Posted by Rajitha S
Trust writers and directors of the television show, Grey’s Anatomy, to make an episode that hits you hard and they usually exceed expectations, especially, when it comes to representation and portraying dialogue around difficult and important issues. For the last 14 years, the medical drama has made fans weep, bawl, laugh as they relate to the characters and their crazy, twisted storylines. The most shocking episodes come by when you least expect it and one such was Silent All These Years, which aired on March 28th. I call it shocking because it breaks several rigid conventions.
The episode Silent All These Years deals with sensitive issues like rape, abuse, and the misinformed perceptions around them along with transgenerational trauma of rape survivors with such subtlety and nuance, while showcasing how powerful and empowering the right kind of support can be for a survivor.
I can safely say that Silent All These Years is a must-watch, even for those who do not watch the show or feel that it is over-rated and too dramatic. Those who are not familiar with the plotlines of the characters can also watch it, purely because it is educational.
Silent All These Years dealt with sensitive issues like rape, abuse and perceptions around them along with transgenerational trauma of rape survivors.
It begins as a regular day at the Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital when a woman enters, looking for someone to treat a bruise on her face. Abby, as she calls herself, is taken in by Dr Jo Karev, a long-time character on the show, whose story, like several others has seen quite some twists and turns. As she begins to treat the ‘patient’, she realises that the bruise on her face is nothing compared to what happened to the rest of the body. Dr Karev takes it upon herself to help Abby deal with the pain, while persuading her, through the episode that what happened to her was not her fault.
She creates a safe space for Abby, first by simply closing the curtains around her bed making her feel that she can share what she has been through. Knowing too well that that it is not easy for survivors of assault to open up so easily, Dr Karev then brings in another female doctor. While clutching Abby’s hand, she assures her she has nothing to worry about. These are small, but impactful ways of telling a rape survivor that he or she is not alone, which the show beautifully portrays.
That is the time when Dr Karev talks to her about her own story–of being caught in the web of emotional abuse by her ex-husband. She shares that it took several years for her to realise that it was never her fault that she was emotionally and physically abused where she also had a miscarriage, highlighting the need and importance for women’s support and solidarity to survive patriarchy and its rape culture.
At no point, during the entire 40-minute episode do the doctors tell Abby what she should do. It showcases the first lesson of feminism–leaving the choice to the individual. Of course, Abby is scared that the evidence will rot in some courtroom, while she gets ridiculed for having a drink at a bar and the perpetrator goes free. But, she gets the strength from Dr Karev. This once again makes the audience realise the shaming that victims are usually put through.
Abby eventually agrees to let the doctors collect evidence on her body using the sexual assault evidence kit and the doctors, at every step of gathering it, seek her permission to do so. It is the first time that this painful and traumatic ordeal is shown on television.
I can safely say that Silent All These Years is a must-watch, even for those who do not Regularly watch the show.
This part of the episode is shot with utmost care. The compassion of the doctors is visible in their eyes, in the way they physically handle Abby, while ensuring that the evidence is sealed properly. At every single step, they take Abby’s consent, another way to showcase that any agency or individual that works for rape survivors should not impose, but let the survivors choose from their options.
This is refreshing at a time when rape survivors, if they survive that is, are blamed for wearing short clothes, sitting at the bar in the company of men or wearing too much makeup–which is also Abby’s biggest concern. The regressive anti-abortion Bill passed in the state of Alabama, which does not exempt victims of rape is an example of how rape and sexual assault are perceived in our societies.
Closer home, our own politicians have stepped up enough times to make loose comments on rape survivors. Remember, one said that rape happens only in urban India, while another said ‘Nirbhaya’ was responsible for the gruesome state she was left in.
All the while holding Abby’s hand, Dr Karev was also fighting something inside her own head. She is trying to process the reality of her life, which she learned only some time ago. She lets go of Abby’s hand only when her husband is called in and is on her side, while Abby goes on to report the incident to the police.
It was not just this fictional character Abby who drew the courage to report her assault to the police. The National Sexual Assault Hotline in the United States saw a 48% increase in the number of calls after the episode, according to reports in the US media.
All these bits are likely to stir up emotions, but it only gets better when Dr Karev requests all the women in the hospital to line up the way from Abby’s room to the OR, much to their surprise. A tired and exhausted Abby, on the way to the surgery tells the doctors that all that she can see is her abuser’s face. She screams to make it stop, and Karev’s solution to this, is to arrange the line-up of friendly and compassionate women from the hospital, watching over her and establishing solidarity. Abby, completely overwhelmed by the gesture, is shown to clutch Dr Karev’s hand harder, as a sign of gratitude.
Meanwhile, Dr Karev, or Jo, as she is fondly called is one of the most dramatic characters ever written. She was abandoned as a child, lived in ‘shitty’ foster homes, and then in her own car, and went on to become one of the best surgeons in the country. She also learns that she is a product of rape, on finding her birth mother who had abandoned her as a baby. Further, she, as the episode highlights, is a victim of transgenerational trauma.
In fact, it had taken several years for her mother to battle the trauma of being raped by someone, who relentlessly pursued her to go on a date, only to sexually assault and rape her. It took years of therapy, she recalls to Jo, but still remembers the rapist’s smile on the date night, when he reminded her that, “She loved it and would do it again.“
Jo’s mother’s way of dealing with the rape and the abuse was to hide from the people around her during her pregnancy, and abandon the child for the want of a better life, or even a possibility of that. She also tells Jo that she looks like her rapist. For someone who went looking for her birth mother, with the simple intention to know why she was abandoned, turned out to be an unbelievable nightmare. Jo, coming back after learning this, and switches off herself, especially after she helps Abby report her rapist.
It is only after several attempts that she finally speaks to Dr. Meredith Grey, the lead on the show about how the story of her life was essentially her ‘birthright’.
Intergenerational or transgenerational trauma is something that gets transferred from one generation to another, mainly disrupting or preventing people of the next generation from identifying or understanding coping mechanisms in tense situations. This is beautifully captured in not only in Silent All These Years but in subsequent episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.
Jo while knowing she cannot judge her mother, goes into depression once again facing her mother’s rejection and learning that she looks like her mother’s rapist. This also paves way to understand and look at how trauma works and perpetuates, affecting people generation after generation.
On a parallel note, the episode also has brilliant bits on Ben Warren teaching his stepson about what consent means, which should not be missed.
The last episode in the season shows how Jo eventually gets herself to talk about the situation and is encouraged and supported by her friends to seek professional help. She takes the step, and let’s assume that it is for the better.
Rajitha S is a former journalist with a national daily and is currently on a break teaching mass communication to undergraduates at a private college in Bhutan. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured Image Source: The Tempest