Stigmatization, scapegoating and discrimination in sexually transmitted diseases: overcoming 'them' and 'us'

Soc Sci Med. 1994 Nov;39(9):1339-58. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(94)90365-4.


It is recognized that AIDS involves multiple epidemics. As well as an epidemic of HIV, we are experiencing epidemics of fear and of stigmatization, scapegoating and discrimination associated with AIDS. In this paper, we investigate the nature of these reactions and the links between them. In doing so, we identify some of their causes. We likewise investigate counter-reactions, pre-eminent among which is the promotion of concepts of respect for persons and for human rights. We also examine the 'tools' used to elicit and manifest both these reactions and counter-reactions. In all cases, these 'tools' include choice of language--especially in the form of metaphor and rhetoric--and the use of symbolism. We conclude that in order to deal humanely and compassionately with AIDS and persons with AIDS, and, ultimately, to protect society (including, the fundamental principles and rules on which it is based), a primary requirement is to recognize that we are all living with AIDS, whether infected or affected by it; that is, in the context of AIDS, it is imperative that we overcome any divisions into 'them' and 'us'.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome*
  • Attitude
  • Humans
  • Prejudice*
  • Scapegoating*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases*