- One of the most cruel instances of social isolation in the American history.
- Father determined she was mentally retarded and locked her up in one of the family’s bedrooms where she spent her entire childhood.
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.
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.
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 drug-addicted parents expelled her from home at the age of three and she took refuge in a shed where she bonded with dogs. When social workers tried to rescue her, they were having difficulties to overcome the over-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.
And the case of 13-year-old Zhenya Barsukov of Nizhny Novgorod who media referred to “Mowgli”, or “The Dog Boy”. His alcoholic parents simply didn’t care and barely even noticed him. The authorities found him covered in bruises, struggling to survive and could only say the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and ate with his hands or from the floor.
He didn’t go to school or left the house. The boy was taken away from his parents and put to a psychiatric hospital where they discovered a severe mental retardation. He is doing better, but it’s a long road ahead on the way back to a normal life.
While Genie’s case was very well documented and is one of the most famous examples of feral children, throughout the history the popular one are: 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) is one of the stories worth investigating if you are intrigued by Genie.