The North Carolina General Assembly recently passed the first bill that will grant reparations of $50,000 to victims who underwent forced sterilization within the state between 1929 and 1974. This is the first step in recognizing a very dark mark on American history, however victims, such as 58-year-old Elaine Riddick Jessie, are rightfully claiming that the money does not come close to eradicating the harm caused. Riddick appeared on Anderson today, claiming, "If I accepted it, what kind of value am I putting on my life?...I mean, $50,000 won't pay my medical bills. $50,000 won't even pay for the counseling that I've already received...It won't pay for the kid that I can't hold in my arms."
Elaine Riddick's story is as heartbreaking as it is horrifying. In 1968, at age 14, Riddick was raped and, as a product of that rape, ended up giving birth to a son. Immediately following the childbirth, she was sterilized against her will and knowledge because a social worker, using complicated terminology, convinced her illiterate grandmother to sign off on it. As a result of the operation, Riddick suffered hemorrhaging throughout her teenage years, though it wasn't until she was married and trying to conceive again that anyone bothered to tell her what had happened following her labor.
North Carolina is not the state with the highest rate of forced sterilization. California comes in at #1 with over 20,000 cases (both male and female) on record between the early '30s and mid '70s. Virgina is a distant second with approximately 8,500 cases. Despite these high numbers, state officials are most reluctant to discuss it or offer any apologies to the invasive procedure's living victims. CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who has done much investigation and advocacy on behalf of the victims, had this to say to Anderson Cooper:
"What shocked me the most...was how unwilling these politicians were to speak. I thought I was going to go to their offices and they would come out of the woodwork to apologize and to say 'we need to do something for people like Elaine,' but they didn't. They don't even want to talk about it. It is as if this just happened yesterday and as if there was some controversy. And there is no controversy here. I mean, these people were wronged, plain and simple."
Though nothing can be done to give back what was taken from victims (how do you give back a person's autonomy and basic civil liberties?), the least we can do is bring their stories to light. The fact that a history of forced sterilization even exists is shameful enough. The only thing worse is to act as if it never happened.