Shonda Rhimes Fought ABC's Censors Over Powerful 'Grey's Anatomy' Rape Kit Scene

Even Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, a producer so successful she has her own night on ABC, has to fight network executives to tell the stories she wants. Rhimes had to fight to keep a dramatic and pivotal scene in this week's episode featuring a rape kit being administered.

"Silent All These Years" tackled the topic of consent, and even ended with information on how sexual assault victims can contact RAINN, the national sexual assault telephone hotline. During scenes at Grey Sloan, Jo (Camilla Luddington) treated a trauma victim (Khalilah Joi) who later agreed to have a rape kit administered. Rhimes, writer Elisabeth Finch and showrunner Krista Vernoff chose to show viewers the process, which ABC's Standards and Practices department objected to.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Vernoff said Rhimes "declined" the notes.

"We received notes initially from ABC's Broadcast Standards and Practices," Vernoff explained. "They give these standard notes: 'don't be too gory'; 'don't be too explicit in your language'; 'no side boob.' But the ones we got on this script included, 'Please don't show any fluid on the Q-tips' and 'Please don't show any body fluids under the blue lights.'"

Rhimes responded with a "pretty passionate response of the myriad ways that networks are willing to show actual violence but that what we were doing here was the medical process that happens in the wake of violence and they were trying to tell us we couldn't show it," Vernoff said.

Rhimes wrote "Respectfully, I disagree," Vernoff said, and the executive who wrote the note agreed. In fact, they later invited the executive to be part of the emotional wall of women scene, when the victim was taken in for surgery.

Vernoff previously said the episode was inspired by the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but told THR the episode was not partisan.

"As much as the political moment that began the conversation is somehow partisan, rape is a nonpartisan issue. Rape occurs worldwide," Vernoff explained. "The statistics are staggering, and nobody cares what your political affiliation is. It's a worldwide blight. The opportunity to really look at it through so many different lenses that is ultimately deeply humanizing, character-driven storytelling, empathetic storytelling … I feel privileged to be a part of it and so grateful for Finchie, [director] Debbie Allen and Shonda. It feels pretty overwhelming."

Finch explained that every woman on the staff contributed scenes in the episode. Vernoff wrote the scene towards the end where Ben (Jason George) explained consent to his son in an easily understood way. The episode also opened with a viewer discretion warning, which Vernoff said the team requested and ABC agreed to include it.

"Silent All These Years" also included Jo's conversation with her biological mother Vicki (Michelle Forbes). Jo learned she is the child of rape and also revealed she had an abortion after learning she was pregnant when married to her abusive ex-husband.


New episodes of Grey's Anatomy air on ABC Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET.

Photo credit: ABC/Mitch Haaseth