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Sterilization victims deserve money now

by Jim Longworth

Last week, Governor Perdue’s task force FINALLY came to the conclusion that victims of state sponsored, forced sterilization deserve cash compensation. After two years of meetings and public hearings, the task force is now recommending that the General Assembly award every living victim a lump sum payment of $50,000. More on that in a moment.

Under the guidance of a racist eugenics board bent on ethnic cleansing of “undesirable” populations, the Tarheel State sterilized nearly 8,000 people, of which an estimated 2,000 are still alive to talk about their ordeal. One of them, 58-year-old Elaine Riddick, sat down with me late last month to tape a special edition of “Triad Today” which will air this weekend.

Elaine recounted the story of being raped at Elaine age 13, then giving birth to her one and only child nine months later. And though she was the victim of a brutal crime, it was Elaine who was labeled as promiscuous and feebleminded by the eugenics board. She, of course, was neither, but that didn’t matter to the self appointed social engineers who ruined her life.

Awakening from a cesarean birth, Elaine didn’t know why she was so heavily bandaged. Nor did she understand in the days and weeks to come why she was having so many health problems. “I started getting really sick and hemorrhaging because I didn’t receive any aftercare. I was passing huge chunks of blood, and I was passing out a lot…. I had to go into the hospital several times for blood transfusions. I didn’t know why I was bleeding.” Eight years later, Elaine got married and wanted to have children, but she was still in poor health. “I went to a doctor who did exploratory surgery to find out what was causing my problems, and he came back and told me I had been butchered, that my tubes had been severely damaged from the sterilization.”

The news that she had been sterilized came as a shock to Elaine.

recounted the story of being raped at age 13, then giving birth to her one and only child nine months later.

Then anger set in, and she enlisted the ACLU to help her bring suit against the state of North Carolina. Several years of protracted legal battles ensued, ending with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Elaine’s appeal. The high court ruled that the people who sterilized Elaine did so without malice. Riddick did the best to move on with her life, earned an associate degree in applied science, and raised her son Tony, who today is his mom’s biggest advocate.

Like many surviving victims, Elaine is none too impressed by Gov. Bev Perdue and her slow-motion task force. And she is skeptical of claims by some legislators that the state cannot afford to pay compensation to those it systematically violated. Paying $50,000 to 2,000 victims would cost the state $100 million, but opponents take solace in the fact that only 72 victims have come forward. The exact number of complainants shouldn’t matter, though. The General Assembly should immediately set aside the full $100 million, give those who haven’t come forward 90 days to do so, then divide the money equally among verified victims. If only 100 victims are qualified to receive compensation, then each of them would get a check for $1 million dollars.

Even at that, the state is getting off easy. First, let’s calculate, in today’s dollars how much tax money might have been expended to perform 8,000 forced sterilizations. According to a 2008 report by Pacific Business News, the average cost of hospital care following surgery is $22,596, and that is based on a fiveday stay. Add to that the average cost of major surgery (around $7,000) and you have about $30,000 spent on every eugenics-inspired procedure. Multiply $30,000 by 8,000 procedures, and that equals $240 million. The numbers could be off slightly in one direction or another, but it serves to reinforce what Elaine has said all along:

“Your tax money DID pay for victims to be sterilized, whether you know it or not.” Well now, we ALL know it, and any legislator who balks at dividing $100 million among surviving victims is either bad in math, or is guilty of the same kind of prejudice as those who brutalized 8,000 of our citizens in the first place. Our tax dollars facilitated unspeakable acts, now our tax dollars must help bring closure for the victims.

BeyondIntractability.org’s Michelle Maiese writes, “Addressing past injustice is a crucial part of the process of healing and reconciliation…. Although these harms are often irreparable… courts have required states to pay victims compensation for both material and psychological injury sustained as a direct result of their actions or policies.” It’s time for our General Assembly to do the right thing, and do it now. The healing is long overdue.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15)

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