Scientists say 'Grey’s Anatomy' episode increased sexual assault awareness

Scientists say a March episode on sexual assault boosted public awareness of the topic. (Screenshot: YouTube/ABC)
Scientists say a March episode on sexual assault boosted public awareness of the topic. (Screenshot: YouTube/ABC)

A powerful Grey’s Anatomy episode contributed to heightened public awareness of sexual assault, researchers have said.

The study, conducted by Oklahoma State University and published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Dec. 2, found that after the March episode, “Silent All These Years,” about a woman who had been raped, there was increased awareness of sexual assault terms and of the group RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). At the end of the episode, Ellen Pompeo, who plays Meredith Grey on the popular medical drama, encouraged victims to call the RAINN hotline for help.

After the episode, searches for the terms “RAINN” spiked by 41 percent and “rape” by 8 percent. Tweets mentioning “sexual assault hotline” and “RAINN” both increased by more than 1,000 percent and in the 48 hours after the episode aired, calls to RAINN increased by 43 percent, according to the organization.

Lead study author Trevor Torgerson tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Pompeo’s PSA was noteworthy. “We thought, if Hollywood is showing these available resources, will people actually use them? The episode had this incredible depiction [of sexual violence] but it also took that extra step.”

Torgerson hypothesizes that television shows could further perpetuate awareness with characters that use a crisis hotline in real time.

The gut-wrenching episode followed a Grey Sloan Memorial patient named Abby (played by Khalilah Joi), who had been sexually assaulted but was hesitant to report the crime because she feared not being believed.

After Jo shared that she was once married to an abusive man, she convinced Abby to undergo a sexual assault forensic exam. The procedure collects DNA evidence from a victim’s body which is then stored in a container commonly referred to as a rape kit. In the scene, Jo holds Abby’s hand and Dr. Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) leads by asking Abby for permission to proceed. Before every single swab, photograph and blood draw, Abby is asked, “Are you ready?”

As Abby goes into surgery to fix a tear in her diaphragm, she reveals that every man in her path is a reminder of her rapist, prompting all the female hospital employees to solemnly line the hallway to the OR, so Abby isn’t exposed to a single male face.

Grey’s Anatomy show runner Krista Vernoff told The Hollywood Reporter that the episode was inspired by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who, in 2018, accused now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault (he has denied the accusations).

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes declined recommendations from ABC's Standards and Practices department to hide explicit details like body fluid in the rape kit scene. The network relented and the executive who raised objections in the first place, accepted an invitation to join the wall of women in the critical scene.

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