Making HIV a Crime: Punishing Disease in America

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 46 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Trevor HOPPE, University at Albany, SUNY, USA
When a new deadly disease emerged in American urban gay enclaves in the early 1980s, officials originally named it G.R.I.D. (gay-related immune-deficiency). American neoconservatives used AIDS as the latest evidence of America’s moral decline, stoking public fears that the disease would spill over into the “general population” and demanding that states implement more invasive control measures. This paper explores how campaigns to criminalize HIV played out in three key states – Michigan, Tennessee, and California – and how HIV-specific criminal spread across the country in the late 1980s. Although largely symbolic at first, a criminal case against a gay man in Michigan man in 1992 opened the floodgates to a new era of criminalization. In the wake of that case, thousands of Americans have been incarcerated under HIV-specific criminal laws. Public health departments have inadvertently contributed by deploying new surveillance technologies intended to track and control their HIV-positive clients deemed a threat to public health, at times putting them at greater risk of prosecution. Although originally limited to HIV specifically, recent efforts in the United States to expand these laws to additional diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis suggest that punishing disease may become a new form of social control targeting epidemics. This paper will explore the social and political implications that flow from these developments, both within the United States and globally.