Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Internet Assisted Suicide - The Story of Sharon Lopatka

A Psychological and Historical Perspective

Portrait of Dr. Richard von Kraftt-Ebing (Courtesy of the Archiv und Bibliothet des Schwelen Museums, Berlin)
Portrait of Dr. Richard von
Kraftt-Ebing
(Courtesy of the Archiv und
Bibliothet des Schwelen
Museums, Berlin)
Sharons death and the publicity surrounding the case led to an increased interest in understanding deviant sexual behaviors, especially sadism, masochism and the use of asphyxia during sexual intercourse. Psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing first coined the terms sadist and masochist to describe behavior in which sexual arousal was achieved through the infliction or reception of pain.

According to Rebers Dictionary of Psychology, sadism is the association of sexual pleasure with the inflicting of physical and psychic pain upon another, including humiliation, exploitation and debasement. Masochism refers to any tendency to direct that which is destructive, painful or humiliating against oneself. Psychologist Sigmund Freud was the first to combine the two terms into sadomasochism in an attempt to emphasize the reciprocity of the use of pain during sexual intercourse (Des de Moor, 1997).

A controversial form of deviant sexual play practiced by some sadomasochists involves the use of strangulation. Sexual strangulation is referred to by the psychological community as a form of asphyxiophilia. Asphyxiophilia refers to the general practice of controlling or restricting oxygen to the brain by interfering with the breath directly or through pressure on the carotid arteries in order to achieve sexual gratification (The Deviants Dictionary, 1997). Often, the hands or a tourniquet of some sort is tied around the throat during sexual intercourse or masturbation to achieve a feeling of euphoria and elation, which accompanies a lack of oxygen to the brain. Supposedly, this can increase the intensity of an orgasm.

According to The Deviants Dictionary, sexual strangulation practiced with a partner is a form of edge play, in which ones life is literally in the hands of another. Supposedly, the thrill lay in the danger and vulnerability associated with the activity. However, there have been cases in which such edge play had resulted in an unintentional death. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 250 deaths occur every year in the United States involving strangulation or chokeholds during sexual activity. A large majority of these deaths have occurred during auto-erotic asphyxiation, in which one restricts ones own oxygen during masturbation or solo play. Jay Wiseman of the Society for Human Sexuality says that only a few of those cases resulting in a death, due to strangulation or chokeholds, have involved sexual play with a partner.

There are many theories to explain why some people participate in deviant sexual behavior such as sexual strangulation. One theory suggests that deprivation of normal social sexual contact or childhood trauma cause such behaviors (Nathan, Gorman and Salkind, 1999). There are also theories based on physiological causes of deviant sexual behavior that focus on the relationship between sexual hormones and the central nervous system (Psychology Today, 1999). Currently, there is no evidence that suggests that either Sharon or Bobby suffered from early childhood trauma, abnormal sexual experiences or hormonal dysfunction.

What makes their case exceptional is that Sharon ventured into the relationship with one apparent intention to die. Thus, Sharon was a suicidal masochist. However, she was not the first in history to seek out a willing participant who would fulfill a request to be strangled to death for sexual gratification.

Knud R. Joergensen wrote in 1995 about the 1791 case of composer Franz Kotzwara who enlisted the help of a London prostitute, Susannah Hill, to assist him with his bizarre wish. After paying Hill two shillings, Kotzwara asked her to cut off his genitalia a request the prostitute refused. Yet, Hill did agree to fulfill Kotzwaras sexual wish of strangling himself with a rope. It was the first documented case of death by sexual strangulation. Hill was eventually arrested for Kotzwaras murder, but later acquitted when authorities learned that she was more or less an innocent bystander, unlike Bobby Glass, who more than 200 years later faced first-degree murder charges for the sexual strangulation death of Sharon Lopatka. The charge was eventually reduced to voluntary manslaughter.

Mugshot of Bobby Glass (News-Topic, Lenoir, N.C.)
Mugshot of Bobby
Glass
(News-Topic, Lenoir,
N.C.)
The case against Bobby Glass stretched on for three years following several lengthy delays. On January 27, 2000, Bobby pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, as well as six counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. The latter charges resulted from the pornographic material found on Bobbys computer. Bobby was sentenced to 36 to 53 months in prison for the manslaughter of Sharon Lopatka and 21 to 26 months for the possession of child pornography.

Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution (Dept. of Prisons, N.C.)
Avery-Mitchell Correctional
Institution
(Dept. of Prisons, N.C.)
He was sent to Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution in North Carolina. On February 20, 2002, two weeks before his release, Bobby Glass had a heart attack. He was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m. at Spruce Pine Community Hospital in North Carolina.

 

 

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