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Victims Speak Out About North Carolina Sterilization Program, Which Targeted Women, Young Girls and Blacks

Rock Center | , Jessica Hopper | , Special to Informer Michelle Kessel | 11/7/2011, 12:30 p.m.

While North Carolina's eugenics board was disbanded in 1977, the law allowing involuntary sterilization wasn't officially repealed until 2003. In 2002, the state issued an apology to those who had been sterilized, but the victims have yet to receive any financial compensation, medical care or counseling from the state. Since 2003, three task forces have been created to determine a way to compensate the victims. Officials estimate that as many as 2,000 victims are still alive.

Riddick was one of several victims to speak at a public hearing this summer. It was the first time that many survivors had told their stories publicly and that others heard of North Carolina's tarnished past.

"To think about folks who went in...and their doctor told them this was birth control and they were sterilized...the folks who didn't have the capacity to make the decisions, the uninformed consent," said Perdue. "Those types of stories aren't good for America and I can't allow for this period in history to be forgotten, that's why this work is important."

Only 48 victims have been matched with their records, something necessary for them to eventually be compensated. State Representative Larry Womble has been advocating for the survivors of the state's sterilization program for nearly 10 years. He helped fight for the repeal of the state's law.

Womble said that if the government is "powerful enough to perpetrate this on this society, they ought to be responsible, step up to the plate and compensate."

In August, a task force created by Gov. Perdue recommended that the victims be compensated, but they were unsure how much to award the victims. Previous numbers pondered range between $20,000 and $50,000. The task force also recommended mental health services for living victims and a traveling museum exhibit about North Carolina's eugenics program.

Perdue said it's a challenge to determine how much money each victim should be given.

"From my perspective, and as a woman, and as the governor of this state, this is not about the money. There isn't enough money in the world to pay these people for what has been done to them, but money is part of the equation," she said.

Riddick once sued North Carolina for a million dollars. Her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, but the court declined to hear the case. "I would like for the state of North Carolina to right what they wronged with me," she said.

Some victims and their advocates have questioned whether North Carolina is procrastinating in compensating them, hoping they'll die before a solution is reached. "It's an ugly chapter in North Carolina's book, we have a wonderful book, but there's an ugly chapter," Womble said. "We must step up to the plate and we must realize and take responsibility."

Perdue, for her part, said that she is committed to helping the victims.

"I want this solved on my watch. I want there to be completion. I want the whole discussion to end and there be action for these folks. There is nobody in North Carolina who is waiting for anybody to die," Gov. Perdue said.

Despite the state social workers who declared Riddick was "mentally retarded" and "promiscuous", she went to college and raised the son born moments before she was sterilized. Her son is devoted to his mother and a successful entrepreneur.

Elaine is proud of her achievements.

"I don't know where I would be if I listened to the state of North Carolina," she said