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TW: Sexual Assault


With movies and TV shows about serial killers starring hot actors, such as Zac Efron and Ross Lynch, it’s no wonder why Gen Z seems to have a new affliction for murder mysteries. Recently, a case from the 80s featuring an attractive pair of brothers has created new waves on TikTok. Enter: The Menendez Brothers. For those who don’t know, Lyle and Erik Menendez were convicted and found guilty for the shotgun-style double murder of their parents. These murders rocked the world. For starters, the brothers grew up living a life of luxury in affluent Beverly Hills. On the outside, they lived the perfect life and were on track to be successful young men. At the time of the murders, Erik was 18 and Lyle was 21. Erik immediately caught the media’s attention with his good looks. The case seemed fairly cut and dry, two spoiled rich kids killed their parents to cash in on an immensely large life insurance policy. However, as the case progressed, horrifying details emerged. Lyle and Erik described a life of both verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of their father. The boys described in painful detail the years of sexual abuse they had endured, the abuse they say their mother was fully aware of. On the stand, they broke down and sobbed as they discussed the way in which they killed their parents out of self-defense after years of torture that had left them paranoid and in fear of their lives. After a mistrial, and then another trial, the brothers were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Enter: Generation Z.

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It’s no secret that Gen Z loves to campaign for those treated unfairly by the justice system, and social media has made it even easier to do so. Over the past few months, The Menendez case has found new life on TikTok. For the most part, this originally happened due to swarms of teenage girls swooning over a young Erik Menendez. As TikTok became filled with fan edits about how attractive he was, others began to take notice. This wave of interest caused many people to look into the facts of the case in an effort to understand what really happened. So far, the reaction from Gen Z on the internet has been decidedly in favor of proving the brother’s innocence. After hearing the stories of abuse they suffered, which was beyond horrific, many people were able to understand that this might have been an act of self-defense. But why does Gen Z have more sympathy in comparison to older generations who decided they were completely guilty many years ago? In the 80s and early 90s, stories of male sexual abuse and/or rape were EXTREMELY uncommon. It seemed like something that just didn’t happen, especially at the hands of parents. In fact, during the second round of trials, the judge didn’t even allow evidence regarding the sexual abuse to be included. Because of ideologies during this time period, Erik and Lyle’s story just didn’t seem believable. Fast forward to recent years, partly due to media, these stories of sexual assault are known to be very real and are now covered on a much larger scale. Gen Z has grown up with more compassion for these topics and has a completely different approach to discussing the issue. We believe the victims and validate their stories, but this was not always the case. Understanding these different perspectives is crucial to fully understand why this case has been so polarizing for so many years. 

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While we might never know the truth of what really happened between the Menendez family, we do know that anything is possible. It’s hard to say if the case will ever be revisited, but it’s clear that social media and younger generations have the power to make anything a “trend” on Twitter. Going forward, we should all use this power for good as we know the road to criminal justice reform is a long one.

Caroline Harrington

U Mass Amherst '24

Caroline is a Communications major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has a passion for writing and loves to tell her stories. Outside of Her Campus, Caroline likes to spend her time with friends creating memories and spending time at her hometown beach. She is passionate about helping others and loves to write about all things wellness, fashion, and life.
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