"Grey’s Anatomy" Pushing Boundaries to Start a Conversation about Consent

*This article discusses the potentially triggering topic of sexual assault.

On March 28, episode 19 of Grey’s Anatomy’s fifteenth season aired which was titled "Silent All These Years." This episode is a stand-alone episode that covers a very serious topic: sexual assault and consent. Despite the heavy topic and the push back from higher ups at ABC, Grey’s Anatomy aired an episode that showcased many lesser shown sides of sexual assault.

The episode focuses on the origins of Dr. Josephine Wilson-Karev, who was put up for adoption as a baby. She lived a rough childhood, often having to spend nights in her car. After being prompted by her mother-in-law to have kids, Jo wanted to take a gene test to understand the genetic health risks for her children. This opened up the door, prompting her to seek out answers about her past.

Jo was able to find her birth mother, and when you discover your birth parents it is understandable that you would want to learn more about them and their story. Jo meets her birth mother, but what she discovers is not what she expected; Jo is a product of sexual assault.

In the episode, Jo’s story with her mom is interwoven with two other stories pertaining to consent. One storyline focuses on Dr. Miranda Bailey – another character on the show – teaching her son about consent since he is beginning to date. The second storyline focuses on a young woman, Abby, who has come into the hospital after becoming a victim of sexual assault.

The three sides of consent – or lack thereof – being shown together give a clear picture of how it affects people. This episode showed so many things that people don’t often think about when discussing rape and consent.

One aspect of the episode that really stuck with me is when the patient, Abby, was going through the process of getting a rape kit. This process is something that is never really discussed, let alone shown on tv. I had never understood what that entailed and after seeing it, I have a newfound sense of respect for the strength of rape victims. The rape kit involves taking many pictures, examining different parts of the body with lights, blacklights, and swabs, and most importantly verbal consent from the person before each step. It was hard watching Abby emotionally struggle through this entire process.

Showing the process of a rape kit exposes the harsh reality of the lives of rape victims. It reveals the difficulty of the process to file a case against your rapist. Showing the rape kit in detail, in addition to Abby’s story overall, just illustrates why coming out against your rapist and getting justice is never easy.

I also really appreciated the storyline with Dr. Bailey’s son. At the beginning of the episode, Dr. Bailey and her husband, Ben Warren, discover that their son has started dating. Their first instinct is to discuss consent with him. The episode then concludes with Ben and his son, Tuck, eating burgers and having a conversation about the importance of consent.

Consent is explained in clear terms of a sports game. When someone calls time out, everything stops, which is the case for sex as well. When someone says stop or isn’t having fun, you stop. It’s important that parents have this discussion with young kids so that they have a clear understanding of their rights during sex. Consent is, and never will be, an option.

The episode was titled "Silent All These Years," after a song of the same title by Tori Amos, which also discusses sexual assault. The writers did a lot of research when writing this episode. Elisabeth Finch, one of the writers, actually went to the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center where she gets the idea for the “Army of Awesome.” In the center, they don’t allow strangers in the hallway as a survivor is walking by to create the safest and most supportive place for them. This is why the women – cast and crew of Grey’s Anatomy – lined the walls of the hallway as the patient was taken to surgery. This scene exemplified the significance of solidarity and support for victims of rape.

I really appreciate the cast and crew of this episode for showcasing the harsh reality of consent and sexual assault. They left no detail unexplored and didn’t sensationalize any aspect in order to make the episode more entertaining. The way in which they told the three storylines was powerful and, more importantly, educational. I hope moving forward more shows will illustrate the realities of life to educate the public about the different experiences of people around them.


If you need help or just someone to talk to, go to RAINN.org or call the National Sexual Assault Telephone hotline at 800.656.4673.


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