Genie Wiley

History Uncovered Episode 36:
Genie Wiley, The ‘Feral Child’

Published September 29, 2023

In one of the most infamous cases of child abuse in modern American history, Genie Wiley was isolated and terrorized for 13 years before she was finally rescued from her father's horrifying clutches.

In October 1970, a woman walked into a Los Angeles welfare office with a child at her side. The woman had walked into the wrong room — she was looking for services for the blind — but the girl who was with her caught the welfare workers’ attention. They didn’t know it yet, but one of the worst victims of child abuse in U.S. history had just walked through their door.

The girl, who appeared to be seven or eight years old, was actually 13, but clearly malnourished and undersized. She had a fluttering, unfocused gaze, she couldn’t speak, and she walked only in a strange bunny hop.

Soon, authorities discovered that this girl — since given the alias Genie Wiley in case files — had spent most of her life up until that point bound and locked away in isolation, either chained to a training toilet or confined in a crib-like cage. From the time she was an infant, her father had subjected her to this severe abuse; meanwhile, her mother simply ignored it.

Genie Wiley The Feral Child

Wikimedia CommonsGenie Wiley was returned to foster care after the research on her ended. She regressed in these environments and never regained speech.

Believing Genie to be mentally disabled, her father locked her away and forbade anyone from engaging with her in any way. He tied her naked to a potty chair or threw her into a crib covered with chicken wire. Genie’s father deprived her of stimulation or affection, beat her with a wooden board, and fed her only milk or Pablum, a processed cereal for babies.

After welfare workers rescued her, Genie became a case study for researchers at UCLA’s Children’s Hospital. They studied how the abuse had impacted her, attempted to see if she had the capability to learn and speak, and began to care deeply for this fragile teenager.

Eventually, Genie the “feral child” started to get better. She even started communicating in halting, choppy phrases about her abusive father, saying:

“Father hit arm. Big wood. Genie cry… Not spit. Father. Hit face — spit. Father hit big stick. Father is angry. Father hit Genie big stick. Father take piece wood hit. Cry. Father make me cry.”

But these years in the hands of researchers and doctors offered only a reprieve — not an escape — from the nightmare that was Genie’s life. Eventually, conflict would tear her care team apart and Genie would be sent to foster care, then to adult home care. Today, she’s a ward of the state of California, her whereabouts and condition unknown to the public.

Discover the full story behind the tragic life of Genie Wiley.

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