Beginning in 1909, a state eugenics law resulted in some 20,000 people being sterilized against their will, most of them Black and Latina. But even though the legislation was overturned in 1979, investigations found that about 150 incarcerated women in California had been sterilized between 2005 and 2010. The practice was only officially banned in the state in 2014, following outcry over the revelations.
In one instance, a woman named Kelli Dillon, who was incarcerated in a California prison, was told by doctors that the abdominal pain she was experiencing could be cancer. She consented to being removed from prison to undergo an operation—which she believed would only be for the purpose of removing any cancer surgeons discovered—but did not agree to being sterilized. And it was only later she realized that’s what happened: According to Insider, doctors told Dillon “everything was normal” after the operation, but she was experiencing hot flashes and weight loss, and her period had stopped coming.
With the help of a legal advocacy group Justice Now, Dillon got a hold of her medical records, which showed she had been sterilized. After this realization, Dillon began noticing other women in the California prison with similar symptoms and worked with advocates from the group to identify other victims.
“At first, I was just in disbelief because it’s been a process, a journey that has been taking place for over 20 years of my life,” she told Insider of her reaction to learning of the reparations bill.
Though the Guardian reports that there are an estimated 400 living survivors of the state’s forced sterilization program, not all of them are expected to apply. California Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, one of the bill’s cosponsors, estimates that each applicant will receive about $25,000—not enough, she says, but it’s a start.
“No monetary compensation will ever rectify the injustice of this,” Carrillo said. “But there is a level of dignity that is bestowed on the survivors by the [state’s] acknowledgment that this happened. If we don’t do this now, when will we?”