Leave it to a Shonda Rhimes show to give us one of the most definitive episodes of television about consent that I've ever seen. This week's Grey's Anatomy took on the topic from multiple angles—and the result was incredibly emotional, powerful, and, I hope, educational.
The episode centers around Dr. Jo Karev (Camilla Luddington) in two different story lines. In flashbacks we see Jo meet her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her at a fire station as a baby. But after finally letting her mother know how much resentment and anger she still feels, Jo learns she was the product of the rape of her teenage mother.
Then, back at Grey Sloan Memorial, Jo meets a patient named Abby (Khalilah Joi), who she believes has been abused in a domestic situation. Jo, herself a victim of domestic abuse, handles the situation with care—and soon she learns Abby has also been sexually assaulted.
When Jo brings in another female doctor, Teddy Altman (Kim Raver), to help with the situation, they make sure Abby knows she is in a safe space where she can talk if she wants to. Eventually Abby reveals she was raped after leaving a bar—but she's afraid to tell her husband as well as the police, because she knows all too well that her actions may be twisted into a victim-blaming scenario. The portrayal of Abby's reaction to her trauma is powerful to watch, and so is the doctors' desire to give her agency in her treatment while holding their own emotions in check.
Once they begin collecting evidence for a rape kit (after Abby gives her OK), the process is shown in heartbreaking detail. What stood out to me is how the doctors ask their patient at each step whether she's ready to proceed. They do nothing until they hear her verbally say, "Yes." And once they do have her permission, they are methodical yet still sensitive as they swab the bite marks on her skin and take samples from inside her body. It's even more gut-wrenching when you consider that it's possible some women may not receive the same kind of care. “What you did today, with Abby, that was not protocol…it should be," Teddy later tells Jo.
But when it's time to take Abby to surgery, she tells the doctors that every man she sees reminds her of her rapist. So the women of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital line the hallway with female faces—doctors, nurses, orderlies, administrative staff—and physically block male staff from entering space. All so Abby can feel safe. At this point, I sobbed. It was an amazing visual of women standing up for other women….