The powerful moment was inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Please be aware that this article contains minor spoilers for Grey’s Anatomy episode ‘Silent All These Years’.
Grey’s Anatomy has tackled some difficult subjects over its 15 seasons. We all cried along with Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) when hospital shooter Gary shot intern Charles Percy (Robert Baker), just as we shed joyful tears at the sight of Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), both in white wedding dresses, tying the knot years before same-sex marriage was legalised across the United States.
Now, in an incredibly powerful episode, Grey’s has tackled the difficult subject of consent. And in doing so, it has offered viewers an unflinching portrayal of the administration of a rape kit, too.
Explaining that the episode was inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, showrunner Krista Vernoff told The Hollywood Reporter that ABC – the network on which Grey’s Anatomy is shown – was reluctant to show the scenes as they were written in the script, insisting that broadcasting standards asked that no “fluid” be shown on “the Q-tips”.
Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes, though, was unhappy with this, and penned a “pretty passionate response” to the network explaining the importance of the episode.
“She said, ‘Respectfully, I decline these notes’, that ultimately ABC understood that she was right. I really give them credit that they came back and said, ‘You’re right. You can proceed as scripted.’”
The extended scenes in the episode ensure that rape victim Abby (played by Khalilah Joi) retains her agency by ensuring she gives her consent at every stage of the invasive rape kit procedure: every single time she is asked if she is ready, she says “yes” loudly and clearly.
The Grey’s Anatomy doctors then wheeled a frightened Abby down to the ER, where the hallway was lined with women standing in support of Abby – all of whom work on the cast and crew of the show, and wanted to show their support to victims of sexual assault everywhere.
The emotionally-charged scenes were written by Elisabeth Finch, who based them on what she learned from a tour of UCLA’s world renowned Rape Treatment Centre in Santa Monica.
“The most fascinating thing to me was how they treated each individual that walked into their centre and the respect they gave them and how they tailored what they do as a process to every single person who comes in the door,” she said.
“My brain thinks in photographs and then my writer brain thinks about how to tell the story and I try to figure out the narrative behind it. I kept seeing this army of women and kept saying that it was a race against time because they knew that there was something wrong that they had to fix surgically but in order to do that, they’d wipe away all the evidence.”
Vernoff added: “I hope viewers walk away with a greater understanding of what consent means, and a deeper understanding of how many different ways rape can impact not only the survivor but the generations that follow. [And] I hope that medical professionals come away with conversations about modalities and systems that can be put into place to better help survivors because many of the things that you see Jo do in this episode are things that Finchie learned from the Rape Crisis Center that she visited.
“These are systems that can and should be implanted in hospitals everywhere.”
Help is out there
If you or someone you know has experienced any form of sexual violence and don’t know what to do, here are the charities that can help.
A network of centres and support groups throughout the UK. Their website carries clear information about current rape laws, and they can refer you to a local support centre for counselling or independent advice.
0808 802 9999; rapecrisis.org.uk
Women Against Rape
Providing emotional and legal support, legal information, advocacy and self-help information for victims of sexual assault. They are particularly good at offering support to women who are unsure of their rights after an attack has been reported to the police.
020 7482 2496; womenagainstrape.net
The Survivors Trust
An umbrella agency partnered with more than 135 support groups and organisations throughout the UK. Their website provides information on the long-term effects that victims can suffer, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as online resources for abuse survivors.
01788 550554; thesurvivorstrust.org
Grey’s Anatomy continues Thursdays on ABC in the US. It airs on Sky Witness and NOW TV in the UK.