It has been nearly 30 years since Lyle and Erik Menendez worked together to murder their parents, but the case is still fresh in the minds of many who watched their sensationalized trial on TV in 1993. Although the men admitted to their crimes, they alleged that they felt like they had to kill their parents because of a childhood filled with sexual assault.
While nothing can excuse the violence acts they committed, the fact is that their case highlights both the fact that many child victims are too scared to come forward and that they often aren’t believed.
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During their trial, both brothers indicated that the reason they murdered both their mother and father was that they had both been sexually abused.
Lyle, the older brother, alleged that starting at age 7 his father would come into his bedroom at night and touch his genitals, insert foreign objects into his rectum, force him to perform oral sex, and rape him. In addition to this, he also stated that his mother also abused him, bathing him by hand and touching him inappropriately until he was 13 years old, calling him into her bed and requesting that he touch her “everywhere”, and that she would walk around naked in front of him, asking him to critique her body.
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He noted that this behavior was so normal to him that he himself began to emulate his father and that he abused his younger brother.
Erik also alleges that their father sexually assaulted him starting at age six. In addition to this, he reported that his father also punched and belt whipped them on a regular basis.
Their story was confirmed by at least one family member who testified on their behalf and neighbors of the family also reported some very disturbing behavior that likely should have raised red flags, which, if someone had reported, likely would have saved the men from continued abuse.
Diane Vander Molen, the cousin of the brothers, testified on their behalf during the trial. She told the jury that when she was 17 years old, Lyle, who was 8 at the time, came into her room and asked if he could sleep in the other twin bed in the room. When she asked him why, he told her that his father was touching his private parts at night and he was too scared to sleep in his own bed.
She was so disturbed by what he said that she told their mother, who pulled him out of the extra bed. She said after that, she never heard another word about the matter and hoped that their mother had handled the situation. But in an interview with ABC, she stated that “In hindsight, I wish that I would have been stronger about what Lyle was telling me so that I could have done something to help them.”
A neighbor of the family, who was interviewed shortly after the murders, indicated that their mother was a drug addict who often behaved bizarrely and that during dinner with friends, child pornography had been passed around. Yet not one of the dinner guests reported them.
Assuming that these allegations are true, what this shows is an environment and community that should have stepped up to protect innocent children but failed to.
There are many reasons that the victims of child sexual abuse don’t speak up. Typically, this includes:
It’s hardly surprising that after years of serious abuse and the belief that their father would kill them if they ever reported the crime, that these men took matters into their own hands. It’s well known the long-lasting psychological impact that abuse can have on a child and many who didn’t receive the help that they need suffer from:
This is why it is important to continually raise awareness about child abuse, victim-blaming, and the support systems that exist to help survivors. No child should have to continue suffering because someone failed to report that they learned of a situation that needs to be investigated further.
Sadly, many cases go unreported simply because people believe that the adults involved couldn’t possibly do “something like that.” But the fact is, that abuse happens in the homes of both the rich and the poor, of every culture, every religion, and every education level.