‘The Sterilization Shell Game’

Sixty-year-old Elaine Riddick told me in an exclusive interview that she had been raped twice in her life. The first rape occurred when she was 13 years old, at the hands of a man who threatened to kill her if she told. The second rape was performed by the State of North Carolina, which sterilized her because the pregnancy that resulted from her assault labeled Elaine a promiscuous, feebleminded drain on society.

When I asked Elaine which was the worse rape, she responded without hesitation, “the second one.”

Since my extended conversation with Elaine several years ago, she and hundreds of other sterilization victims have been raped again, this time by the truly feeble minded, insensitive General Assembly.

Here in North Carolina, state and local agencies performed systematic, sterilizations from 1929 to 1974, with most occurring post-World War II.

When proposals to compensate some 1,800 living victims of forced sterilization first surfaced, advocates kicked around numbers like $100 million dollars. That seemed reasonable. After all, in today’s dollars, the State and various localities spent upwards of $240 million dollars to process and sterilize (or castrate) nearly 8,000 impoverished young people. However, once the recession took its toll on our economy, the General Assembly backed off on reparations all together. By the time financial compensation was revisited, less than 200 victims had come forward. So state lawmakers from both parties agreed that a cap of $10 million dollars was adequate to compensate the entire group of surviving victims for the removal of their reproductive organs. That would equate to an award of roughly $50,000 for each certified victim of forced sterilization.

That paltry monetary offer was an insult to humanity, nevertheless, some sense of closure was finally in sight for victims. Or maybe not. As the deadline for certification approached, another 400 plus victims came forward, and if all of their claims are validated, that means the $10 million dollars would have to be divided among roughly 600 survivors rather than 200. Translation? Elaine and others like her would receive $15,000 instead of $50,000. Raped again.

Legislators knew this might happen when they allocated $10 million dollars to the reparations program, but they didn’t care. The humane action would have been for lawmakers to establish a per person cap (of say, $100,000) rather than a lump sum cap, which could continue to be diluted by an increasing number of new claimants.

The long road to reparations began when Governor Easley issued a hollow apology for the State’s role in forced sterilizations and a racist eugenics policy. Governor Perdue followed that by creating a special commission to identify surviving victims. But both political parties managed to forestall any substantive action, and it became clear that politicians in Raleigh were in no hurry to offer compensation. That’s when Ms. Riddick told me that she believed state lawmakers were “just waiting around for surviving victims to die.” True, some monies have finally been allocated, but the amount per victim is still to be determined, and checks (for whatever amount) won’t be issued for another year. By then, more victims of forced sterilization will have passed away, and our memory of their ordeal, like the cash allocations, will have been further diminished.

Some rapes just never end. !

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).