Genie- The Feral Child

It’s hard to believe that human beings can be classed as “feral”, but there have been a few isolated incidences where this was indeed the case.

One of the most famous, is the story of Genie, a pseudonym used to protect the true identity of a severely neglected 13-year-old girl who had been so isolated, she had no understanding of how to be a human being. In November 1970, Genie’s mother took her on an outing to Temple City in California to claim her disability benefits for her blindness. This is when she entered the wrong building: The Social Services office. Directing the meek, malnourished girl and her mother to the right building, a social worker became immediately concerned upon discovering that she was 13 years old. After all, she looked to be about 6 or 7 and could barely speak. She was overly timid, walked on four legs, and couldn’t speak any English. It was almost as if she had been raised by wolves. Taking the mother and child into an office for a “chat”, the building’s supervisor secretly contacted the police. Moments later, Dorothy Irene Wiley was arrested and “Genie” was placed in the care of the state. A car was sent to the Wiley household and Clark Wiley was arrested too. As it turned out, Genie wasn’t raised by animals, as seen in other cases, but was the victim of something much worse.

Genie’s mother, a nearly blind elderly woman, claimed to be a victim herself. She blamed Genie’s father for much of the abuse. When Genie was a baby, her father decided she was ‘retarded’ and kept her in isolation.

When investigators arrived at the Wiley household, a feeling of uneasiness crept over them. All the windows and blinds were shut and hadn’t been touched in years. The house was dingy, grimy, and had a stale odour to it. This is where Genie had spent her life, and the horrendous abuse had spanned over a decade. When she was born in 1957, her father decided to keep her socially and physically isolated. During this time, he kept her permanently strapped to a child’s toilet or bound her in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilised. Nobody was allowed to interact with her and she had no stimulation of any kind. She was also severely malnourished, and along with her numerous vitamin deficiencies, this made her extremely prepubescent.

Her cruel, abusive father, Clark Wiley, had lived his life resenting humankind ever since his father was killed by a lightning strike. His mother, who ran a brothel, barely saw him and he grew up in the orphanages of the Pacific Northwest. When he was born, his mother called him Pearl, a name that would see him severely bullied all throughout his childhood. When he was of age, he promptly changed it. He went on to marry Dorothy and they had four children, with only two surviving past childhood. The eldest child died due to Clark’s neglect and the second child’s death, only two days old, “choking on his own mucus” is regarded as highly suspicious by many.

When Genie, born Susan, was taken to the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital for assessment, she was almost blinded by the sunlight, and struggled to walk upright. Eventually, psychologists and language experts began to look after Genie. During her years of abuse, she was only allowed to eat baby food, and doctors found she had great difficulty chewing and swallowing normal food. She became distressed whenever she saw food and meals had to be blended. Although she was very shy, Genie was highly antisocial, and proved extremely difficult for others to control. Regardless of where she was, she constantly salivated, spat, and growled at others. She had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or taking something she wanted from someone else. In addition, she had no situational awareness. Doctors wrote that she acted on impulse irrespective of the setting, especially noting that she frequently engaged in open masturbation and would sometimes attempt to involve older men which begged the question, did her own father abuse her in other ways?

After living in several foster homes and specialised hospitals, Genie made some improvements. She had minimal manners and social etiquette. She could speak a few words and showed a wide array of human emotions. Her case is key in understanding human behaviour and holds a great deal of scientific value. Today, Genie is in her late 50s and is still being cared for by professionals and psychologists. She has improved a great deal, but will always remain “feral” according to experts.

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One thought on “Genie- The Feral Child

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  1. there should be A LOT more about the systemic abuse she faced in hospitals, bit too summarized as the story is more and more interesting when you learn how badly she was treated even by the people who “rescued” her

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