'Grey's Anatomy' episode on sexual assault led to increase in hotline calls

Telephone calls to the RAINN sexual assault hotline were up 43 percent in the 48 hours after an episode that dealt with rape.
Image: Grey's Anatomy
Linda Klein, Sophia Ali, Khalilah Joi, Elisabeth Finch, and Camilla Luddington in Grey's Anatomy.Mitch Haaseth / ABC

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By Janelle Griffith

A “Grey’s Anatomy” episode that centered on consent and sexual assault led to an increase in hotline calls after it aired in March, according to a new study.

The episode focused on the victim of a brutal rape and featured an in-depth depiction of how a rape kit is administered. It ended with Ellen Pompeo, who plays title character Dr. Meredith Grey, informing viewers of how to get in touch with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).

A study published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine, conducted by researchers at the Oklahoma State University using Google Trends and data provided by RAINN, found that the episode led to an increase in awareness of RAINN and resources for sexual assault victims.

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The study said that inquiries for the term "RAINN" increased 41 percent and searches for the word "rape" were up 8 percent in the days after the episode aired.

Tweets mentioning the RAINN Twitter account and the words “sexual assault hotline” increased by more than 1,000 percent the day after the episode was released, the study says.

Telephone calls to the RAINN sexual assault hotline were also up 43 percent in the 48 hours after the episode.

Showrunner Krista Vernoff told the Hollywood Reporter she was inspired to make an episode about consent and rape after watching Christine Blasey Ford's testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

"She got up and told her truth and a lot of pundits questioned whether she knew what she was talking about or if she could be believed or remember the face of someone who attacked her years ago," Vernoff said. "It was a pretty powerful moment to watch all of that."

The episode, "Silent All These Years," was also informed by writer Elisabeth Finch's visit to UCLA's Rape Treatment Center, where she observed how rape kits are administered, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Increasing accurate portrayals of sexual assault in the media, coupled with increased awareness of organizations similar to RAINN, may positively affect public health," the study said.