Stay Safe

If you are not a model, you might not understand the common things that models have to do to protect themselves, like sharing their location with friends on their phones and forwarding booking details to friends so the friends know who to look up if something happens to the model. It’s disgusting and heart-wrenching that this type of barbaric predatory attitude of entitlement to harass women is still happening in the same decade that people are planning the steps to colonize Mars.

Although there are no guaranteed ways to avoid being harmed, here are some red flags that models should look out for when working with a photographer you don’t know, especially when being asked to shoot risqué content:

  1. Are the tags dead links? So, you look at a photographer’s Instagram and there are great pictures of models there, and you would be honored to have pictures like that taken of you. You go to the individual posts, and the models are listed and tagged. But a common tactic among predatory photographers is to steal photos, tag models to make the posts look more legitimate, but use dead tags that don’t actually go to a real account. The idea is that enough models will only go far enough to look at the posts, but not dig deeper and go to each model’s page because it is so much more time-consuming to do so. If a significant number of the links are dead links for the models, you might be in danger.
  2. Grooming. Grooming is a tactic used by sexual predators to slowly erode away the wall between two people to allow a more familiar relationship where that relationship would usually be inappropriate. For example, a photographer should not be having a sexualized/flirtatious relationship with a model he is just meeting for the first time (or probably ever, but I’ll just leave it at that). Common grooming tactics photographers use to erode that wall would be using affectionate words like “Hey, Honey” or “Hey, beautiful.” It can include also the language used in directing the model when referring to body parts or how good she looks in certain outfits or poses. Offering a model alcohol before a shoot can also be a grooming behavior because it is not typical in first-time interactions between clients and professionals and makes it more like a first date than a professional interaction. The idea for grooming is to start slow and see how the other person responds to the behavior, and then either wear the other person down or progressively increase the frequency or intensity until the professional wall is gone. I know a lot of photographers who offer wine or champagne before a shoot, depending on the type of shoot. I know a lot of photographers, especially when it’s a female photographer shooting a female model, who will use more relaxed language when telling a model how sexy she looks. I’m not saying that if you do these things, you are a sexual predator or even a bad person. I am saying that these are things that some sexual predators do, and if you see them happening, it is something you should take note of and be aware of. Grooming can start in the DMs in the planning phase as well, so watch out for those early communications.
  3. Anonymous accounts. There is no name on the Instagram account or website and no way to see who the photographer actually is. There are a lot of reasons a photographer might want to remain anonymous. It might be a side gig for an accountant who doesn’t want his clients to see his artsy nude photos. But this is also a factor that models should look at as part of the whole equation. A lot of predatory photographers will make accounts with no actual name because it makes it easier to close the account and start again when the first account gets too many complaints. It also makes it harder to go report any wrongdoing if you don’t know the photographer’s actual name. If a photographer wants you to put trust in him to shoot mostly naked with him alone, he should trust you enough to let you know his name.
  4. Don’t rely on follower count or fame. Marcus Hyde, a Los Angeles-based photographer who had worked with Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande, was exposed in 2019 for his behavior towards the models he shot. You can’t find his account now because Instagram removed it after all of the public complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment. He had over a million followers and a blue checkmark next to his name! Someone with a large follower count and an established profile or online presence certainly has a lot more to lose than a brand-new account, but just keep in mind that there are exceptions.
  5. Don’t rely on cherry-picked testimonials. I’m sure Jeffrey Dahmer was nice to at least some people who would have had nice things to say about him. If there are testimonials on a photographer’s page, don’t feel like you are not allowed to ask other people. Ask photographers and models if anyone has heard of this person and what their experiences have been.
  6. Ask if it’s okay to bring a friend or companion. There are sometimes when it would not be appropriate to bring a companion to a shoot. However, if a photographer wants to shoot someone nude or almost nude, and that person wants to bring someone to feel safe or comfortable, that is a pretty reasonable and standard request in this industry. Even if you do not plan on bringing someone, ask the photographer if it would be okay if you did bring someone to gauge what the reaction is. Also, ask if it’s okay if you record the whole thing for BTS for your social media. Say that you want to put together a time-lapse or a little reel of some BTS moments, so you need to record everything. If the photographer gets upset at the idea, that is a red flag.
  7. Ask if the photographer has a plan or a mood board. Having a specific concept is one way to establish boundaries before the shoot. Make sure you establish beforehand what the boundaries are going to be, what the wardrobe is going to be (and not be), what the poses are going to be. Establishing these things early forces a conversation about the theme of the shoot and lets the model know exactly when the shoot is going off-script. It’s also an excellent time to talk about the model’s level of comfort if it is foreseeable that there might be some NSFW content involved.
  8. Driving to remote locations. Are you shooting in a remote location? If so, are you both driving together to save gas? If things get weird, do you have a way to leave on your own? Are you shooting in the desert where there might be no reception and no street addresses? Carpooling can be an efficient way to shoot in exotic locations, but keep in mind that it has the potential to leave you without a way to escape an uncomfortable situation.
  9. Does the photographer’s portfolio align with yours? If you are a lifestyle blogger type and the photographer’s page is mostly half-naked women mid-twerk, question whether this project will yield photos that align with your modeling goals and the aesthetics of your page. Likewise, if you do a lot of nude modeling and the photographer’s portfolio is nothing but macro pictures of flowers, you should also take note of that. There is nothing wrong with genre-hopping, but ask for examples of portraits that that photographer took so you can evaluate whether you want to be the experiment for a flower photographer to learn how to shoot people.

Tips for Photographers

Here are some tips to remember for each model shoot to ensure the interactions between model and photographer remain professional and the model feels safe:

  1. Assume the model is just there for pictures. Unfortunately, this is not as basic as it should be. Assume that, no matter how the model is dressed, how she is posing, or what kind of facial expressions she is using, that she is at the shoot solely for the purpose of getting pictures and not for being hit on, asked out, or touched. Further, assume that it probably happens to the model a lot, and if you have not worked together before, she probably has some level of apprehension about whether she is going to be harassed during the shoot.
  2. Keep in mind that the model might have a history of assault. You do not know the model's history or what types of behaviors might be triggering past assault or harassment. As a boudoir photographer, I have had several clients reveal to me that one of the reasons they are doing a boudoir shoot is because they have been a victim of rape or sexual assault in the past and are trying to take back control of being comfortable expressing their sexuality in a safe environment. However, most models aren't going to reveal that information to someone they just met, so a photographer looking to use a photo shoot as a way to hit on models could have horrendous consequences. As stated above, one in six women in their lifetime will have been a victim of a completed or attempted rape. Keeping everything professional at all times makes it so any history of trauma never becomes an issue.
  3. Treat every model with the same level of respect you would treat anyone else who is on the clock doing their job. Even if it is a trade shoot or the model simply does it as a hobby, you should still treat the model with the same level of courtesy and respect that you would treat a bank teller or a cashier. Do not flirt. Use appropriate language. There are professional ways to build a rapport with a woman and tell her that her pose is perfect or she needs to turn slightly to the left without flirting or using inappropriate language. 
  4. Never say or do anything you wouldn't do with others present. Imagine that you are being recorded or that there is another person present during the entire shoot. Do not say or do anything that you would be embarrassed to have others find out. Act as if your reputation is on the line because it is.
  5. Pre-shoot discussions. Have a discussion before the shoot about poses and wardrobe. Some outfits might be too revealing if shot from certain angles or with certain poses. Go over all of these things before the shoot starts to ensure that everyone is working within their level of comfort.

The Most Important Thing to Remember

Trust your gut. Keep in mind that you have a lot to lose if the shoot goes wrong and more opportunities to shoot will come later. Do not put yourself at risk for a photo shoot. Setting firm boundaries for your level of comfort is more normal than you think, and it's absolutely okay to say no to an idea or suggestion.

Jeff Bennion's picture

Jeff Bennion is a San Diego-based portrait photographer specializing in boudoir and fashion photography. He owns Ignite Studio, the prettiest studio in the world. He is also an attorney licensed in California.

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This seems to only discuss one side of the issue - models being harassed and pressured by photographers. Photographers can also be harassed and pressured by models, and yet our perspective isn't even being discussed, or validated.

I'm getting tired of content that makes everything look like a one-way street, when everything actually can, and does, go both ways.

You are right. This article only discusses one issue. It does not address all of the issues from all perspectives in one article, even though it does mention sometimes women can harass men #allsidesofthelensmatter

Yes, but the article implies that it is the photographer that harasses the model regardless of the gender. What Tom (I think) is trying to say is that, regardless of the gender, photographers can and are also harassed by models. I don't know the stats though.

Nevertheless, this article is spot on on addressing this side of the business.

I shoot boudoir and some of the things that have kept my reputation spotless are the following (maybe some could benefit from this):

1. I don't just allow companions, I encourage models or aspiring models to bring someone to the shoot. (99 out of 100 times, the people who come with them actually make the shoot better).

2. I always have them sign a contract specifying every little thing. The contract has all the information necessary.

3. Before actually signing the contract, I send an email stating that all my models are tagged should they choose to ask them about their experience shooting with me.

4. I never use flirty language AT ALL. Don't compliment her body, compliment a pose, how the light is hitting the model, her face or the clothes (albeit little) she chose to wear.

As a male photographer, it is always hard and we have to take that extra step to make the models feel comfortable.

Yes, I saw in the very beginning that you addressed that women harass men - and I was glad to see that you at least mentioned it, albeit very briefly.

And then as I read the article, I kept looking for discussion about models exploiting photographers and asking them to photograph things that they were not comfortable photographing, but I never saw it brought up in your article.

Too many times, when there are articles about a certain category of person being exploited by another category of person, the article never discusses all of the types of people that are exploited, in total. Articles seem to only address one part of the overall issue or exploitation, leaving the others who have been exploited feeling invalidated.

If I was one of the male photographers who has been constantly harassed by female models, and I read this article, I would feel very alone and invalidated - like I have this horrific past, and no one even realizes it or is willing to acknowledge it.

If you have any data or studies or articles written in peer-reviewed scientific journals like I have here about the prevalence of female models harassing male photographers and the effect it has on the industry, I would be happy to write a follow up piece.

Thanks for the offer, but I am not going to do your work for you! I think that the writer himself should be the one to do the research.

Right out of the gate we get a stupid ass comment like this.

Every time people like you don't like something being talked about, you come up with this "both sides" bullshit. Every. Single. Time.

I would think all that bending over backward would really hurt by now.

But doesn't everything in life go both ways? When there are issues like this, why is there often only discussion from the one side, and not both sides? I don't understand why that is. Instead of putting me down for what I said, you could explain to me why you think it is appropriate to only discuss one side, and be blind to the other side.

Everything in life should go according to logic and reason, not by how people feel. I am only trying to be completely logical by looking at every side evenly and equally.

1) because the "both sides" thing is never actually brought up unless the issue is about something that people (conservatives) don't like people to talk about. "Hey, this cop just shot an unarmed person" "Well what was the person doing? Cops get killed too, you know." It's a very, very common thing everywhere on the internet.

2) You absolutely do not need to talk about "both sides." This article doesn't ONCE say that it can't go both ways. It's about photographers who assault/harass models. Which, by the way, is FAR FAR FAR more common than photographers being harrassed. Terry Richardson was still shooting for the biggest magazines and companies in the world until just a couple of years ago - despite decades of what was basically raping women. It's like talking about how women are sexually assaulted and what men can do about that, and chiming in with "but men are assaulted too!" despite the fact that it's like a 20:1 ratio between those two things.

3) just think, critically think, about why your first instinct is to react with "well what about [the total opposite of what's actually being discussed]." And ask yourself how often you do that and in what situations. Because I guaran-damn-tee that you don't bring up "both sides" every single time someone makes a point about something.

This stuff is hard to break out of. I was like that when I was in my late teens and early 20s. I grew up in a Republican household believing that Fox News was actually news. It took me years to break away from the habits that such a culture instills in you. Even now I'm continuing to learn, and the reason is that I listen to people who have experience with what they're talking about. I listen to what women say about what it's like to be a woman. It's an ever-growing process, but it requires you to say "hey, what if I'm wrong about this and they have a point?" And think about things from their perspective.

Some people will never be capable of that because they lack empathy entirely. Most people are capable of it, if they were willing.

Matt Williams asked,

"3) just think, critically think, about why your first instinct is to react with "well what about [the total opposite of what's actually being discussed]." And ask yourself how often you do that and in what situations. Because I guaran-damn-tee that you don't bring up "both sides" every single time someone makes a point about something."


I am basically what some people refer to as a "contrarian". Often, both in real life and in online discussions, when someone makes a point, I take the opposing position and present that point. Many times, it doesn't even matter what point the person takes - I will take the opposing view, regardless.

When I am with primarily conservative friends and family members, and they start to discuss political or social issues, I take the liberal viewpoint and present its merits, all the while putting down their conservative ideas and pointing out their weaknesses. Then, when I am with other friends and family members who are left-wing liberals, and they start talking about political and social issues, I counter them by stating the conservative viewpoints, and the strengths in that side of the argument.

In photography discussions, I do the same. If someone starts a thread saying "it's not the camera, it's the photographer", I go off on them, and tell them all of the ways that better gear will create better images, all else being equal, and how the most skilled and creative photographer in the world can be hampered by subpar gear that does not allow him/her to express his/her artistic vision as well as top-shelf gear would.

But then when people start saying how gear is so important, and that having the best gear can get you great photos, even if you aren't a very good photographer, I will blast those people with angry arguments about how horribly wrong they are because no gear will ever be able to compensate for a lack of creativity, vision, timing, and camera positioning.

If there is a dinner get-together and the host serves us all a wonderful lasagna, and someone compliments the host on how good it tastes, I will quickly point out that it really isn't so much the taste of the lasagna that makes it so good, but rather the texture, and that making lasagna with an exquisite texture takes far more cooking skill than making lasagna with great flavor.

So, to answer your question, I am always the guy that waits for someone to make a point, just so that I can make the opposite point. Even if doing so causes me to contradict the very things I have said in other arguments with other people. I am the proverbial "devil's advocate" in almost every discussion that I am ever involved with.

I'll be honest... that sounds like an insufferable way to behave. If you did that at my dinner get-together I would tell you to shut the fuck up.

Being a contrarian isn't a personality. It's just being a jackass.

That just sounds exhausting...but I guess you enjoy it.

I don't know what you mean by the term, "pro argument".

But I think that somewhere in the world there is an adult that is being abused by a child. Perhaps an aging grandparent that is physically abused by a teenage grandson. Or perhaps an emotionally weak mother who suffers with depression being verbally and psychologically abused by her teenage daughter (I actually know of this situation in my town).

So if there is an article, or outrage, about child abuse, then along with that article there should also be coverage of children abusing adults.

Again, everything in life goes both ways, and we are doing a disservice to humanity if we only cover the more prevalent kinds of abuses and exploitations.

No, Dan, I do not believe in false balance. I believe that in reality, the sides are extremely out of balance.

I believe that for every male photographer that is harassed by a female model, there are probably over 1,000 female models being harassed by male photographers. It is exactly because of this great imbalance that we must purposely make an effort to publicly discuss the hardships of those very few male photographers being harassed. Because they are the ones who are left feeling invalidated and "forgotten about" because they are such a rare exception.

It is the very rare exception - the thing that hardly ever happens - that needs people to bring attention to it. The things that happen frequently are already getting some coverage.

If something is happening a whole lot, then we may not need to talk about it as much, because someone else is already talking about it. If something is extremely rare, and hardly ever happens, then we REALLY need to discuss it, so that the one or two people who are being exploited don't feel they have been left by the wayside.

I know. I feel the same way. Like, Save the whales? Are you serious? What about plankton? They also get eaten and like caught in nets and stuff. Don't even get me started on the stupid rainforest and those lazy white rhinos.

No, Dan, that is not an example of false balance.

Me? This is not about me at all. I have never been involved in any kind of harassment such as that discussed in the article.

What in the world made you think that I myself ever underwent any type of harassment?

Here on Fstoppers, we comment on anything that we feel like commenting on, not just on things that we have been through personally.

I make lots of comments on articles about commercial photography, despite the fact that I am not interested in ever doing that kind of photography. I make lots of comments on articles about Sony cameras and lenses, even though I have never owned a Sony anything. I make lots of comments about insuring camera gear, even though I have never insured my gear and am not in the insurance industry.

Making comments on an issue or a topic does not insinuate that the person writing the comment has any personal experience with the topic or issue whatsoever ..... and I think it is odd that you would make any such insinuation.

I will lighten up only if I choose to do so, I will not do it at your behest.

You have not earned the right to tell me what to do, nor to even make suggestions as to what I should do.

If you think that something should be done, then do it yourself, instead of telling other people to do it. I will be the heavy, intense person if I think that is how people should be, and you can be the lighthearted person if you think that is how people should be. I am not telling you to get heavy and intense, so don't you tell me to lighten up. I do me. You do you.

"we comment on anything that we feel like commenting on, not just on things that we have been through personally."

This right here is exactly what I'm talking about.

Listen to the people who HAVE been through those things personally. Their opinion is literally more valuable and objectively more informed than yours. That's not an insult - the same goes for me. I've never been assaulted, which is why I listen to people who have.

If someone told me what it was like to get shot in the kneecap, I would believe them. You probably would too, because you have no experience with that and they do. This isn't any different.

Matt, I agree completely with what you have said here in this latest comment.

But right now, at this moment, Fstoppers isn't providing us with the direct testimony of anyone who claims to have been assaulted or harassed. Instead, Fstoppers is providing us with an article that someone else has written about those people.

Based on the comment you just made, do you think that an article on this subject would be much more effective if it was written by someone who had been assaulted or harassed themselves? I do.

I find it interesting that you assume that I have never been shot in the kneecap. You happen to be correct, but routinely making such assumptions will eventually get you into trouble (or at least embarrassed, or at least you will eventually offend someone who actually has gone through something that you tell them they have never gone through).

1) Fstoppers has written about the assault/rape of female models by male photographers many times. It's a well-known issue in the industry.

2) Yes, I do agree that this would be more effective if written by someone who had experienced such a thing. But that doesn't mean the article is invalid or incorrect. In fact, it is important and valuable for men to speak out about these issues too and how other men can create safer environments. If it were only women writing these, the overall societal effect would be lessened because many men don't listen to women in the way they do men. In fact, I regularly hear from women that men need to talk to other men about these issues and how they can do better. It's actually very important.

3) I feel like the assumption that you've never been shot in the kneecap was a pretty damn safe one. That is precisely why I chose a very extreme example.

1. While I have not experienced sexual assault personally, my perspective on this is that in my other job, I am an attorney and the majority of my caseload involves representing women who have been victims of sexual assault. Part of that involves working with expert forensic psychologists and psychiatrists and analyzing the effect and the symptoms of all types of sexual assault. That work has led me to also work with and counsel several models and other people in the industry. So, I decided to write something that is not based on something that I have experienced, but something that I have spent years researching. I don't think it's appropriate to require rape victims to tell their story for the sole purpose of reassuring you that this is in fact a wide spread problem.
2. I do not assume that you have not been shot in the kneecap.


I commend you for not only having a section of "Tips for the Model", but that you also have a section of "Tips for the Photographer".

It is, of course, just as important for the photographer to protect himself/herself from the model as it is for the model to protect himself/herself from the photographer, and i am glad that you addressed both sides in the "Tips for" area of this article.

I'm safe.
I shoot architecture with a few assistants and reps from the architects office.
We are also in the outdoors.

Sounds suspicious. Don't you sexually assault your assistants and reps (and sometimes - buildings) as all other photographers do?

I shoot art nude, and boudoir. Not once, in eight years, has a model ever harassed me. Y’all need to be more selective about who you choose to work with. You can determine the character of a person by contacting them via phone, or email, or checking their portfolio. If they don’t have a portfolio I don’t work with them.

Excellent article Jeff. There is nothing there I don't disagree with, and you should be applauded for raising it. If there is one person who reads it and remains safe because of what you have written, you should be proud.

Like any abusive behavior, there is suspicion cast upon anyone who attacks the facts you highlight, those who deny it are probably a real threat to both the victims and society.

I've not read the comments yet, but it's a common tactic of abusers to undermine any evidence pointing towards their personality defects. Or, they try to misdirect the topic with "what about" comments. I bet this article will attract some of them. Would I trust any of my family or friends with them? Not a chance.

Thank you sir!