A serial rapist in the USF area has attacked six women, and DNA tests are pending to determine whether he also attacked a seventh. The victims share two common denominators: They were black, and the rapist entered their residences – both apartments and single-family houses – through an unlocked window.

Speculation that the crimes may not have happened had the windows been locked will undoubtedly linger, as window-locking remains the single-most simple safety measure not taken in each incidence. That the victims failed to do so, however, does not in any way mean that the attacks were their fault.

A woman should be able to sleep with her window open and dress as she wishes without fear of assault, just as a man should be able to wear a flashy, expensive watch without fear of robbery. Individuals should be able to do as they choose as long as they don’t harm each other and should be protected from physical repercussions. Regardless, the ethics and framework for these ‘shoulds’ remain ideals limited by a cruder reality. Rapists and robbers likely care little for appeals to rights, let alone enough to give up their lives of crime. As a result, women and men alike must do all they can to protect themselves at an individual level, which includes locking doors and windows.

The need for personal responsibility is especially pronounced at USF. With only half the recommended number of University Police (UP) officers patrolling campus at night and high levels of violent crime compared to most universities, students, faculty and staff are by no means paranoid if they are a bit wary of that unlit, treed corner or midnight walk to the car.

Granted, UP is charged with protecting students, and performs its job well. However, the very real limitations of any police force – such as the time between a 911 call and police arrival – means students cannot reasonably assume UP will prevent all harm from coming their way.

Students should therefore make minimal efforts like carrying a can of mace or calling the Safe Team to address this. Mace and phone calls are cheap, whereas the psychological costs of being the victim of a crime are often dire and debilitating.

Vigilance is a healthy attitude that should be practiced by all on campus. With vigilance comes preparedness and affording individual control, which could well mean the difference between peril and safety, life and death.