Genie Wiley: The Feral Child Subjected To Extreme Isolation And Abuse
When it comes to feral children found in America, perhaps none of them have suffered as much cruelty as Genie Wiley. Born in 1957 near Los Angeles, she endured horrific abuse at the hands of her father Clark Wiley.
For 13 years, Clark kept Genie isolated in a room that was more akin to a prison cell. Most of the time, Genie was kept strapped into a toddler toilet, and sometimes she was even placed in an actual cage. When Clark wasn’t beating her with a plank of wood, he was growling at her like a rabid dog.
Most crucially, Genie had almost no interaction with anyone else but her immediate family during those formative years and was never allowed outside — until she and her mother Irene escaped the home in 1970. Since Irene was nearly blind, she would later claim that her disability prevented her from helping Genie while her daughter was being abused.
Shortly after fleeing the home, Irene accidentally walked into a Los Angeles social services office instead of an office that offered aid to the blind. Welfare workers took one look at Genie and immediately knew that she was in need of their help. At first, they thought that she might simply be autistic — but then they learned the grim truth about the feral child.
Child abuse cases were opened against both of Genie’s parents, but Irene was able to convince authorities to drop the case against her, claiming she was also a victim. As for Clark, he killed himself instead of facing his trial, leaving behind a note that read: “The world will never understand.”
What the National Institute of Mental Health desperately wanted to understand, however, was how extreme isolation in a person’s formative years shaped their lives. And a group of scientists was highly interested in finding out what part language has in a person’s development and vice versa. They saw Genie as a “blank slate” — an ideal opportunity for research.
So, from 1971 to 1975, Genie was subjected to scientific experimentation at the behest of the researchers. During this time, experts made some discoveries. For example, Genie disproved the theory that one could not learn a language after puberty (though she struggled with grammar).
However, many felt this experimentation was too rigorous to be ethical. Many of the scientists were also accused of having a conflict of interest, as she lived with many of them during the study. In 1979, her mother filed a lawsuit against the hospital and many of the scientists who had studied Genie, claiming that they exploited her for “prestige and profit.” The suit was settled in 1984, and Genie would cease all contact with the researchers.
Though Genie lived with her mother for a brief period, she was eventually placed in foster homes, some of which were abusive. These experiences caused her to regress, and she never recovered from the trauma — even when she was removed from the homes and reunited with her mother.
And while she is reportedly still alive today in an assisted living facility in Los Angeles, the 64-year-old is believed to be a mere shell of a person.