Subtle or covert abuse within intimate partner relationships: a scoping review protocol

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Objective: The objective of the review is to understand how academic literature on domestic violence has described or defined subtle, non-physical abuse in intimate heterosexual or same-sex relationships.

Introduction: Academic literature frequently refers to subtle or covert abuse in intimate relationships; however, this kind of abuse, while recognized by therapists who work with victims, has not yet been researched. Without understanding how clients experiencing subtle abuse present in therapy, therapists may misunderstand the cause of their distress and do more harm than good. This scoping review aims to understand how the current literature describes or defines subtle or covert abuse to inform future research to enable therapists to recognize subtle abuse in their clients.

Inclusion criteria: Academic work that describes or defines subtle or covert abuse in intimate partner relationships based on primary research or discussion papers published in English will be considered for inclusion. Work will be excluded if it only describes physical or overt non-physical abuse.

Methods: MeSH terms and keywords relating to domestic violence literature found in preliminary searches were used to design the initial search strategies. Search terms based on these were chosen in discussion with a librarian. The following databases will be searched: PsycINFO (EBSCO), MEDLINE Complete (EBSCO), CINAHL (EBSCO), PsycArticles (EBSCO), and Scopus. Searches will be conducted for studies published from 1950 onward. Studies meeting the inclusion criteria will be searched for descriptions or definitions of the terms “subtle” or “covert. Direct quotes will be entered in the data extraction form, along with details of study participants, concept, and context. Results will be presented in tabular format with quotes from original sources, and narratively in a discussion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)796-804
Number of pages9
JournalJBI Evidence Synthesis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2023


  • Domestic violence
  • intimate partner violence
  • Covert abuse
  • Non-physical abuse
  • Subtle abuse
  • subtle abuse
  • non-physical abuse
  • domestic violence
  • covert abuse

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