Political News

NC eugenics task force calls for victim payments

Posted August 1, 2011 11:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 2, 2011 3:36 p.m. EDT

— The state task force investigating the forced sterilization of about 7,600 people recommended Monday that North Carolina pay victims for their pain.

The Eugenics Task Force gave its draft report to Gov. Beverly Perdue, but members emphasized that changes could be made before the final report is issued next February.

The task force recommended providing lump-sum payments to each of the 1,500 to 2,000 victims who are still alive, but the group hasn't settled on the amount of the payment.

The state Industrial Commission, which handles tort claims against the state, previously suggested $20,000 as compensation to each victim, but one legislator recommended $50,000.

"The Task Force emphasizes that no amount of damages is meant to place a value on a victim's life or life lost and also recognizes that setting a damages figure that is too low may be perceived disrespectfully and could result in further victimization," the report states. "Any amount that is recommended will require legislative approval, and the Task Forces is aware that legislative approval may come in phases."

Roughly 85 percent of those sterilized were women or girls. The state ended the program in 1977, three years after the last sterilization was performed.

In 2002, then-Gov. Mike Easley formally apologized for the program.

The task force also recommended state-funded mental health services for living victims, a traveling museum exhibit to educate people about the eugenics program and continued funding for the Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, which provides support for victims and their families.

"Even if they awarded you a million-billion dollars, it's still not enough for the pain you go through," said Australia Clay, whose mother, Margaret Cheek, was sterilized.

Cheek was admitted to Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro in 1953 and stayed there for 12 years because doctors said she was schizophrenic. Clay said her mother, who died 10 years ago, simply suffered from post-partum depression.

The task force didn't recommend any compensation for the families of sterilization victims who have already died. Clay said that disappoints her.

"People will say, 'It happened. Get over it.' That's easy for people to say. It's not that easy for a family member," she said.