Let's Talk Mental Health

Silent All These Years | Grey’s Anatomy’s Powerful Episode On Sexual Assault and Trauma

“1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.”

– World Health Organisation

In March, a clip from an episode of Greys Anatomy tackling sexual assault and trauma went viral. The episode, centred around Dr Jo’s interactions with her mother and a new patient Abby, tackles the MeToo movement from different angles.

I decided to review the episode in light of Sexual Assault Awareness month,  an annual campaign that raises public awareness about sexual assault and educates communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

“You know the tequila I drank will be my fault and whoever did this, that will be his excuse. Is your kit going to convince them I wasn’t flirting at the bar?”

The initial scene between Abby and her two doctors, Jo and Teddy is powerful many reasons. From the consultation, it’s apparent that Abby’s wounds (which require surgery) don’t match the explanations she’s giving. Its harrowing and heartbreaking as Abby recounts all the reasons she’ll be blamed for her assault if she agrees to complete a rape kit. The conversation here reflects the tangible fears that many survivors have about reporting their assault.

From victim blaming questions such as ‘What were you wearing?’ to a lack of trust in the justice system, the process is reflective of a culture that provides hundreds of excuses for the abuser before the victim’s story is heard. I also loved that Dr Jo steps in to share her own story of domestic violence. It reminded me of the following words in Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly; “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Jo created a safe space for her patient by sharing her own story and in doing so, strengthened Abby with the resolve to complete the rape kit and ultimately get justice.

“You say Yes, we go to the next step. You say No at any time, we stop.”

This is one of the most in-depth depictions of how a rape kit is administered on TV. In fact I’ve never seen the exam before and I am sure it will be a first for many viewers. It’s so detailed that Shonda Rhimes (the creator of Greys Anatomy) met pushback from ABC about the scene, to which she responded “Respectfully, I have to decline these notes.”

The reaction to this scene is symptomatic to how oblivious we are to the impact and gravity of sexual assault and violence. We are so far removed from the process and to have it shown on TV for millions of people to watch is powerful! The most impactful element of this scene for me is how Abby is asked for her consent at every step, granting her agency and drawing a parallel with the lack thereof during her assault.

“What you did today with Abby, that was not protocol. But it should be.”

It’s hard to describe how moving and impactful this scene is and I keep rewatching it because it captures my wish and desire for every single survivor in the world. In a pretty unexpected move, Dr Jo knowing that Abby – fresh from the assault-  is reminded of her rapist every time she sees a man, blocks male staff from the hallway to the surgery and all the female staff at the hospital line up in solidarity.

Elisabeth Finch, the writer of the episode took inspiration from a visit she’d made to the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center, where they make sure no stranger is in the hallways as a survivor is passing through. It’s pretty indescribable so I suggest you watch it for yourself.

Online reactions to the episode

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