Last week, Brazilian police found 64-year-old Aparecida Groppo locked in the basement of her own house.
Her husband, Joao Batista Groppo, had confined her there and was living upstairs with another woman. According to MSNBC, the police found the cellar floor “littered with feces and dead cockroaches.” The woman was found wrapped in a blanket with no clothes on.
Her husband, who was arrested for illegal imprisonment, said he kept her there because she was mentally ill. Reports differ, some saying her imprisonment was eight years, while others say he kept her locked up for two periods of time totaling 16 years, the second starting in 2003 after their son died in a car accident.
It’s a disturbing story, but this is far from being the first case of home imprisonment and isolation. One of the most famous was a child who researchers studied for years to come:
In California in 1970, 14-year-old “Genie” (a pseudonym) and her mother turned up at Los Angeles welfare offices. Since the age of 20 months, Genie had been kept either tied to a potty seat or in a sleeping bag inside a crib — having no contact with her family and only being spoon-fed by her father.
She grew up in extreme sensory deprivation and when she escaped with her mom as a teenager, she couldn’t speak or walk properly. Genie was treated for years to come as doctors tried to help her learn to talk and function in the real world. But Genie’s case became further evidence that children have a “critical window” in which to learn language — Genie had passed that window and would never learn how to put sentences together.
Her case was tragic proof of the importance of social contact and how exponential the damage is when children are isolated or deprived of it.