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Egypt 2016 Crime & Safety Report

Near East > Egypt; Near East > Egypt > Alexandria; Near East > Egypt > Cairo

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Post Crime Rating: Medium

Crime Threats

Visitors can expect to experience standard crime similar to other large cities. From January 2011-March 2014, crime appeared to be increasing. However, over the past two years, the visibility of police has increased, and crime has generally leveled off, in some cases nearly disappearing in the expatriate community. Regardless, crime can still be an issue of concern for expatriates, as the vast majority of criminal acts against foreigners continue to be crimes of opportunity (purse snatching, pickpocketing), often carried out by young males. There have been several instances where individuals on a motorbike have grabbed women’s handbags, sometimes inadvertently injuring the victim. Semi-professional thieves target unaware visitors in popular restaurants and shops stealing purses, phones, and purchased goods. There are a number of reports of criminals using guns in the course of their robberies, although such cases remain infrequent. Women have reported attempted purse snatchings from drivers as they enter taxis. 

Carjackings are reported by Egyptians, foreign private sector personnel, and members of the diplomatic community with some frequency in major cities. While generally occurring during late night or early morning, carjackings can occur any time. In most cases, perpetrators seem to target newer cars, often SUVs, sometimes with the intent to extract a ransom from the owner. 

Other Areas of Concern

Sporting events, especially soccer matches, cause heavy traffic disruptions and occasionally violent demonstrations and skirmishes. Large-scale sporting events have not been held since February 2012 when a soccer match in Port Said turned violent, with 79 people killed.

Travelers should be aware that landmines have caused many casualties, including deaths of U.S. citizens. All travelers should check with local authorities before embarking on off-road travel. Known minefields are not reliably marked but are sometimes enclosed by barbed wire. After heavy rains, which can cause flooding and the shifting of landmines, travelers should be careful when driving through build-ups of sand on roadways. Although mines are found in other parts of Egypt, the highest concentrations are located in World War II battlefields along the Mediterranean coast west of Alexandria, the Eastern Desert between Cairo and the Suez Canal, and much of the Sinai peninsula. 

Embassy personnel are prohibited from traveling outside the greater Cairo area by motor vehicle, with few exceptions, and are generally required to travel between cities via commercial air. U.S. Embassy personnel are prohibited from traveling to the Sinai, except by air to Sharm El Sheikh. Furthermore, U.S. Embassy policy prohibits personal travel via privately owned vehicle to any part of the Sinai peninsula and closely scrutinizes travel west of Marsa Matrouh on the northern coastal highway toward the Libyan border and the North/South highways south of Fayoum. Travel between Fayoum, Asyut, Sohag, and Qena, and Fayoum is only approved on a case-by-case basis. Popular tourist destinations (Siwa, Dahab, the White Desert, Bahariya) are heavily scrutinized and generally prohibited. 

Travelers to Egypt's frontiers, including the borders with Libya, Sudan, and Israel and parts of the Sinai off the main, paved roads must obtain permission from the Travel Permits Department of the Ministry of the Interior (at the corner of Sheikh Rihan and Nubar Streets in downtown Cairo). Reports indicate that the security situation in the northern Sinai area, generally defined as the area north of the Cairo-Nekhl-Taba road, remains unsafe due to continuing conflict. Travelers should be aware of the possible dangers of overland travel. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road-Safety and Road Conditions

Vehicle accidents remain a significant safety concern. Egypt has one of the highest occurrences of road fatalities in the world. Driving Cairo’s busy streets can be extremely challenging for foreigners, especially those used to a culture of structured rules and regulations. Even seasoned residents of Cairo must use extreme care and situational awareness to navigate the hectic streets. Traffic rules are typically ignored by impatient drivers and seldom enforced by police. Most traffic lights in Cairo do not function; instead, police officers direct traffic at main intersections. Drivers should be prepared for unlighted vehicles at night; few/no road markings; vehicles traveling at high rates of speed; vehicles traveling the wrong way on one-way streets, divided highways, and connecting ramps; a high volume of pedestrians dodging traffic; and wandering domesticated animals. Intercity roads are generally in fair condition but unmarked surfaces, stray animals, sandstorms and fog, and disabled vehicles without lights/reflectors are among the many hazards present on highways, especially after dark. 

Pedestrians should also exercise extreme caution when traversing roadways, especially in high-volume/high-velocity streets like Cairo’s Corniche, which follows the eastern bank of the Nile River. 

Motorists should be especially cautious during rare winter rains, which can cause extremely slippery road surfaces and localized flooding. 

If a visitor decides to drive, it is essential he take the utmost precautions and drive defensively. Always ride with windows up, doors locked, and never leave anything of value in the car. Police may detain a foreigner during a serious traffic accident until a statement is given.

Public Transportation Conditions

American visitors should consider other transport options (taxis, hired drivers, tour company). Taxis remain an efficient use of public transportation in large cities (Cairo, Alexandria). While travelers are advised to use good personal security practices, Embassy members are authorized to travel in taxis or other car services. Foreigners can often be targets for higher taxi fares, and some drivers often claim their meters are “broken.”

The use of public buses, microbuses, and Cairo’s metro system is prohibited by U.S. Embassy personnel, and visitors are strongly discouraged from using them. In 2015, there remained a trend of serious accidents involving mini-buses and international tourist buses on highways outside of Cairo resulting in a number of deaths. 

Trains are a particularly unsafe means of transportation, with regular accidents that sometimes involve mass casualties. In 2013, there were several collisions involving passenger and cargo trains in the greater Cairo and Upper Egypt areas in which a large number of Egyptian nationals were killed and injured. Because of deteriorating infrastructure and a poor safety record, as well as the occasional blocking of the railways from labor disputes or anger over train accidents, Embassy personnel are prohibited to travel by train. Trains and railways have also been targeted by IED attacks.

Cairo’s metro system is a common form of public transportation for Egyptians. While effective, the overcrowded metro stations and trains can be a common area for opportunistic crime (pickpocketing, sexual harassment). While not as common in 2015, metro stations have been a target for attacks in the past. 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The threat to civil aviation remains significant around the world, and aviation security remains a concern in Egypt. Extremist groups continue to target airports with evolving techniques. On October 31, 2015, a Russian Metro Jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Sharm el Sheik, a popular tourist destination in the Saini. Although Egypt has not officially announced the findings of its investigation, many reports suggest an explosive device smuggled on board the aircraft caused the crash.

International air carriers have enhanced security measures. Domestic flights generally have more relaxed security procedures, especially passenger screening. Since the Metro Jet incident, the international community and Egypt have made significant improvements in airport security.

At Cairo International Airport (CAI), large crowds tend to gather outside terminals waiting for arriving passengers. At times, they can become unruly, and fights have occurred. Arriving U.S. Embassy personnel typically arrange for an expeditor and/or trusted transportation company to pick them up inside the terminal. Taxis are available at the terminals at all airport in Egypt, but travelers should be aware of unauthorized chauffeurs and “set fare” taxis. 

Terrorism Threat

Post Terrorism Rating: Critical

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The threat of terrorist attacks outside of the Sinai peninsula – a historic hotbed of activity – is steadily increasing. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, several attacks were directed at tourist locations along Egypt’s Red Sea. Prior to an October 2004 attack, there had been no terrorist incidents involving tourists in Egypt since the mid-1990s. While not specifically aimed at Americans, these bombing attacks resulted in the death of numerous Egyptian nationals and foreign tourists, to include Americans, and prompted an increased security presence by Egyptian security forces. 
In February 2009, a small bomb exploded in the main square in front of the Khan al Khalili bazaar in Cairo, causing many casualties among foreign visitors, including the death of a French tourist. A second explosive device was discovered at the bazaar and detonated by police. 
On January 1, 2011, a bombing attack occurred in Alexandria at a Coptic church, resulting in a reported 27 deaths and 200 injuries. The victims were from Christian and Muslim communities. 
In September 2012, Egyptian authorities arrested members of a terrorist network in Cairo that may have been seeking to carry out attacks against government of Egypt institutions and Western interests.
On February 16, 2014, a suicide bomber detonated on a tourist bus in Taba, killing three South Korean tourists and the Egyptian bus driver and wounding several others. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM, now ISIL Sinai) issued a statement claiming responsibility and justified it as an attack on the governments sources of income. 
On August 6, 2014 assailants carjacked and killed a U.S. citizen oil worker on the road to the al-Karama Petroleum Field in the Western Desert. On November 30, ABM claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter.

In 2015, the government continued to confront terrorist groups responsible for deadly attacks on government, military, and civilian targets throughout the country. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) Sinai Province affiliate remains the most active terrorist group in Egypt and poses the most significant threat. However, a new group identifying itself as “Islamic State Egypt,” purportedly distinct from ISIL Sinai, has begun to claim responsibility for attacks outside of the Sinai. While these organizations receive some external financial and logistical support, there is no evidence of a significant presence of non-Egyptian “foreign fighters” in Egypt. The government of Egypt says that it regards these groups as domestic terror organizations. In the wake of the June 29 assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, the government approved a new counter-terrorism law, increasing the state’s legal authorities to combat terrorism, but it also suppresses freedom of the press for domestic and international journalists reporting on terrorist events in Egypt. 

Despite significant, large-scale terrorist attacks, security services and military had some success in combatting terrorist groups. The military launched a stepped-up counter-terrorism campaign (known as Operation “Right of the Martyr”) against ISIL Sinai on September 7. The military also continued to seize and destroy tunnels used for smuggling between Egypt and Gaza. 

While security forces have been the primary target, tactics shifted in 2015 to areas that are considered civilian (public streets, educational institutions, private businesses). The main purpose of much of these attacks was likely to cause more fear in the local populace and to discredit the government’s security capability. However, most reports of IEDs in greater Cairo were either safely defused or were “simulated” devices that did not contain explosive material. 

During the latter half of 2015, the number of reports of IEDs, anti-government demonstrations, and attacks on security forces declined considerably. Yet, despite the overall downward trend, terrorist groups have succeeded in launching several large-scale attacks in Cairo and other urban areas. Recent attacks and social media propaganda suggest that jihadist groups may be seeking to expand the geographic scope of attacks outside northeast Sinai.   

Groups claiming to be affiliated with ISIL and other militant groups, including Popular Resistance, Revolutionary Punishment, and Ajnad Misr, carried out numerous attacks including IEDs, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations throughout Egypt in 2015. The following list details a fraction of the incidents that occurred:
June 10: Three armed men attempted an attack at Luxor’s Karnak Temple. Police engaged the men at the site’s parking lot entrance, largely thwarting the attack. Two attackers were killed, and one was apprehended. 
June 29: An explosive device targeted Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat’s motorcade shortly after he departed his home in Heliopolis. He died that afternoon, and nine people were injured in the blast, including two drivers and five members of the security detail. A claim of responsibility by Giza Popular Resistance could not be confirmed.
July 11: An early-morning bomb heavily damaged the Italian Consulate in downtown Cairo and killed one civilian passerby. ISIL Egypt claimed responsibility via social media. 
July 15: A VBIED detonated near a military facility on Ain Soukhna Road between Cairo and Ain Soukhna. A military spokesperson said the military engaged and destroyed the vehicle prior to its intended target and killed the driver. ISIL Sinai claimed responsibility, deeming it revenge for the military camp’s alleged participation in a 2014 operation that targeted six militants in the area.
July 22: Croatian citizen Tomislav Salopek, employed by a French energy company, was kidnapped approximately 20km west of the Cairo suburb of 6th of October City. On August 5, a video posted by ISIL Sinai’s Twitter account claimed responsibility and demanded the release of all female Muslims in Egyptian prisons within 48-hours in exchange for Salopek. Salopek was beheaded, and ISIL Sinai claimed responsibility. 
August 10: Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility for an IED near a courthouse in Cairo’s Heliopolis district. The device detonated near a traffic police kiosk in front of the Masr El Gedida courthouse, resulting in the injury of three police officers. Security forces found and diffused a second device.
August 20: A VBIED attack occurred adjacent to a National Security Sector (NSS) building in Cairo’s populous Shubra El Kheima neighborhood. The explosion resulted in substantial damage to the exterior of the building and injured 30 people, including civilians and at least six security personnel. ISIL Egypt claimed responsibility via social media.
October 31: An A-321 Airbus operated by the Russian charter company Kogalymavia crashed 23 minutes after take-off from Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport, killing all 224 people on board. While the official investigation remains ongoing, ISIL Sinai claimed responsibility; Russian and other international reports have claimed that an explosive device was responsible for the crash. 

OSAC constituents in Egypt should closely monitor messages released by the U.S. State Department and follow recommendations by U.S. Embassy Cairo. To date, the majority of successful attacks in the greater Cairo area have targeted Egyptian government and police facilities and personnel. The Embassy advises visitors to avoid government buildings and police stations whenever possible. 

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

The majority of violent acts and demonstrations are aimed at the Egyptian government/security forces. There were no significant anti-Western demonstrations in 2015. While extremist groups continuously issue wide calls to threaten Westerners, attacks specifically targeting Westerners remain infrequent. 

In the months leading up to the March 2015 Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC), social media traffic increasingly advocated attacks on economic targets as a way to undermine the government. Much of this rhetoric focused on foreign multinationals and investors, including named American companies. Beginning predominantly in February, many of the groups and individuals behind these calls began posting statements directly referencing the EEDC and advocating for, or actively participating in, the targeting of foreign firms that were participating in, or supporting, the conference. Low-level explosions targeted a multitude of foreign business surrounding the EEDC, though the majority of attacks result in minimal damage and no casualties.

Political, Economic, Religious and Ethnic Violence   

Egypt has undergone a tumultuous period of fluctuating political violence since January 2011. Since the removal of the al-Morsi government in July 2013, the size and frequency of demonstrations have decreased markedly, although isolated attacks targeting police often using drive-by shootings or bombings of police facilities began to surface throughout the country. In 2015, the situation evolved into a rather fluid security environment. While demonstrations can occur, they have not reached the size they were between 2011-2013 and are often quickly dispersed by security forces. Reports of suspicious packages and IEDs spiked in the early part of 2015, possibly by groups aiming to discredit the EEDC, yet greater Cairo witnessed a significant decrease in the frequency of these reports during the second half of the year. The majority of events do not result in casualties or property damage. Regardless, the overall domestic security environment remains far from stable, particularly given the presence of an active Islamist insurgency in northern Sinai and the growth of terrorist presence across Egypt’s border with Libya. 

Post Political Violence Rating: High

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations often evolved into violent clashes between police and protestors, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails, and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures in response. In 2015, the frequency and size of demonstrations decreased significantly, largely due to the government’s Protest Law restrictions and the continued arrest campaigns against opposition groups. 

Significant anniversaries are dates of interest to opposition groups and potential concern for the government. During the fourth anniversary of the 2011 revolution on January 25, 23 people, including 17 demonstrators, three “militants,” and three police officers died in clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces. The police often maintain a large presence at the highly symbolic Tahrir Square in central Cairo during significant anniversaries to deter anti-government mobs from gathering and sporadically close access to vehicular traffic. While there may be periods when the crowds appear celebratory or non-threatening, criminal acts are routinely committed under the shroud of anonymity a large crowd provides. In some cases, protestors have turned over alleged criminals to police or military units positioned near the square’s perimeter. Peaceful demonstrations have turned violent with no notice, making them unpredictable and potentially dangerous. 

While violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas (downtown Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Port Said), the security situation in most tourist centers (Luxor, Aswan, Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh) continues to be mostly calm and unaffected by civil strife. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Sporadic sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian communities remains a concern, most notably in the Nile Valley governorates of Asyut and Sohag. However, this has not largely not impacted Westerners. These governorates, along with the adjacent governorates of Minya and Qena, have long been considered areas prone to extremist activity and sectarian strife. Authorities restrict the travel of foreigners to these governorates, and U.S. Embassy personnel traveling to these areas (apart from Luxor and adjacent tourist destinations) require advance approval. The government has directed security forces to provide heightened security for churches and property in southern Egypt. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Egypt is a geologically active region, and seismic activity occurs. Although earthquakes are rare, damage can be severe, especially to older buildings due to lax building codes and shoddy construction. The last major earthquake that resulted in damage was in 1996.
Personnel-Background Concerns

There are also numerous reports of harassment by local males against Western females. These incidents run the gamut from lewd comments and gestures to more explicit indecent exposures, inappropriate physical contact, and sexual assault. They can also include staring, improper comments, or even touching. A number of women, including foreigners, have reported being sexually harassed and assaulted in taxis, isolated streets, and while transiting crowded protest areas. The majority of incidents occur on busy city streets, but assaults can occur inside a victim’s home by maintenance or delivery workers. Foreigners and Egyptians can be subject to gender-based harassment. 

While dressing conservatively may not prevent harassment, foreign women are advised to dress modestly when in public. At night, women and teenage girls may want to exercise additional caution and not travel alone. Women should exercise caution on public transportation and always sit in the back seat of the taxi. Some women have found it helpful to refrain from engaging in conversation, beyond basic pleasantries, with the driver. 

Drug-related Crimes

Punishment for drug use and trafficking in illegal drugs is severe. The drug trade has very little security impact on the diplomatic and expatriate community. However, hashish, methamphetamines, and certain prescription drugs (Tramadol) are widely available. 

Kidnapping Threat

The vast majority of kidnappings appear to be within the Egyptian community and are often carried out to settle a dispute among neighbors, rivals, or tribes or simply target a person known to be affluent. Children are often the targeted victims, and the cases generally are settled quickly through the payment of a ransom. Perpetrators are likely hoping for a quick monetary payoff and, therefore, intentionally avoid the scrutiny likely to rise from kidnapping a higher profile businessperson or foreigner. While unnerving and not to be dismissed, there is nothing to suggest that the threat of kidnappings should be of great concern within the expatriate community in Egypt’s major cities. However, kidnappings have the potential to be more prevalent in the Sinai or Western Desert regions. 

On July 22, 2015, Tomislav Salopek, a Croatian citizen, employed by a French energy company, was kidnapped approximately 20km west of the Cairo suburb of 6th of October City. On August 5, a video posted by ISIL Sinai’s Twitter account claimed responsibility for his abduction and demanded the release of all female Muslims in Egyptian prisons within 48-hours in exchange for Salopek. He was beheaded; ISIL Sinai claimed responsibility. 

Police Response

Foreigners may experience a range of professionalism when dealing with police. Police generally are responsive to visitors in need of assistance and will initiate investigations based on the report of a crime. Emergency response times and the ability to conduct in-depth criminal investigations on petty crimes generally fall short of Western standards. While misdemeanor crimes may not receive the attention a visitor would expect, police tend to pursue felonies more assertively. 

Any item/souvenir that resembles an antiquity will be scrutinized closely by Egyptian Customs officials. 

There are restrictions on photographing military personnel and sites, bridges, and canals, including the Suez Canal. Authorities may interpret these restrictions broadly to include other potentially sensitive structures (embassies, other public buildings with international associations, some religious edifices). Visitors should refrain from taking photographs of any uniformed personnel. Visitors have been detained for taking pictures of military, police, or sensitive security related venues or events. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If you are arrested, make sure that every effort is made to contact the U.S. Embassy on your behalf. Although protocol requires the police services to notify the Embassy in the event of an arrest of an American citizen, this may not always happen depending on the time, place, and circumstances surrounding an arrest. The Embassy advises American citizens to contact American Citizen Services (ACS) at U.S. Embassy Cairo at 2797-3300 should they require assistance.

Service

Telephone Number

Emergency Police

122

Ambulance

123

Fire Brigade

180

Tourism Police

126

International Calls Services

120

Inter-Governorate Calls Services

10

Telephone Directory

140, 141

International Telephone Directory

144

Railway Police

145

Public Traffic Admin. for Highway Accidents

012111000

General Security Services (criminal offenses)

115

Medical Emergencies

Medical care generally falls short of U.S. standards, but there are many Western-trained medical professionals, including surgeons. While medical facilities are adequate for non-emergency matters, particularly in frequently visited tourist areas, emergency and intensive care facilities are limited. Most Nile cruise boats do not have a ship's doctor, but some employ a medical practitioner of uncertain qualification. Hospital facilities in Luxor and Aswan are inadequate, and they are nonexistent at most other ports-of-call. For more detailed information, travelers should review the most recent Country Specific Information sheet for Egypt, available from the U.S. Department of State and online at www.travel.state.gov.

Ambulance Hotline – 123

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

The U.S. Embassy Cairo Regional Medical Office can provide a complete list of local hospitals and English speaking physicians. 

Cairo: El Salam International – 2524-0250
Alexandria: El Salama – 487-9999

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/egypt?s_cid=ncezid-dgmq-travel-single-001.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Embassy hosts OSAC Country Council meetings on a quarterly basis and ad-hoc meetings as necessary. For more information please email SmithSM5@state.gov. To reach OSAC’s Near East team, please email OSACNEA@state.gov.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt
5 Tawfik Diab Street
Garden City, Cairo

Business hours: Sun-Thurs 8:30AM-5:00PM. 

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard and after-hours emergencies: 2 02-2797-3300
Consular: (20) 2-2797-2301
Email: consularcairoacs@state.gov
RSO: (20) 2-2797-2208
Email: RSOCairo@state.gov
Fax: (20) 2-2797-2472
Website: http://egypt.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

Specific information about Egypt and U.S. Embassy Cairo is available online at www.travel.state.gov. The Department of State encourages all American travelers to sign up in the U.S. Embassy’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) when planning their travel or after arriving in Egypt. Please visit U.S. Embassy Cairo’s website at http://egypt.usembassy.gov/consular/register.html. This program helps the Embassy to provide important services for American citizens residing or traveling in Egypt.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams 

There are growing reports of criminal ruses against foreign visitors often employing feigned concern over a stain or spill on an article of clothing; while helping to wipe the clothing, the criminal will lift a wallet from a purse or pocket. 

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Common sense precautions can greatly reduce vulnerability to a criminal incident or terrorist attack. One of the most important issues is surveillance recognition. The importance of varying times and routines cannot be stressed enough. Stay alert waiting for taxis, elevators, and when crossing streets. Be aware of your surroundings and cautious about going anywhere with a stranger alone. Be cautious about giving out personal information: name, address, or phone number. Make sure you walk accompanied and stay in populated/well-illuminated areas.

Be mindful that crowded tourist areas have been the target of terrorist activities. Travelers should use caution when visiting destination resorts and hotels without significant physical setback and security procedures. Travelers are advised to avoid areas where there is heavy police presence or crowds assembling, to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any large public gatherings, and to stay away from demonstrations. Avoid crowds and move rapidly past scenes of any type of dispute.

Keep a low profile; dress down; use alcohol sparingly; and avoid disputes with locals. Do not wear headphones; you are less alert and advertise the presence of a valuable item. Limit or avoid display of jewelry and valuables. Limit cash and credit cards carried on your person. Carry mobile phone and other valuables in a pocket rather than on a belt or in a purse. Be careful leaving items of value in hotel rooms or unattended in public places.

Have your identification and working cell phone with you at all times. 

Recent incidents suggest that the best response to a carjacking to ensure one’s personal safety is to immediately surrender the vehicle. Reports have not indicated any violence or harm has come to victims who did not resist.