N.C. to Compensate Victims of Sterilization in 20th Century Eugenics Program

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"Eugenics in the U.S. is something that's still not nationally known. People associate it with Nazis; they don't realize that the U.S. did it too," says Rebecca Kluchin, an assistant professor of History at California State University, Sacramento who specializes in the U.S. eugenics programs.

Only seven of the 33 states who ran such programs have even publicly acknowledged or apologized to victims of sterilization.

Only North Carolina, home to the third most prolific sterilization program in the nation, has recently made moves to compensate its victims.

In 2010, Perdue established the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, whose mission is to determine proper compensation for those still suffering from the state's mistakes. Fewer than 2,000 sterilization victims are estimated to still be alive today.

North Carolina sterilization program was at its peak during the civil unrest and exploding welfare costs of the 1960s, says Johanna Schoen, an associate professor of history at University of Iowa and expert in the North Carolina sterilization program.

It was the only state where social workers had the right to suggest "clients" for sterilization and the eugenics board seldom turned down those recommended -- they had a 95 percent acceptance rate. What's more, the program created a climate where doctors felt entitled to take sterilization into their own hands, doling them out when they saw fit, she says.

Instead of sterilizations taking place in mental institutions, in a few southern states they became more common in rural hospitals where poor unmarried women would be sterilized without their knowledge after coming in to give birth. In North Carolina, 85 percent of sterilization were performed on women as young as 9-years-old.

The N.C.Sterilization Victims Foundation can be reached by their toll-free hotline, 1-877-550-6013, or on their website: www.sterilizationvictims.nc.gov.

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