Viewers of the 2017 miniseries “Law & Order True Crime” and/or readers of Chapter 49 (“More Family Secrets Revealed”) of Robert Rand’s 2018 book, “The Menendez Murders”, will be familiar with the allegation that Jose Menendez was sexually abused as a child by his mother, Maria Menendez.
One of the last scenes in “Law & Order” depicts Jose’s sister, Marta Cano, telling defense attorney Leslie Abramson that Jose was sexually abused as a child by his mother. The scene takes place on the day of sentencing (and Lyle’s first wedding) which was July 2, 1996. I have my doubts as to whether that scene is an accurate portrayal of events. After all, the immediate prior scene of a juror making statements to the press is inaccurate, and the authenticity of others scenes throughout the miniseries are also doubtful. In any event, Robert Rand’s book confirms that Marta Cano is the source behind the allegation, but it does not tell us when she first revealed it to anyone.
There were lengthy hearings in the first Menendez trial as to whether evidence of “intergenerational abuse” should be admitted into evidence. The judge ultimately denied the defense’s request to introduce it. While neither jury ever heard the evidence, there was testimony in the hearings from defense experts Drs. Ann Tyler, Ann Burgess, and John Conte about the background of both Jose and Kitty Menendez.
Dr. Tyler testified that Jose had been brought up in an abusive home, but “did not find” that Jose had been the victim of sexual abuse. Tyler followed up by saying, “He may have [been sexually abused]. I don’t have that information.” Tyler went on to explain that the reason she didn’t have any information about sexual abuse was because she didn’t get any such information from either Jose’s parents “or his siblings.”
Dr. Burgess testified she had no evidence to suggest that Jose grew up in an abusive home, nor did she have any evidence to suggest that he had been sexually abused as a child.
According to Robert Rand’s book, Marta Cano would meet with the defense experts during the first trial and provide them with information about her family’s background. However, as just demonstrated, these experts were not provided with information about sexual abuse of Jose.
Marta Cano was a defense witness at both Menendez trials. Her testimony in the first trial in 1993 was replete with examples of mistreatment of the Menendez brothers by their parents. That’s despite the fact that she had told Detective Zoeller in 1989 that the Menendez family was “close” and that she knew of no problems within the Menendez family. Marta Cano insisted she didn’t lie to Detective Zoeller. She stated in court that, “One thing is to lie and one thing is to omit.” And, “I omitted certain issues of the truth.” She stated that in the past she had been trying to paint a rosy but untrue picture of Jose, but insisted that “Now I’m saying the truth.”
If Marta Cano’s inclination to “omit certain issues of the truth” was long gone by 1993, as she swore it was, why did she not tell the defense experts about her mother’s sexual abuse of Jose? Was it because it was too embarrassing to reveal? Or because she feared how her mother would react? Or because the sexual abuse of Jose never happened and the allegation had yet to be invented? Or for some other reason? Judge for yourself.
IF Jose Menendez was the victim of sexual abuse does that mean he would became an abuser himself?
Statistics regarding what percentage of sexually abused children become abusers themselves vary great. Dr. Ann Tyler testified that she conducted a two-and-a-half year study of sexual abuse perpetrators and found that “94% of the perpetrators had come from an abusive home.” (It’s unclear whether “an abusive home” includes other forms of abuse besides sexual abuse.)
Other studies have found significantly different results. A 2003 study found that among 224 adult male victims of child sexual abuse, 26 of the 224 victims (12%) later committed sexual offenses themselves. The study was conducted through a search of arrest and prosecution records to determine the 224 victims’ later criminal activity.
Ann Tyler’s study and the 2003 study might be the extremes. In other studies the percentage ranges anywhere in between.
Percentages aside, Dr. Tyler testified that, “A history of abuse is often repeated.” However, she also said that, “Because a person has a history of abuse, or witnessing abuse, does not predict that that individual will tolerate or actively perpetrate.”