"Someone I met literally became obsessed with me," said Katie Lahnmann, the victim of a four-year stalking.
She met the man, who will be called Joe at Lahnmann's request, while at a Chicago bar with a group of friends in October 1999.
The two talked, drank and danced, like many college students enjoying a night out.
"He seemed cool when I first met him the first couple of times," she said.
Yet that night of fun turned into a prolonged nightmare for Lahnmann.
Stalking occurs when anyone follows, e-mails, phones or communicates "obsessively" to the point where it makes the victim afraid or concrened for their safety, said Hilary Merlin, the relationship and sexual violence prevention coordinator of the University's Health Center.
In the last four years, there have been a relatively low number of reported stalking cases at the University. University Police statistics reveal only four such cases were reported in 2003, compared to two in 2002, seven in 2001 and five in 2000.
But the lack of reported cases hides a telling figure, Health Center officials said.
"In a year, close to 20 percent of college women are stalked," Merlin said of a National Institute of Justice survey published in 2000.
"Thirteen percent of the females had been stalked within six months of entering university," she said.
Assistant University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said most people who are stalked approach police for advice on how to deal with the situation.
"I do have people contact us and not file a report," he said.
Lahnmann, a University graduate student from Chicago, never filed a police report about her case.
But when Joe said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her within a month, she backed away from him, telling him she didn't feel the same way.
Joe persisted in his attempts to woo her, followed her wherever she went and "cried buckets" as he begged her to accept him, Lahnmann said.
"He would whisper on the phone at 3 in the morning 'I love you' and 'Katie, you're so beautiful,'" she said. "It's been four years -- ya think he'd take a hint."
She said when she met Joe she made it "very, very clear" to him she was not looking for a serious relationship.
"We only went out a few times, but he kept calling me and wanting to see me," she said. "He wanted to spend the rest of his life with me but didn't believe in marriage."
Joe, who was new to Chicago, had three months left on a temporary job, Lahnmann said.
"He doesn't have a set job -- he moves from place to place," she said. "He hated Chicago but was ready to live there for my sake."
Lahnmann said she made it clear to Joe on numerous occasions that she did not feel the same way he felt, but he refused to accept the rejection.
When she started dating other men, Lahnmann said Joe accused her of not wanting a relationship with him because he was black.
But Lahnmann said Joe's race had no impact on her feelings for him.
She said Joe's personality was also prone to changing within a matter of moments.
"One night, my car got towed and he insisted on paying for it," Lahnmann said. "When I didn't let him, he got very angry and left."
Later that night, Lahnmann said, Joe told her he wished she would die.
"One minute he'd be saying to me 'I love you,' and when I would not say it back, he would say that I was a horrible person and didn't think about other people's feelings," she said.
Joe moved to Wisconsin in January 2000, and Lahnmann thought she was rid of him for good.
But then he started to show up in Chicago, frequenting the places she usually visited, Lahnmann said.
"I even had a guy pretending to be my husband call him once to kind of help in throwing him off my back, " she said.
Lahnmann said Joe knew her daily routine and found her no matter where she went.
"I saw him in a bar one night and he started telling me that I was lying that I didn't love him," she said. "He was upset that I was not returning his feelings."
Lahnmann said he used to bring girls to his home and then call her from the neighboring room while the girls were asleep.
Even though Joe knew his actions upset Lahnmann, he kept insisting he would give up all his bad habits if she would accept him in her life, she said.
Lahnmann said despite repeatedly telling Joe she wasn't interested in pursuing a relationship with him, he continued to contact her.
Between September and October 2001, Joe called Lahnmann almost constantly but then stopped calling for the next three months when he realized she was not answering his calls.
But soon after, she said the calls once again picked up.
"Even though I had Caller ID, I would not know when he was calling as he would call from different numbers every time," she said. "He wasn't taking the hint."
Lahnmann said in between the phone calls, he kept moving from one state to another and changed jobs frequently.
Throughout the time Joe stalked Lahnmann, she continued to date other people.
She said one of her boyfriends tried to call Joe, but since he moved so often, it was difficult to contact him.
Lahnmann said her friends advised her to hang up the phone as soon as she recognized Joe's voice -- but he started to leave strange messages on her phone.
"My mom once heard a message saying 'I love you' at home," she said. "My mom knew about him to some extent and thought he was a psycho."
Yet Lahnmann said her mom never really insisted on calling the police.
"My mom's kind of the 'handle-it-yourself' type and made cracks about it once or twice," she said.
Lahnmann explained she never called the police to get Joe off her trail because she didn't think he was capable of hurting anyone.
But she did tell him she would contact the authorities if he persisted bothering her.
"I never thought he would do anything harmful," she said.
Once Joe realized his phone calls were not getting his message across, he turned to a new method of communication -- he started to mail letters to Lahnmann.
"It's not like he would mail a regular letter ... I would know immediately it was him when I saw his letters without opening them," she said. "He would write 'I love you' on the covers and each had a Top 10 List."
Lahnmann added the list would describe qualities about her that Joe found attractive -- like a list of her good qualities or the reasons Joe loved her.
He even wrote letters to Lahnmann's family.
"I became wary on my family's behalf as I was living with them -- he even sent a letter to my best friend," Lahnmann said.
That letter asked Lahnmann's best friend to 'treat her well' and 'take care of her,' she said.
While Lahnmann was dating other people, Joe's obsession became more serious.
"He would show up at random times," she said.
So Lahnmann decided to move to Georgia but kept the same cell phone number until January 2003.
That was when Joe last directly contacted her.
"It sucks when you have to change what you do," she said.
Lahnmann said she thought she would keep the same cell phone number after changing states because it would be hard to give everyone back home her new contact number.
But Joe called her on her cell phone after she arrived in Georgia, so she decided to finally change her number, she said.
"I am still scared that somehow, some way he is going to figure out where I am," Lahnmann said. "If people really want to find you, they'll find you."
Recalling her actions, Lahnmann said, "I was too nice, you also don't want to be too mean either -- I let it go on longer than I wanted it to."
As a result of the stalking, Lahnmann said she is now cautious around men and is careful with forming new friendships because Joe "really" scared her.
"I go through phases where I get wary of guys," Lahnmann said. "I'd tell my boyfriends -- 'Don't call me every day' and I still am sometimes like that -- I'll back off if someone gets close."
She said Joe still contacts her family in Chicago to find out information about her.
"If I heard from him today, I would literally freak out -- my heart would stop," she said.
What you can do to protect yourself:
Safe Campuses Now provides several prevention tips for students who may be possible victims of stalking.
Request your name and address be withheld from the student directory. This can be done through a written request to the UGA Registrar's office by calling 542-4040. This also will prevent your contact information from being listed on the UGA Web site.
Never give out your phone number to strangers. If you receive a wrong number phone call, do not give them your number or confirm the number they dialed. Simply tell the caller: "You have the wrong number," and hang up.
Destroy discarded mail before throwing it out.
If you think you are being followed while in your car, make four successive left or right-hand turns. If the car continues to follow you, drive to the nearest police station, never home or to a friend's house.
Take a self-defense class. The Self Defense for Women series, sponsored by the University Police Department and Safe Campuses Now, teaches awareness and prevention tips as well as techniques to make attendees more aware of their surroundings and to avoid confrontations.
What victims should do if they feel that they've been stalked:
Trust yourself and your instincts. If a situation feels wrong, it probably is. If you believe you are being stalked, you probably are.
Tell the stalker "no" once and only once, and then do not give him the satisfaction of a reaction again. The more you respond and the more upset or emotional you seem, the more you will teach him that his actions do elicit a response. This only serves to reinforce the stalking.
Don't be embarrassed and think you somehow caused this or brought it on yourself. Stalkers need no encouragement. Your shame is your stalker's best weapon.
Be proactive -- tell your family, neighbors, co-workers and friends you are being stalked. Ask them not to give out any information about you, your schedule or your life to anyone.
Get a new, unlisted phone number, and be cautious about giving it out to someone. Make sure people who receive the number understand you are being stalked and will not give the number to anyone without your permission.
Document everything in case you need evidence in court. Keep all answering machine tapes if they contain messages, threats or repeated hang ups; keep all letters, gifts and other correspondence. Keep a log of drive-bys or any suspicious occurrences.
If you decide to take legal action to stop harassing behavior contact the Athens-Clarke County Magistrate Court at 613-3310. A police report has to be filed prior to documenting harassing behavior and the ACC Police Department can be reached at 613-3330.
Look for and consider joining a stalking victims' support group. This can enforce that you are not alone in this situation and hear from other survivors that you do have options and can regain control of your life.
-- Safe Campuses Now
What police say:
Both University and Athens-Clarke County police officials said most of their complaints on stalking are a result of domestic disputes within married or dating couples.
To improve victims' chances of getting rid of stalkers as soon as possible, they should tell either the local police, a family member or a trusted friend.
Williamson said stalking victims should change their routes, be less predictable in their daily activities and try to be with another person at all times.
"When things don't work, we urge them to prosecute," he said.
ACC Police can be contacted at 613-3330 and University Police can be contacted at 542-2200.
What is Lahnmann's life like today?
Before this past winter break, Lahnmann was speaking on her cell phone with her sister in Chicago when Joe called her sister's house.
During that time, he overheard Lahnmann's sister speaking with her.
When Lahnmann went back to Chicago over the break, she said he called her home four times and left messages.
She said she did not speak with him or meet with him when he called, but that he still wants to marry her, as he said in his messages.
"I think it's ridiculous," Lahnmann said.