Consent, sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment. These are a few of many words that have received a lot of attention lately, but they are hard to universalize for every situation.
The topic of sexual assault and consent has been portrayed in mass media for ages. Some productions tackle the tricky topic well. Others, not so much.
However, the recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy “Silent All These Years” has done the best work portraying the many ways consent impacts lives that I have ever seen.
Grey’s Anatomy has portrayed lots of hot button topics over the many years it has been on air, but this episode was different.
“Silent All These Years” revolves around the topic of consent by bringing three subplots together in one episode.
It follows the story of a surgeon on the show finding her birth mother, only to discover that her birth was the result of a “date rape,” the story of a rape victim coming into the emergency room to be patched up after being raped and parents addressing consent with their teenage son who has just started dating.
The brilliance of this episode is that it shows rape, sexual assault and consent are so hard to define across the board because each situation is unique.
The mother of the doctor talks about the impact terminology has.
“I actually had to work to calling it rape, to begin with, because I did say yes to that date, and I did say yes to getting in that car,” she said. “Someone, somewhere along the way, a man most likely decided they wanted to qualify this word rape be it ‘date rape,’ acquaintance rape, somehow it isn’t as real unless it happens to a woman running through the park at night or walking down a dark alley. Somehow because I knew him what he took from me didn’t matter, but it did.”
On top of validating different experiences, the show also touches on how ineffective criminal justice system can be with the victim that was seeking help in the ER. She talked about why she was wary to get a rape kit performed.
“We all know if I do that kit it ends up in the back of some police station ignored for years. While I sit there wondering when a bomb will go off waiting to see if a jury of my peers will believe – will believe a woman who wore a skirt a few inches too short, who had a few cocktails too many at a bar last night after having a fight about laundry with her husband. And you know the tequila I drank will make it my fault, and whoever did this to me whatever he drank, that’ll be his excuse. Is your kit going to convince them I wasn’t flirting at the bar? If I give them my story in my underwear will it prove to them or to my husband that I didn’t cheat on him or made up some story just to save my own ass? Will your kit do that?” she asked.
This episode did a great job of bringing together multiple stories that share different aspects surrounding consent and rape. To have more progressive understanding conversations about consent and rape it helps to have productions that talk about it in complex ways and don’t just boil them down to stereotypes.