Deanna Cann

Date of Award

Fall 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Deena Isom


In an effort to contain the HIV epidemic, lawmakers implemented various pieces of legislation across the United States, including laws that prohibit people living with HIV (PLHIV) from engaging in various behaviors without first disclosing their HIV-status. Public health scholars claim that this criminalization of HIV serves to increase stigma toward PLHIV, rather than prevent its transmission. Limited research has supported a connection between HIV exposure laws and increased stigma toward PLHIV. Still, researchers have yet to establish a causal relationship, and we know little regarding the mechanisms through which these laws serve to reproduce stigma. This study aims to explore the collateral consequences of HIV exposure laws in a mixed methods analysis. First, I employ an experimental design to determine whether media portrayals of HIV exposure cases affect the degree of stigma individuals hold toward PLHIV. To test this, participants completed a survey measure of HIV stigma after reading either a brief fictional news article describing an HIV exposure case or a short fictional news article on a neutral topic. The results of this study support a causal relationship between media portrayals of such cases and heightened stigma toward PLHIV. To further explore these findings, I investigate the mechanisms through which these laws may produce HIV stigma with a qualitative content analysis of news articles on alleged HIV exposure cases. Findings from this analysis suggest three dominant themes in the way PLHIV are presented in news articles that may reproduce stigma: Criminality, Threat and Dangerousness, and Immorality and Blameworthy. Overall, this research supports the notion that HIV criminalization worsens public stigma toward PLHIV and identifies ways in which the media play a role in this relationship.