Even after all these years, Grey’s Anatomy broke new ground during season 15, becoming the first series on network television to ever depict what all goes into a rape kit. But they almost didn’t get to show everything the examination involves.
The late March episode, titled “Silent All These Years,” featured a woman named Abby (guest star Khalilah Joi) walking into the hospital in shock after having been sexually assaulted. Doctors Jo Karev (Camilla Luddington) and Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) tend to her and she eventually agrees to a kit in case she decides to report the sexual assault. In an instantly iconic moment towards the end of the episode, Jo and Teddy wheel a traumatized Abby into surgery alongside a wall of women made up of the female employees at the hospital (played almost entirely by the women who work on the series).
When the network’s Standards and Practices team looked at the episode, they had two concerns about the two-minute scene sexual assault examination kit scene. (In television, Standards and Practices is the department at the network that reviews episodes and sends notes about changes for moral, ethical or legal reasons. Often, for a show like Grey’s, that will involve suggestions and reminders about sex scenes.)
“There were two lines asking that we didn’t show any kind of fluids on the swabs and then no fluids when we did the blacklight,” Grey’s co-executive producer and the episode’s writer Elisabeth R. Finch recalled during a panel event about the installment at ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. “That is something that’s a medical step and a medical process, and we wanted it on there.”
Show creator Shonda Rhimes ultimately stepped in and went against the order.
“Her argument was we show the violence, but we’re showing the medicine,” Finch said. “The reason no one knew the steps is because they’ve never been shown before in so much detail. We show countless acts against women but we don’t show the caretaking. We don’t show what does into actually doing it.”
It worked. Finch added, “That point got across… so much so that the woman who leads Standards and Practices ended up in that wall of women.”
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Speaking of that wall of women scene, Finch also revealed that Rhimes agreed to pay to have additional people to work the day they filmed it so that any woman who worked on the show and wanted to participate could do so.
Grey’s Anatomy returns for season 16 on ABC this fall.
If you or someone you care about is affected by sexual violence, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).