Grey's Anatomy's "Silent All These Years" Changes Everything

Trigger warning: the contents of this article relate to sexual assault and contains spoilers for Grey's Anatomy season 15. 


I am very lucky. I have never dealt with the traumatic experience of sexual assault. But I believe that makes last week’s Grey Anatomy episode, “Silent All These Years,” all the more meaningful. The episode is centered around Jo, who travels to find her birth mother and soon learns that she is the result of rape. When back at the hospital, Jo treats a patient she believes is a survivor of domestic violence, but the patient indicates that it was not domestic violence, but rather sexual assault after leaving a bar. She is afraid to tell her husband or the police because she knows survivors are rarely believed. The doctors who treat her, all women, take extreme care in making sure that the patient feels heard, that she has control over how she is treated. Jo holds her hand for almost the entire episode, choosing to remain a support system for the patient and allowing the other doctors to treat her physical wounds. The doctors explain the purpose of a rape kit to her, emphasizing that it is her choice whether to complete one and what to do with it. Once she consents to the kit, she also must verbally consent to each step in the kit– they have to hear her say “yes” before doing every single swab, test and touch.

Image via Vulture


This episode would be powerful even without watching past this scene. Sexual assault, those who commit it and the survivors, has been the topic of countless news stories over the last couples of years. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, President Trump’s admission to assault on Access Hollywood, the voices of the Time’s Up movement, Brock Turner’s overturned conviction– it’s hard to go more than a few days without another horrific story breaking. But usually, these stories are so focused on the people, and the reactions are so swift, that they neglect to inform the public of the proper procedures surrounding assault cases. As the story cycles through the news, the public is left uneducated– how many people watching the news will really know what is supposed to happen when someone reports an assault? I didn’t know until I watched last week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode. I’ve followed all of these stories, reading countless articles and watching news segments on the topic, but none of them ever outlined how important rape kits are and how they are completed. I have always admired Shonda Rhimes, creator and producer of Grey’s Anatomy, for covering tough topics, but this episode was the most powerful and educational episode of the series.

Whether you’re a Grey’s fan or not, watching this single scene will teach you more than any news story on the trauma and following procedures of sexual assault.

And if that scene wasn’t powerful enough, Shonda took it a step further. The episode goes beyond procedure and provides an example for what doctors/law enforcement officials/allies should do in these cases. When the patient, Abby, has to go into surgery to fix the damage the rapist caused, Abby panics, telling Jo that every man’s face reminds her of her rapist. She can’t be taken down the hall into the operating room because she is afraid to see any man. So, Jo arranges for the entire path to the operating room to be lined with women; Abby will be surrounded by care and support with no reminders of her trauma. 

In producing the episode, Shonda brought every single woman working on set to take part in the hallway of women scene. This scene brought everyone I know to tears. Survivors or otherwise – there was a power in this two minute scene that I have never experienced from any other show.

This episode was more than just a way to make Grey’s viewers cry, Shonda crafted this episode to show what should happen for survivors of sexual assault. It is about giving them agency over treatment, providing any support they need to get through the treatment and recovery, and understanding that these cases are not just files, they’re people who have been through the worst trauma a person can endure and now have to live with it forever. I know this is now how most survivors are currently treated, but it’s how they should be treated. Survivors have suffered enough, there is no reason they should be further traumatized by doctors, police, lawyers or society. The good news is that RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the country’s leading non-profit dedicated to rape prevention, survivor support and public awareness, received a 43 percent increase in calls in the days following this episode airing. The episode has started a conversation around this topic, one that I hope will result in the standardization of procedures like those in the episode.

To reach out to RAINN, call 800-656-4673.