Genie: Secret of the Wild Child

Genie: Secret of the Wild Child

1997, Society  -   55 Comments
Ratings: 7.78/10 from 395 users.

This is an Emmy Award-winning documentary about a girl who spent her early life chained in a bedroom. Brought up in confinement, "Genie" was primitive, brutish, and hardly capable of walking or talking. NOVA follows the contentious attempts to unbolt the secret of the wild child who has reached near maturity in an agonizing seclusion with almost no human contact.

The story begins in Los Angeles on November 4, 1970, when authorities have taken under protection a thirteen-year-old girl that was kept in such solitude imposed by her parents that she never even learned to talk. The parents have been accused of child abuse.

Genie was imprisoned in a bedroom and bound to a potty chair for the most of her early life. Fully kept under control, she was made to sit alone every day and night. She had almost nothing to look at and no one to talk to for more than a decade. The girl allegedly was emitting immature noises and was still in diapers when social workers found about the case, but the officials were anticipating she may still possess a normal ability to learn.

The girl who gave an impression of an infant would be well known as "Genie." She was transported to Children's Hospital in Los Angeles where she instantly gained the affection of doctors and scientists. She was delicate, lovely and poignant... and Genie was about to put on trial an idea paramount to science and society: that caring, encouraging and affectionate environment could make up for even the most brutal past.

Genie had an awkward walk and other almost non-human features. She continuously spat, sniffed, and clawed. She hardly articulated anything or produced any noises. Investigation showed that she was abused for making noise and as a consequence, had learned, basically, not to vocalize. And she really didn't speak at all. She was mute most of the time.

More great documentaries

55 Comments / User Reviews

  1. heather

    wow that is so sad that she had went through that. Then for her mother to just get a pay day is unreal.

  2. jim

    And to make matters worse her mother, if you can call her a mother, walks away with a nice pay cheque.

    1. Sarah

      Wow so she won the law suit! Saying they were not there for her best interest. Lady she’s in this condition because of you and your ex. So let’s talk about who had her best interest! Certainly not her parents. She probably just saw a dollar sign then got rid of her. She made it so those people would never see her again just to further punish that poor child. And her first child froze to death in the garage while she was inside all nice and warm. That mother is a total sadist! No one could stand a day of there child in that environment never mind over a decade 🥺

  3. Gill Mahoney

    What was going on the Richters the couple who had her for a grant should have adopted her as family. There would be no way I would let her go if I had taken her on which I would have done. I educated my three children three years difference between each child, and taught all three at once. I dont know why someone didnt adopt her, someone with intelligence and common sense.

    1. Jane

      They did try to adopt her but unfortunately mum was still alive and had parental responsibility (which should've been removed by social services but for some reason it wasn't). Legally mum had the final say and wouldn't give permission for Genie to be adopted sadly

  4. Ghieza Mae Byron

    I think that there are things that you have to learn in early life in order to ever have the ability to do things. I remember reading something that said that if a baby never hears conversations until a certain age, then they can never learn to speak. I'm not sure if this is because she was punished for talking or that she never heard much conversation. It is almost like she became an animal, because there are certain things we consider to be human, most importantly our intelligence. What if you replaced the girl with an abused dog, would that mean it would not have any quality of life after it was in a loving and caring environment? I think it probably depends on the person.

  5. Ghieza Mae Byron

    poor child I cant believed what her parents did to her I'm so sad while watching this video.

  6. B Simmons

    any updates on her now?

    1. Alfonso

      She probably won't be able to talk since their were other known wild childs that as well weren't able to talk. Genie lives in an adult foster care home somewhere in southern California. Little is known about her present condition, although an anonymous individual hired a private investigator to track her down in 2000 and described her as happy. Which I think is unlikely I think all Genie needed was some love and affection from someone.

  7. Sean

    Who else is here from psychology?

    1. Nicole P

      I'm a psychologist, just watched this although I'd learned about the story long again. What strikes me now is how similar she seems to children with low functioning autism.

  8. Stef

    A lot of people stating that "she needed love before testing and therapy" don't realize that at that time, most people would not have known what to do with Genie as she was the first case America had ever seen of severe social isolation. Parents of that era were not as intuitive and in fact, were just newly coming into emotions and child psychology. Kids in prior generations were almost treated like little adults. So you can't really pin the blame on the scientists who took her in.

    Furthermore, as witnessed by those videos, these scientists contributed greatly to not only developing Genie's language and civility skills, but also her ability to form bonds of trust. She blossomed emotionally in their care, even as a research subject. She showed joy, expression, learned how to verbalize, even showed she had a sense of humor.

    Who really dropped the ball here was the NIMH. In determining that certain parameters weren't being met, they denied any further funding to the project, which led to Genie going back to her mother, and then being placed in a series of abusive foster homes. What Genie experienced was a break of trust that led to her developmental regression. She had an emotional bond with her researchers/therapists/foster parents, and that bond was broken when the grant was discontinued and she was forced to return to the scene of her abuse and then forced into new scenes of abuse. If this were you, would you lose trust in everyone around you? You definitely would! And you would regress to defensive behaviors, just as Genie did.

    She had been abused, was naive and trusting, and making strides in her development as part of the research project. People who had no idea what was going on made erroneous assumptions and destroyed her stability, and thus her progress.

    I'm not sure why anyone trusted her biological mother, especially in the case of a lawsuit. The woman didn't see fit to protect her own children from the horrors they experienced at the hands of her husband. She was mentally warped herself. Perhaps not maliciously, but her judgment could not be trusted. To even entertain the suit, much less award it, was also bad judgment on the part of the legal system. The video evidence of her progress is clear. The video evidence of her regression after broken trust and a return to abuse is also clear. Humans who imperiously thought they knew better than the people who worked with her daily are to blame.

    1. Donald Speicher III

      While this was a long time ago, it is seemingly stated that her mother got off scot free of any charges due to the fact that she could argue that the father was abusive towards herself.

  9. Kathy H

    All because of a domineering, subhuman male beast: Genie’s father! And like the coward he really was, he killed himself. There are men who should never be allowed to procreate or even to live!

    1. Kathy U

      Awww be quiet....Its not all men doing this. He killer himself. He’s dead. That’s the end. Stop with the feminist’s childish.

    2. Camron Shelton

      And some women as well.....

    3. Katie

      @ Kathy U, this is not feminist mess though? Literally, "As described in Curtiss’s book, Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day “Wild Child” (Academic Press), Genie is living proof of human resilience. It is surprising that she survived at all. Her father apparently hated children and tried to strangle Genie’s mother while she was pregnant with her first child. According to Curtiss’s book, when an earlier baby girl was born, he put the child in the garage because he couldn’t stand her crying: the baby died of pneumonia at two-and-a half months.

      Kathy H didn't say all men. There are obviously some men who shouldn't become fathers for the best interest of their children. Genie's father is an example of this. Her mother was an abuse victim so her actions should be judged based off of that. This does not excuse what the mother did, but she was also a victim of the father.

    4. anonymous

      @Kathy U, quit being a bitch karen she didnt say all men

    5. Someone

      Why are you all fighting? This is literally a documentary comment section, not a youtube comment section. Stop victimizing yourselves. Jeez

  10. Richard johnson

    Ilove that story because it tell you more about how to care for you babies and even though it was sad but the story also help you to learn more about brain functioning

  11. Said

    It's a very sad story. Genie needed to have love and care instead of being treated as a scientific object. Moreover, it's wrong to call her the 'Wild Child'. This is inhuman.

    1. Mariah

      What's inhuman was her parents keeping her in captivity for most of her childhood. What takes place in this documentary is that she's taught language and given a childhood. She wasn't being experimented on, she was being observed.

    2. Sarah

      The scientific part is so very important about how to treat future patients. Also it worked as a guide to know how far they could go with education for her. The scientist are not to blame for her situation as they were the only ones that gave her dignity and respect. So you would just leave them with the state and her parents? How did that work out for her in the beginning and the end? Your just like the people that stoped these people from helping her and then she went backwards mentally as soon as they put her in the care of her mom then the state. How can you not see this?

  12. Michelle

    I want to add that I can see why people found her captivating. The last film of her offered in this, of her describing in sign language what happened to her in the foster home, is heartbreaking but also mesmerizing. Her face, her hands -- so gentle but powerfully expressive. Her description is like a dance, telling a very sad story. It is poetry.

  13. Michelle

    They say knowledge is power--and it is. But it is not enough, and it is not what comes first. What we all need most, and a child most crucially, is love. We need at least one person in this world to care about us above all else, and to stick by us through everything. What Genie had been deprived of was love, the love of a competent and healthy person. She needed a mother and a family. Then, she needed therapy, whose priority would be her emotional health. And then, finally, they needed to teach her what she could learn to reclaim her life as a social human being, perhaps even with the goal of eventual self-sufficiency. 1) A loving family, 2) therapy, 3) education. In the course of all that, perhaps someone could have stood by with a clipboard and taken notes. But "experiment" or "study" are not the words I would use anywhere near the nurturing and rehabilitation of a traumatized child. I hope the scientific community learned from this humanitarian disaster and nothing like it will ever happen again.

  14. Anna

    First, this goes out to shaody who stated that people shoul only be able to procreate(have sex and reproduce) after going through thousands of papers and programs ?????!!?! I really want to know some of your pros and cons and ideas in general thoughts that led you to this...this..I truly don’t even have words. If having to go through tons of paper work to make a child is what u stand for how about just having to go through paper work just to have sex in general. I don’t mean to come out in a afensive way but I think that’s a little to much,sure people don’t make the best decision some times when it comes to when’s the right time to have kids but that doesn’t mean you should have to go through a load of paperwork to start a family I feel as if there’s other ways to handle situations like that

  15. Anna

    First, I want to start by saying that if your going to start something then u should finish it which wasn’t the case in this situation and for FERENC CSICSERI who said “her mother should be in prison for the rest of her life,she is not a mother” seems to me as if he wasn’t really paying attention to the story and put a little to much blame on the further explain the documentary clearly states that her mother was blind and was also a victim of her husbands(genies dad) abusive ways.second it also mentions how genies mother did try to take her back but as a blind person of course she found some issues in were she most likely was not able to interact much with genie. Lastly, for all of you comparing her to “unwanted puppies “ or”scientific guinea pig” I don’t believe that these were the best terms to use as she was also a human being and not some animal as some of u most likely non intendedly regarded to her.
    - I give credit to Marc as a truly agree with his statement and beliefs on this tragic story.

  16. Sally

    Maslows hierarchy of needs......

  17. Marc

    It's sad to see her horrid Father's views on society be echoed by the professionals that surrounded her, unintentionally and through their actions but still distressing to see the lack of irony in it all.

    The real lesson here was to not study a poor soul who has been put through such a terrible experience. Just teach them what you can and try to give them a place to belong were they can love and be loved, we wouldn't put somebody through such torture simply to study it and so we shouldn't look upon such a thing happening outside of our control as an opportunity to do it either because then the only problem you're having is that you couldn't get away with it if you did emulate it rather than it being a problem of ethics at all.

    Very interesting documentary, I hope she has had a better life since the last events of the documentary.

  18. shannon williamson

    California and the ppl who so called CARED for this child dropped the ball .Seems to me since she contributed to science so much...and she did contribute...they would have taken special interest in her well being. She was used and then tossed into a system that was severly lacking. That I think is the hardest thing to wrap my head around. To give a little happiness then snatch it away.

  19. Anna Velazquez

    I don't understand how they wanted Genie to be in a "good home", yet she would come back to the child care hospital traumatized AGAIN by being punished. Did they not look into these foster parents? Did they not explain her traumatized experiences? All she needed was someone to give her that extra time and care, to understand and work with her.. she did not deserve to be thrown around like a unwanted puppy. They had to know she was not going to be an easy child to have in a home; she required more than a "normal" child would in development process and learning.

    1. Piper

      The foster system is messed up and cruel all in itself because you don't know what kind of household a child is going into. People weren't as aware of this as they are now, all the doctors and scientists waned to do was give her a good place to live(their intentions were good) and they expected that out of the foster system. This is a mistake that has led to people being more aware of the places they are putting their children into. The foster system was not as thorough as it is now, and people were scared to give Genie a chance because she wasn't a normal child and didn't have a normal childhood, or any social interaction. It would have to take an extremely caring, patient, stay at home parent to take care of Genie, and some people weren't up to the challenge. Now, I'm not saying this was a good thing to put Genie through, I realize that this, Genie's conditions was only worsened by making her go from place to place, but what else were they supposed to do with so little options? Many people are frightened of the unknown, and of something (or someone in this case) who could disrupt their way of living.

    2. Khadija

      Very sad history but it does show kids being in their development time needs attention, direction, affection and growing them up in a way to be able to independently do things while oversee if there something to help them more to grow. Why they would torture this girl this much to stay a way from everything and live like almost anew born child with no development

  20. morrisseyowesmemoney .

    I studied this case as part of my Psychology course. Still brings tears to my eyes even now.

  21. Piera Sestini

    Genie needed love and acceptance as any other human being but she was treated as a scientific guinea pig, for the sake of science and experiments. Sad story. Moreover, the documentary should have shown Genie as and an adult, too, and let us see the result of such abuses, first in the home and then outside.

  22. InvisibleHandInMyPants

    Lemme see if Ive got this right. Genie is abused for 13 years, kept chained to a small potty and beaten if she made too much noise. The authorities discover her situation. The mother is arrested. The father blows off his own head (good). The mother, who witnessed and possibly participated in this torture of a child, is allowed to take back the child for the summer of her 15th year. Mom cant manage the girl and sends her back to caregivers, not unlike returning a pair of ill-fitting shoes. Then the mother has the temerity to sue the caregivers for their lack of care for the child? The mom wins an undisclosed settlement? WTF?

    1. Sean Duong

      'Merica! land of the FREE

  23. Ramome

    I was struck most by the people who had her for 6 years (if I remember correctly.) The said they wanted to send her to a good home. That's like they had too many puppies or kittens from a litter and needed to get rid of them. They never saw her as a human being. You should just take her as she is and raise her as your child. The bureaucrats in this show were the worst of the bunch. All these people are childish idiots. Their own selfish needs came before Genie's needs. These are the people we think are the brightest among us. What a crock.

  24. Sands

    Such a sad story. The people involved, the so called "intellectuals" make me sick. Genie is thrown around from place to place as a scientific guinea pig for opportunists. I'd say this poor human soul who is "a child" only just craved proper nurturing, love, care and support that every human being is entitled to only to be exploited. Why get involved in the first place

    1. InvisibleHandInMyPants

      Your views of this case are childishly simplistic. You have no credentials to say what Genie needed or didnt need. She was loved and nurtured and cared for by many people. With a case so unique, the medical community had no clear plan worked out for such and event. Some wanted to help. Others prly wanted notoriety. But to believe Genie would miraculously change with a caring parent by her side is delusional at best. She was profoundly disturbed and ill-equipped to function as a human, much less in a civilized society.

    2. Maks

      yes your nick sure shows you are qualified to talk about "civillized" society.
      she was cared for, but she was not loved and she was not nurtured. Oh and by the way I ahve credentials to say so because I work with 'troubled' children and teens and it disgusts me how little soul so called "professionals" put into their work. Most of them cares only about making a name and career and if they needed to take that kid apart to achieve this they would

  25. shaody

    I have always maintained that two adults who are a couple should not be able to procreate unless they have gone through an assessment program and are in a situation where they are able to rear a child. This situation would only occur in the human species.

    1. InvisibleHandInMyPants

      In moments of pure frustration and weakness, I too have echoed your feelings about procreation.
      You have to get a permit to drive a car. You must be licensed to cut hair. But to create a child?

  26. Shadowblur

    ....As i see her, she was like a loving dog, she knew nothing of human behavior, she was truly innocent and could not do bad as we can, she was truly an animal mind, and was probably confused with human
    behavior she witnessed daily from people around her. I'm not stating a crazy behavior, but she as animal minded, could see things done were to her senseless. Even the wearing of clothes may have.

  27. Shadowblur

    ...Same old scenario, the innocent get a pounding by the
    so-called intellectuals, just like 'Nim', the chimpanzee, betrayed by the loved ones.

  28. Eric Lawson

    It always seems to come down to ego and money as the motivators in these cases Sad !!!

  29. Gaia ODea

    Talk about ABANDONMENT ...the so called ppl who 'cared' for her should be shot!

  30. aggie45

    This girl should have been living in a STABLE WELL SUPERVISED group home setting from the start AND at the same time be getting speech therapy etc. The people who worked with her seemed to be truly caring BUT they should have been limited to working with her as therapists only.

  31. cyberfrank

    truly sad how such a cute little girl-woman could never enjoy life as she truly deserved, how true and deep she could be, but, never found an equal in this shallow world, that could not adapt to such a simple person, she really deserved better.


    Another sad example how our Society works everything about money and headlines but by the end that beautiful little girl was passed around like a ball,and ended up being abandoned by everybody.her mother should be in prison for the rest of her life she is not a Mother

  33. drobertbaker

    What a travesty! All those "caring rescuers" just used that poor kid for all they could pump out of her until the money dried up (due to their incompetence). And then they just dumped her back into the cruel world.

    I glad they were sued. I agree with the last guy that the more interesting study is of the researcher's behavior rather than of that tragic child.

    Shame on those respectable scientists!

    1. Sarah

      Your glad they were sued! The only people that ever talked to her in her life! The mom sued them and got all the money, the mom that made her this way mind you! The abuser should get a pay out?!?!

  34. ~Oliver B Koslik Esq

    Oldie but goldie!

    ...Thanks TDF
    :-) +1

    1. Robby Fithen

      Life is hell on every life, some more than others. God will take care of us all though! I would have taken her and put her on the farm with me and our family. I could have had some of my workers watch out for her and let her feed the chickens, cows, gunnies, pigs, horses, turkey, ducks, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, and the rabbits. Genie would have had a lot better memories and a whole lot of less frustration. That goes for everyone! Its the simple things! Loving what God made, feeding his animals for instance. :)

    2. Richard johnson

      Love the story