Local News

Unusual Sex Messages Are Commonplace In...

Posted November 1, 1996 12:00 a.m. EST

— The death of a woman police say was told by e-mail from a North Carolina man that he wanted to sexually torture and kill her was the end result of a scenario that many sexual abuse professionals say is commonplace in cyberspace.

Chat rooms on the Internet deal with almost every sexual proclivity known to man. Sex abuse professionals say some women, often abused as children, seek such abuse as adults. And Internet chat rooms, like the ones Mrs. Lopatka frequented, while providing a place to talk about their desires, also expose them to sexual predators.

The body of Sharon Lopatka was found buried in the yard of a Caldwell County, N.C., man who, according to court documents, had corresponded with her via computer about plans to sexually torture and kill her.

Dr. Alvin Cooper, director of the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Centre in California, and the author of a column on sexuality found on the World Wide Web, said the Internet is attracting people with a variety of fetishes to chat rooms. And, those chat rooms are attracting sexual predators.

``There's something about the way communication on the 'Net works that fosters a sense of intimacy, security, connection. You really feel you know the person,'' Cooper said.

``There definitely are predators lurking around and sexual predators who know these sites are going to pull in people with specific sex interests. And again, you don't have any sense of whether the person has any contact with reality or is really totally out there,'' Cooper said.

Mrs. Lopatka may have suffered from sexual masochism, said Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorder Clinic.

``We're not sure what causes it, but certainly in my clinical experience, all the women who are having these masochist cravings were themselves abused sexually during childhood,'' said Berlin. ``The feelings of sexual excitement can become confused with abuse.''

Mrs. Lopatka, 35, of Hampstead, was found Friday strangled to death near a mobile home owned by Robert Glass, who has been charged with killing her.

Glass, a 45-year-old computer systems analyst who separated from his wife this spring, told investigators that Mrs. Lopatka may have died during a sexual act in which a rope was tightened around her neck during intercourse.

Investigators believe they met in a sexually oriented ``talk group'' or ``chat room'' on the computer network.

Graphic e-mail messages found on Mrs. LoPatka's computer detail how the person she corresponded with planned to sexually torture and kill her, according to affidavits filed in the case.

Maryland State Police spokesman Mike McKelvin said it could take up to two weeks to investigate all of LoPatka's e-mail messages.

``Anywhere upwards of 100 messages were between her and Mr. Glass... ranging from less than a half a page to full pages, so there's a lot of work to do,'' McKelvin said.

``There were several messages where they were just talking to each other. Maybe less than half of them had anything to do with the crime,'' he said.

Internet use by women has increased dramatically in the past two years, said Bonnie Raindrop, co-owner of Doubleclick Publications, an on-line publishing firm where Mrs. Lopatka posted three World Wide Web pages for a business she ran from her home.

And many of those women, whose free time is consumed by work and family demands, are turning to the Internet as a social outlet, she said.

``People will disclose some pretty intimate things on e-mail and feel safe about that, and it can progress to a point where normal defenses are down,'' Ms. Raindrop said.

Cooper said the Internet can sometimes prevent people with problems from getting help.

``It gives the person enough of a relief for their unhappiness where they don't take any more progressive action, like seeing a therapist,'' Cooper said. ``They don't say `I need help because I feel like getting beat up.' They get onto these sites where people say `That's fine, that's great.'''

Cases of women seeking abuse are not unusual, said Lynn Reynolds, clinical director of The Institute Against Social Violence in New York, a for-profit clinic that works with abusers and victims.

Women who find themselves involved in abusive relationships often are trying to address abuse suffered during childhood, she said.

``This time as an adult she feels she can control what happens to her. She might deny the extent of the danger, which sounds amazing, but it's true,'' Reynolds said.

Lopatka's own motivations remain a mystery. Attempts to reach her husband were unsuccessful. One neighbor in the rural area 25 miles northwest of Baltimore said the couple kept to themselves.

By ALEX DOMINGUEZ,Associated Press WriterCopyright ©1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.