Feral children stories are rarely happy ones, but few are as sad and horrifying as the tale of Genie Wiley. She was isolated, abused, and never fully learned to speak, and all attempts to help her learn eventually failed. Her case taught us so much about the consequences of child abuse, as well as language learning and child psychology. However, many have questioned how she was treated in her life, and whether there was anything else we could have done to save her.
Few facts about Genie Wiley are cheery ones. Even as an infant, her life was a wasteland of neglect and abuse at the hands of her father. After she was finally rescued in 1970, her life was still a constant struggle of confusion, stress, and eventually further abuse. Her tale as an unusual feral child is a fascinating, but also a deeply disturbing one.
Be aware that some of the content you will read here is graphic and distressing. And, unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending.
Her Family Locked Her In A Basement And Ignored Her
The story of this child, born in southern California, is one that will stick with you forever. When Genie, as researchers have called her, was an infant, she was diagnosed with some form of mental delay. After this, she pretty much vanished from public view entirely, for very disturbing reasons.
When her father's mother died, he snapped. He quit his job, began to hide the family from the world at large, and began to mistreat his children, especially Genie. Because her father felt disdain for her, perhaps because she was frail and a little slow as a baby, he began to isolate her from not only the outside world, but from the family as well. He discouraged his wife and the other children from speaking with her, and eventually locked her in a room with no sunlight. When this was not enough for him, he confined her to the basement. He would only speak with her to bark at her or growl at her, and refused to interact with her in any way. She was rarely fed or given water, and had no interaction with the outside world at all. This was her life for more than a decade.
She Was Viciously Beaten
Isolation was not Genie's only problem. She was punished for making noise or for acting out, especially around feeding time. If she had trouble chewing or swallowing her food when fed, her father would shove her face into the food, and refuse to feed her any more. If she attempted to make sound to communicate, she was beaten with a large wooden board until she was again silent. At one point, her father even hit her with a baseball bat, all before she was even twelve years old.
Even as she approached her teen years, Genie remained isolated and was treated like an animal. She was often dirty and unbathed, so in order to keep her from making a mess, her father would tie her to a potty chair, so she could relieve her bowels somewhere other than the floor. He would then leave her like this for days and days on end. He kept her from escaping by creating a make-shift straightjacket that she wore at nearly all times. When she was not tied to the chair, she was confined in a sleeping bag or in a crib. Inappropriate sexual behavior later observed by researchers suggests she may have been sexually abused as well.
Most Of Her Siblings Died From Neglect
Unfortunately, Genie was not the only one to suffer this kind of heinous abuse. Genie's father had never wanted kids, and disliked them immensely. Even with this intense dislike, he had four children with his wife, and began to mistreat all of them little by little. First, he started to beat his wife, and did not allow her to leave the house. These beatings became so severe that she was left partially blind.
When she became pregnant and had their first child, a daughter, he began to show signs of aversion to sound. When the baby cried, he found it disturbing, so he put the baby in the garage, where it caught pneumonia and died shortly after. Their second child, a boy, was born with a birth defect, and died at only two years of age due to severe neglect. They had one more son, named John, who had Rh incompatibility but survived and remained healthy. He was raised partially by his grandparents, but still was forced to be quiet, due to his father's hatred of sound. Then, Genie was finally born into an already horrifying and abusive home.
She Wasn't Rescued Until She Was Thirteen
While her mother was hardly the best parent, it was her mother's actions that eventually did save her. Genie's mom had attempted to interact with the child when she could, but suffered such severe beatings that she was not able. She also attempted to give Genie extra food, but the girl was often unable to eat. No one was allowed to leave the house, except for Genie's brother to go to school, but one day, after an argument, Genie's mother decided to run.
She took Genie and left one day while her husband was out of the house. Because she was blind, Genie's mother decided to try to get aid for the blind, but accidentally went to the social services office by mistake. Instantly, a social service worker noticed that something was severely wrong with Genie. She looked like she was about six or seven years old, but she was really thirteen. The social service workers contacted the police, and took Genie into custody, where she quickly became a ward of the state.