Tortured, starved, alone: Genie, the tragic story of a feral child

Goran Blazeski
 
 
 
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Imagine yourself trapped in a world where no one wants to talk to you or listen to your words. A world where no one cares for you, where everything seems distant, dark, and strange. The world of a feral child.

While most of us grew up with fascinating stories about feral children such as Mowgli or Tarzan, there are children who never heard of such childhood heroes, spending their early years totally unaware of human social behavior or language.

The world does not lack real life stories of feral children and this has been our reality since ancient times. There are cases of children living with animals far away from civilization, but the stories of the  children isolated from the rest of the world while being abused by their own parents are the most heart-breaking.

The abuse experienced by these children is so shocking that even the toughest among us might blink back tears. Out of the many examples of feral children, there is one that is considered by many to be the saddest: a girl nicknamed “Genie.”

The story of Genie first came to light on November 4, 1970, when her mother brought her into a welfare office in Los Angeles, claiming that they’d both been abused and tortured by the father of the girl.

The first publicly released picture of Genie, taken just after California authorities took control of her care at the age of 13. By UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections, Fair use,

At first, social workers were positive that the girl couldn’t be more than seven years old. They were stunned to find out that she was actually 13 years old, and informed the police about the case. What was soon revealed would shock even those who worked for decades as social workers.

The little girl weighed just 59 pounds and walked strangely, holding up her hands like a rabbit. She could speak no more than 20 words or phrases, including mother, go, orange, stop it, and no more. It was revealed that she had been confined to a small room for as long as 10 years, but what was worse, she spent most of the 10 years tied to a potty chair by her abusive father who often beat her if she made even for the slightest noise. In order to protect her identity and privacy, social workers nicknamed her Genie. In the history of the United States, there has never been a case of social isolation as cruel as the one they witnessed in the fall of 1970.

Clark Wiley, Genie’s mentally ill father, hated two things: children and noise. Genie was not the first of his children to be abused by him as two of the Wileys four children had died even before Genie was born. Apart from Genie, John, her older brother, also managed to survive the horrors and the abuse of their father, describing the family home to social workers as a “concentration camp.”

Genie at the age of 14.  Source by Nova (TV series)

Clark Wiley believed that his daughter was mentally retarded and decided to lock her away, never allowing Genie’s mother and brother to speak a word to her. The perpetually hungry child was mostly given baby food, cereal, eggs, and water. Her mother would sometimes sneak out of the bedroom when Genie’s father was asleep and attempt to give her food, but the girl could hardly chew and swallow.

After the intervention of the Child Protective Service, a team of experts was formed with the goal to challenge her mental abilities. It was clear that the trauma she experienced would remain with her for the rest of her life, but they also discovered that Genie was a very intelligent child and she quickly learned how to express herself.

She was finally able to describe her father’s cruelty by 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. Father is dead.”

The research project proved to be too controversial. Genie had a series of foster parents, including the head of the research team, and in some cases she again experienced abuse. Nonetheless, perhaps the biggest mistake was sending her at the age of 18 to live with her mother in the home where she spent her nightmarish childhood. As you might guess, this didn’t work, and Genie eventually was sent back to a foster home.

Read another story from us: The Harpe brothers: The first recorded serial killers in the United States

No one knows exactly where is she today, but ABCNEWS.com reported that she has been living in a privately run facility.