Genie Wiley, known as the "Feral Child," was subjected to extreme neglect for 13 years, during which she was confined to a chair and shackled in a makeshift straitjacket. While her case allowed researchers to conduct a rare study on human development and behavior, it came at a high cost for Genie herself.
In 1970, the Los Angeles child welfare authorities were alerted to the case of "Genie," a 13-year-old American Feral Child who had been severely abused, neglected, and isolated. "Genie" was actually a pseudonym for the victim, whose real name was Susan Wiley and was born in 1957.
What Does Feral Child Mean?
The term "Feral Child" or "Wild Child" refers to a human child who has been isolated from human contact and has had little or no experience of human care, behavior, or language. There are various explanations for how a child might become feral, including accidental isolation, circumstances of fate, or intentional abuse and neglect.
One of the first known English accounts of a feral child is that of John of Liège, a boy who was believed to have spent much of his childhood isolated in the Belgian wilderness.
Genie Wiley The Feral Child
When Genie Wiley was only 20 months old, her father, Mr. Clark Wiley, began to keep her locked in a basement that was little more than a makeshift cage. She spent much of her time in a cold, dark room, either strapped to a child's toilet or bound to a crib with her arms and legs paralyzed.
For a long time, Genie was completely isolated and not allowed to interact with anyone, including her family members. She was also deprived of any stimuli, which prevented her from being exposed to any form of speech. As a result, she did not acquire human language or behaviors during her childhood.
"Genie Wiley, The Feral Child," suffered from severe malnutrition due to her father's lack of proper care. This extreme example of cruelty and insensitivity contributed to the enhancement of knowledge in linguistics and abnormal child psychology.
Psychologists, linguists, and other scientists initially had the opportunity to study Genie Wiley's case. Upon realizing that she had not learned any language, the linguists began to gain a deeper understanding of the processes controlling language acquisition and to test theories and hypotheses about critical periods for language learning in humans.
Despite the efforts of the researchers, it took months for Genie to start communicating through exceptional nonverbal skills and gradually develop basic social skills. However, she never fully acquired a first language and continued to exhibit many behavioral traits and characteristics of an unsocialized person.
Genie Wikey's Walk Was Described As A 'Bunny Hop'
Initially, authorities arranged for Genie to be admitted to the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, where she was cared for by a team of physicians and psychologists for several months. However, her subsequent living arrangements became the subject of controversy.
In June 1971, Genie was released from the hospital to live with her teacher, but a month and a half later, authorities moved her to the family of the scientist leading the research on her. She lived there for nearly four years. When Genie turned 18, she returned to live with her mother. However, her mother soon realized that she was unable to properly care for Genie due to her unusual behaviors and needs.
After a few months, authorities moved Genie into the first of several institutions for disabled adults, where she was cut off from almost everyone she knew and subjected to extreme physical and emotional abuse. This caused her physical and mental health to deteriorate and her newly acquired language and behavioral skills to rapidly regress.
In January 1978, Genie Wiley's mother forbade any further scientific observations or testing of Genie. Little is known about her circumstances since then, and her current whereabouts are uncertain. It is believed that she is living in the care of the state of California.
For years, psychologists and linguists have continued to discuss and study Genie Wiley's case, and there is significant academic and media interest in her development and the methods or ethics of the scientific research on her. In particular, scientists have compared her to Victor of Aveyron, a 19th-century French child who was also the subject of a case study on delayed psychological development and late language acquisition.
Here's How Genie Wiley's Family Background Pushed Her Life Into Misery
Genie was the last of four children born to her parents, who lived in Arcadia, California. Her father had grown up in orphanages in the Pacific Northwest and worked in an aviation factory until his death from a lightning strike. Her mother was from an Oklahoma farming family and had come to southern California as a teenager with family friends escaping the Dust Bowl.
During her early childhood, Genie's mother sustained a severe head injury in an accident that resulted in lingering neurological damage and degenerative vision problems in one eye. She was legally blind, and claimed that this was why she felt unable to intervene on her daughter's behalf when she was abused.
Although Genie's parents initially appeared happy to those who knew them, Mr. Wiley soon began to prevent his wife from leaving home and increasingly beat her with greater severity.
Mr. Wiley's mother had given him a feminine first name, which made him the target of constant ridicule. This caused him to harbor extreme resentment toward his mother during childhood, which Genie's brother and the scientists who studied her believed was the root cause of his subsequent anger and resulting abuse and neglect of his own daughter.