In a Valentine's Day speech at USC, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti personally delivered a warning to men who repeatedly send flowers, e-mails and love notes to women who do not want such attention.
As part of "Love Me Not," an anti-stalking campaign unveiled Monday at college campuses across Los Angeles County, Garcetti said his office will aggressively prosecute men charged with stalking, and will train police and campus security departments to recognize the crime.
The Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women will flood campuses with Love Me Not posters, billboards and bookmarks, and is putting in place a toll-free 24-hour hotline, an Internet site and an educational curriculum to teach students how to "take back control of their lives."
The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation to combine education about stalking with the strong arm of the district attorney's office. Garcetti said most victims of stalking are women between the ages of 18 and 29, and the campaign is focusing on college campuses for now.
Five campuses--USC, UCLA, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly Pomona--have signed on so far, and additional campuses are expected to join the program soon.
Garcetti predicted that his office, which prosecuted 238 stalkers in 1999, will charge many more next year as a result of the awareness campaign.
Many women now suffer far too long, authorities said, because they do not realize that what is happening to them is a felony.
In one case that the D.A.'s office successfully prosecuted last year, a young woman living in a dorm at a Los Angeles university spent eight months in fear of a man who appeared at all her classes, although he was not a student.
He sent her letters. He got her e-mail address from a campus directory and messaged her. He sent her flowers and gifts. And then he confronted her, and told her that if she did not pledge her love to him, he would hurt her.
Campus police finally called the D.A.s office and now the man is in state prison, said Jeffrey Jonas, head of the D.A.'s Target Crimes Division.
Other stalking stories have not ended so happily. Peggie Reyna, who is in charge of the Love Me Not program for the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, said she knows of a student who had to transfer schools, break off contact with most of her friends, change her Social Security number and get a new job to escape a stalker.
"She had to become invisible," said Reyna, adding that one in every 12 women will be stalked in their lifetimes.
Another goal of the program is to make students more aware of stalking, so that they can recognize danger signals and take appropriate steps early on, Reyna said.
To help men and women who feel that they may be victims, the commission will offer support groups, self-defense workshops and security awareness training.
Andrea Thompson, star of the television show "NYPD Blue" and herself a stalking victim, urged all students to become aware of the Love Me Not program. Thompson's former boyfriend, Italian fashion designer Gianluigi Assenato, was convicted in 1998 of felony stalking.
Casey Cooper, a USC student who works in the campus Center for Women and Men, said she believes that the program is badly needed. About two dozen frantic women, and even a few men, visit the center each year, campus officials said.
In some cases, the center helps the student move to a different dorm, change her phone number and take her personal information off the Internet. In other cases, the center stops the stalking by working with the stalker and convincing him that his behavior is inappropriate.