In March, the long-running medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” ran an episode focused on sexual assault. A new study shows the episode had a substantial impact on viewers, increasing public awareness of the issue on both social media and through an increased number of calls to a sexual assault hotline.
The episode, titled “Silent All These Years,” had an emotional storyline focused on the topics of consent, sexual assault, and a frank depiction of rape kits. The episode documented the story of one woman’s assault, and her experience with reporting her rape and dealing with the emotions surrounding the incident. The character blames herself and is reluctant to have a rape kit done. However, with the support of the female staff, she undergoes the procedure.
At the end of the episode, actor Ellen Pompeo provided the hotline number for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
In the 48 hours after the episode aired, the hotline call volume increased by 43%, and tweets mentioning “sexual assault hotline” and “RAINN” increased by 1,995% and 292% respectively, according to a study from Oklahoma State University.
In order to assess the episode’s impact, the researchers examined trends and analytics from Twitter and Google Trends on tweets and search terms during two weeks before and one week after the airing of “Silent All These Years.” They used the terms “Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network” (including “RAINN”), “sexual assault” and “rape,” and tweets including “sexual assault hotline,” “RAINN” or the network’s Twitter handle, @RAINN.
As a control, the team also used an algorithm to forecast “expected search and tweet volumes in the same 3-week period had the episode not aired.”
Following the episode, researchers found that Google searches for “RAINN” were 41% higher than expected, and searches for “rape” and “sexual assault” also increased. According to researchers, “Results from this observational study suggest that this Grey’s Anatomy episode was associated with increased public awareness of sexual assault and the RAINN hotline. Increasing accurate portrayals of sexual assault in the media, coupled with increased awareness of organizations similar to RAINN, may positively affect public health.”
Kate Langrall Folb, director of Hollywood, Health & Society at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center in Beverly Hills, California, agrees. “TV storylines can have a powerful impact on viewers, and when coupled with an action item, such as a hotline or website, we often see a significant spike in outreach directly after the show and public service announcement.
The U.S. National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-856-HOPE (4673).
If you or someone you love are a victim of sexual assault, the attorneys at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC can help. If you prefer speaking with a female attorney because of the specifics of your situation, you can. Your first priority should be your personal safety. Then, call us at 855-906-3949 or reach out to us through our contact page. We serve clients throughout South Carolina.