Virginia to Compensate Victims of Forced Sterilization*
Legislators in the U.S. state of Virginia voted Thursday to allow compensation for victims of forced sterilization, though few survivors are alive today.
“I think it’s a recognition when we do something wrong we need to fix it as a government,” said Democrat delegate Patrick Hope.
“Now we can close this final chapter and healing can begin.”
Close to US$400,000 is available in a fund earmarked for compensation payments, though only around 11 sterilization victims in the state are known to be alive today. However, Hope stated if any new victims come forth, they too could be eligible for compensation.
From 1924 to 1979, over 8,000 people were forcibly sterilized in Virginia. The victims ranged from people with psychiatric disorders to people considered social misfits. While most victims were patients at state mental institutions, some were homeless people who were sterilized to reduce poverty figures. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 22% of victims were African-Americans, and 66% were women. At the time of sterilization, most victims were misled, being told they were undergoing surgical procedures for miscellaneous health issues.
Virgina’s program has often been credited with inspiring the Nazis, who used the state’s methods as a model for their own eugenics project.
Yet the program was just part of a broader and often state -sanctioned eugenics movement that flourished across the United States in the first half of the 20th Century. Like the Nazis, U.S. eugenics advocates believed they were improving the genetic purity of the population by sterilizing those with traits deemed undesirable, such as the impoverished. In some states, ethnic minorities were also targeted. No federal law existed to cover sterilization in the first half of the century, meaning states were left to regulate the practice. While most states only allowed for surgical sterilization aimed at making reproduction impossible, some went as far as allowing male victims to be castrated.
At the height of the movement, over 30 U.S. states practiced some form of forced sterilization. An estimated 65,000 people were sterilized before the practice ended nationally in the early 1980s.