Gendered Attributions of Blame and Failure to Protect in Child Welfare Responses to Sexual Abuse: A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis

Violence Against Women. 2022 May;28(6-7):1631-1658. doi: 10.1177/10778012211024263. Epub 2021 Sep 13.


Gender-based relations of power and attributions of blame for child sexual abuse have been longstanding in child welfare policy and practice. Nonoffending mothers continue to be ascribed responsibility through the ideologically and institutionally entrenched doctrine of failure to protect. Feminist critical discourse analysis was used to (a) expose and disrupt dominant discourses of gender, motherhood, and risk that operate to construct and reinforce notions of blame and failure to protect, as enacted by way of child welfare text in context; and (b) build a credible case for social and organizational change grounded in an alternative discourse with greater explanatory power. Progressive avenues for resistance, negotiation, and transformation are proposed.

Keywords: child sexual abuse; child welfare; critical discourse analysis; failure to protect; nonoffending mothers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual*
  • Child Welfare
  • Female
  • Feminism
  • Humans
  • Mothers
  • Social Perception