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University of Toronto

1. Azzopardi, Corry. The Discursive Construction of Gendered Attributions of Blame for Child Sexual Abuse: A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis of Maternal Failure to Protect in Child Welfare Policy and Practice.

Degree: PhD, 2015, University of Toronto

Nonoffending mothers of children who have been sexually victimized have historically borne the burden of blame in professional and public discourse. Notwithstanding strong empirical evidence to the contrary, attributions of maternal culpability for the inception and maintenance of abuse dynamics have been socially manufactured through hegemonic paradigms of deficient mothering. While insinuations of conscious or unconscious maternal collusion may have dissipated since early psychoanalytic and family systems eras, the legacy of mother-blame lives on in present day child welfare policies and practices through the ideologically- and institutionally-entrenched doctrine of failure to protect. With the intent of unearthing gender-based power asymmetries in contemporary child welfare system responses to child sexual abuse, this doctoral study applied feminist critical discourse analysis to investigate discursive constructions of blame and failure to protect, as enacted, reinforced, and resisted through the powerful language of child welfare policy and practice texts. In this multimodal, problem-oriented, social advocatory approach to critical social science research, descriptive, interpretive, and explanatory analyses of semiotic data were conducted to expose transparent and opaque orders of discourse that legitimize particular relations of power and authority in child welfare operating to the detriment of women and children. Anchored in neoliberal modes of governing, child-centric notions of best interests, and hierarchical structures of power, this study uncovered dominant ideologies of gender and motherhood that function to construct women as the embodiment of sexual abuse risk, target of scrutiny and blame, and primary agent of change. Judged against naturalized schemas of good mothering in isolation of subjective lived experiences, social locations, and material conditions, failure to protect standards have an inherently disproportionate and troubling effect on women, particularly marginalized women who endure intersecting sources of oppression and adversity. Consequent formulations of child sexual abuse as a corollary of maternal inadequacies and defective instincts wrongly, albeit effectually, deflect the gaze away from sexual abuse perpetrators, nonoffending fathers, unresponsive institutions, and profound social injustices. Mothers are fundamental to the collective goal of promoting children’s safety and recovery in the aftermath of sexual abuse. Prevailing child welfare narratives that blame and shame paradoxically impede maternal capacities for support and protection and, thus, compromise children’s best interests. Gendered child welfare discourse has proven itself to be remarkably impervious to change. This study effectively problematized and destabilized its stronghold on child welfare policy and practice by unmasking and denaturalizing the ideological content of textually mediated discourses, building a persuasive case for social and institutional reform grounded in a solid epistemic and evidentiary… Advisors/Committee Members: Allagia, Ramona, Social Work.

Subjects/Keywords: Child sexual abuse; Critical discourse analysis; Failure to protect; Gender ideology; Mother-blame; 0452

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APA (6th Edition):

Azzopardi, C. (2015). The Discursive Construction of Gendered Attributions of Blame for Child Sexual Abuse: A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis of Maternal Failure to Protect in Child Welfare Policy and Practice. (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Toronto. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1807/70884

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Azzopardi, Corry. “The Discursive Construction of Gendered Attributions of Blame for Child Sexual Abuse: A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis of Maternal Failure to Protect in Child Welfare Policy and Practice.” 2015. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Toronto. Accessed March 18, 2019. http://hdl.handle.net/1807/70884.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Azzopardi, Corry. “The Discursive Construction of Gendered Attributions of Blame for Child Sexual Abuse: A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis of Maternal Failure to Protect in Child Welfare Policy and Practice.” 2015. Web. 18 Mar 2019.

Vancouver:

Azzopardi C. The Discursive Construction of Gendered Attributions of Blame for Child Sexual Abuse: A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis of Maternal Failure to Protect in Child Welfare Policy and Practice. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Toronto; 2015. [cited 2019 Mar 18]. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/70884.

Council of Science Editors:

Azzopardi C. The Discursive Construction of Gendered Attributions of Blame for Child Sexual Abuse: A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis of Maternal Failure to Protect in Child Welfare Policy and Practice. [Doctoral Dissertation]. University of Toronto; 2015. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/70884

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