North Carolina still trying to compensate victims of state’s forced sterilization program

“I have to carry these scars with me. I have to live with this for the rest of my life.” Elaine Riddick, who was forcibly sterilized under North Carolina’s eugenics program in 1967

We’ve written before about North Carolina’s particularly terrible forced sterilization law. One of 31 states with a government-run eugenics program, North Carolina is now the only one to be trying to compensate the survivors of this shameful chapter in their history:

It began as a way to control welfare spending on poor white women and men, but over time, North Carolina shifted focus, targeting more women and more blacks than whites. A third of the sterilizations performed in North Carolina were done on girls under the age of 18. Some were as young as nine years old.

For the past eight years, North Carolina lawmakers have been working to find a way to compensate those involuntarily sterilized in the state between 1929 and 1974. During that time period, 7,600 people were sterilized in North Carolina. Of those who were sterilized, 85 percent of the victims were female and 40 percent were non-white.

While officials think that as many as 2,000 are still alive, only 48 victims have been tracked down so far. And how much they’ll be compensated remains to be seen. Some victims and advocates say that the state is procrastinating in compensating them, but Governor Beverly Perdue has said, “I want this solved on my watch.”

Let’s hope. For folks like Elaine Riddick–who was sterilized, without her knowledge let alone consent, after being raped at age 13–it’s probably too little and too late. But at least it’s something. She said, “I would like for the state of North Carolina to right what they wronged with me.”

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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