Genie Wiley (pseudonym) was the shocking story of the 1970’s. A girl who spent her entire childhood locked in the bedroom. Raised in extreme isolation, Genie was a wild child: uncivilized, barely able to talk or walk, still wearing diapers, albeit being almost 14 years old. The indications showed she was being beaten from making the noise.
Upon finding that Genie had not yet learned a language, psychologists and linguists devoted a great deal of attention on Genie’s case, seeing an opportunity to study the development of human language and behavior.
When a doctor informed Genie’s parents, Dorothy and Clark Wiley, their daughter might have been mildly retarded and should be taken care of, Clark Wiley took the advice to the extreme. Genie, whose birth name was Susan, was kept isolated in a dark bedroom, locked in her bed surrounded by chicken-wire at night, strapped to a potty chair during the day.
When Genie was discovered by the social workers, she couldn’t walk or talk, had abnormal reactions, such as the inability to chew food. Furthermore, she was still wearing diapers, had compulsive silence and inappropriate sexual behavior.
The investigators concluded the mastermind behind Genie’s abuse was his father, Clark Wiley. His wife Dorothy claimed, she too was a victim of a violent psychopath. Shortly after the discovery, Clark Wiley shot and killed himself. The suicide only added more interest in Genie’s case.
Like other children who have suffered from extreme isolation, Genie seemed to be disconnected from certain bodily sensations. Her temporary foster parents noticed when she was allowed to run her own bathwater, it was ice cold, which didn’t seem to make any difference to her. The scientists theorize sensitivity to temperature is very much influenced by our life experiences, Genie never experienced the warmth of loving parents. It’s possible that our sensitivity to temperature come from nurture, not from nature.
Genie, Secret of the Wild Child is a beautiful an hour long documentary about Genie’s life, linguistic and physical development and progress.
It is very little known about Genie Wiley’s present condition. She is living in an adult-care home somewhere in California. The reports say she is happy and that she communicates with the sign language. It’s best for her health and future to be left alone.
While Genie’s case has been very well documented and is one of the most famous examples of feral children, there are more: Victor of Aveyron (1797, France), Kaspar Hauser (~1812, Germany), Peter the Wild Boy (1725, Germany), Marie-Angelique Memmie le Blanc (1732, France), Oxana Malaya (1990, Ukraine), Danielle Crockett/Lierow (2005, USA).
Oxana Malaya was an 8-year-old wild child found in Ukraine, in 1991. She spent most of her life with dogs and picked up a number of dog-like habits and found it difficult to master a language. Her parents, who were drug addicts, expelled her from home at the age of 3. She took refuge in a shed with dogs, where she bonded with them. When social workers tried to rescue her, they were having difficulties to overcome the protective dogs. Oxana found extremely difficult to acquire social and emotional skills, she growled, barked, walked on all fours and crouched just like a dog. She also had developed extremely good senses of hearing, smell, and sight.
Eventually, Oxana taught to subdue her dog-like behavior and managed to acquire a language, despite remaining somewhat intellectually impaired.