The Incredible Case of Genie Wiley

Leslie Nunez, Staff Writer

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On November 4, 1970, one of the worst child abuse cases in the US came to light. The child’s name was Genie Wiley.

Wiley’s case was discovered by a Los Angeles county welfare office when she was 13.
According to Rory Carroll from The Guardian, Wiley walked strangely and held her hands up like a rabbit. Social workers believed she was about nine due to her weight and height, but were shocked to learn that she was 13. Social workers also discovered that Genie had an older brother, John Wiley, who was also abused by their father, Clark Wiley. Carroll added that in speaking with social workers, John Wiley described the home as a “concentration camp.”

According to Brad Smithfield of The Vintage News, “Clark Wiley believed that his daughter was mentally retarded and decided to lock her away.” Her father hated children and noise. Smithfield added that when she could finally describe her father’s cruelty she said, “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.”

Doctors discovered that Genie could only speak about 20 words despite being 13, which caught the attention of many scientists, especially linguistics. As a result of this discovery, Genie was a much sought after research subject on language acquisition, the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language. Although researchers hoped for her to acquire language once she received instruction, Genie had passed her critical period for language acquisition.

According to linguist Eric Lenneberg, this is a period of time where a skill is believed to be most rapidly acquired. Genie wouldn’t be able to fully acquire language.

The story of Genie Wiley, a woman who today is 61 and lives in an adult care home, is one of the saddest stories ever told of a feral child.

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