Barriers and facilitators of disclosing domestic violence to the healthcare service: A systematic review of qualitative research

Rebecca L. Heron*, Maarten C. Eisma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)


Domestic violence victims are in frequent contact with the healthcare service yet rarely disclose. Therefore, it is critical to understand victims' experiences and perceptions regarding disclosure in healthcare settings. The goal of this review is to provide an updated synthesis of qualitative research identifying barriers and facilitators, advice, and positive and negative outcomes of adult victims' disclosure of domestic violence to healthcare professionals (HCPs). A systematic search of PsychINFO, CINAHL and Web of Science was conducted in January 2018. Thirty-four eligible studies were identified, including 783 domestic violence victims (781 females). Formal quality assessment indicated variable study quality. Barriers of disclosure included negative HCPs attitudes, victims' perceptions of safety and concerns about the consequences of disclosing. Facilitators of disclosing included a positive relationship with the HCP, HCPs directly asking victims about abuse, and HCPs ensuring that the environment is safe and disclosure is confidential. Victims advised increased awareness of HCPs reactions to disclosure and avoiding mirroring their perpetrators minimization. HCPs were encouraged to engage in direct questioning and maintain a supportive and secure environment. Positive and negative outcomes of abuse were identified, such as being able to leave the abuser or, on the other hand, the victims' situation not changing. Our results indicate that barriers for disclosure of domestic violence in healthcare settings persist despite the widespread implementation of policies and guidelines to counter them. Based on these findings, we provide recommendations for clinical practice and future research to help improve disclosure in healthcare settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-630
Number of pages19
JournalHealth and Social Care in the Community
Issue number3
Early online date13-Jan-2021
Publication statusPublished - May-2021


  • disclosure
  • domestic violence
  • healthcare personnel
  • healthcare service
  • qualitative research
  • systematic review
  • victims' experiences

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