Controlling Sex in the Name of “Public Health”: Social Control and Michigan HIV Law, Trevor Hoppe, Social Problems (2013).

Research and Journal Articles

This article examines the practices of Michigan health officials in investigating "health threat to others" cases that may be in violation of the state's HIV criminalization statutes. "Health threat" laws refer to a set of laws enacted by Michigan legislators in the late 1980s requiring HIV positive individuals to disclose their status to their partners before engaging in any form of sexual conduct. The author assesses case investigation procedures within the context of the sociological concept of "social control," including both formal control (case identification by health officials) and informal control (case reporting to the health department by fellow community members).

 
The author visited 14 of the 17 local health jurisdictions he identified as having individual programs for handling HIV/AIDS, including procedures for managing and responding to health threat to others cases. Using quantitative data collected through in-depth, 45- to 90-minute semistructured interviews, the author discusses how health-threat case investigations by state health officials double as traditional prevention measures and as means of prosecution, often based on individual and differing interpretations of the law. He found that persistent stigma and fear associated with HIV and nonconforming sexuality fuel gossip and rumors, which health officials often rely on during investigation of health-threat cases. Community members who suspect others' positive serostatus and nondisclosure – though rarely with any factual basis – report cases to the health department, as well. 
 
The author concludes by characterizing his study as a starting point for further sociological critical analyses, citing the importance of sociologists' methodological and theoretical tools in examining systems of public health surveillance. The author calls on policymakers, advocates, and stakeholders to question whether data collected by these systems should continue to be susceptible to use in criminal proceedings.