Let’s Talk About Consent in Grey's Anatomy's Recent Episode

I have always enjoyed watching (and re-watching) Grey’s Anatomy mainly because Shonda Rhimes purposely places the roles of the female characters front and center, especially considering all heads of the hospital’s departments in the show are women. Through 15 years of watching Grey’s episodes, I have learned from empowered women and subsequently felt empowered myself. I laughed when resident Izzie Stevens put her male colleagues in their place after they consistently harassed her for lingerie modeling in the past to pay for medical school, championed Dr. Miranda Bailey (Bailey) on her way to ultimately becoming Chief of Seattle Grace Hospital, and valued female friendship when Dr. Christina Yang told Dr. Meredith Grey that her husband’s career should not come before her own. With each season, Rhimes has conveyed various strong messages to young girls and the most recent episode - Season 15, Episode 19 “Silent All These Years” - was no different. This episode was inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in the Kavanaugh hearings and deals with consent, sexual assault, and domestic violence. If you have not watched the episode, there are multiple important storylines going on at once.

During the episode, viewers watch flashbacks of the character Jo Wilson meeting her birth mother for the first time and learning that her mother left her at a fire station when she was a baby because she was conceived out of rape. Fast forward to current day, Jo is treating a woman with wounds that lead Jo to believe she has been domestically abused as Jo is also a victim of domestic violence. Ultimately, they find out this young woman was sexually assaulted by a random man at a bar the night before. Jo eventually convinces the young woman to take part in a rape kit to collect evidence and report the incident. Additionally, in the episode, Bailey and her husband Ben Warren are in the process of having “the talk” with Bailey’s son Tuck (from another marriage) after discovering he has his first girlfriend.

I found that the emotions drawn from this episode increased gradually, with two scenes being especially powerful. The first of these two scenes occurs when they administer the rape kit to the young woman. The viewer is already aware that it took immeasurable strength for the patient to agree to the rape kit and thus, we feel for her as they perform the procedure and can appreciate as the doctors ask for her consent every step of the way. The second particularly moving scene of the episode comes when Jo and the other doctors are bringing the young woman into surgery. Unbeknownst to the patient, Jo has all the women of Grey Sloan Memorial from nurses to doctors to office managers line the hallway as the young woman had said every man’s face reminds her of her rapist. All the women lining the hallways dressed as hospital staff were actually women who work on the show in real life. This moment is a symbol of solidarity amongst women. As they wheel the patient down the hallway, I am sure I was not the only one that was wiping away tears. However, despite the importance of episodes and scenes like these, Shonda Rhimes received pushback from ABC’s standards and practices department. Krista Vernoff, the showrunner, told Hollywood Reporter that ABC’s notes on the rape kit scene included demands such as, “Please don’t show any fluid on the Q-tips” and “Please don’t show any bodily fluids under the blue lights.”  Well, as expected, Shonda Rhimes was adamant that the script be left unaltered. She politely told the staff of ABC’s standards and practices department, “Respectfully, I decline these notes,” which they accepted. Shonda had argued that it was hypocritical for the television network to air shows that depict real violence, but then criticize a scene that demonstrates an accurate medical process that results from said violence. Showing “bodily fluids” and all the steps involved in the rape kit procedure only shows the viewer the truth. ABC had no shot winning this argument.

Near the end of the episode, Ben and Tuck are out to dinner and Ben has volunteered to give him “the talk.” In his speech, Ben boils consent down to a few simple sentences: “If she says time out, you time out. No questions asked. She can change her mind at any time. It’s game over.”