Grey’s Anatomy episode increased public awareness of sexual assault
An episode of the popular TV show Grey’s Anatomy helped to increase public awareness of sexual assault and a hotline for people seeking assistance, according to study findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Correct portrayal is needed for destigmatizing sexual violence in general, especially the aspects of getting help,” Trevor Torgerson, BS, a medical student at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, told Healio Primary Care. “We have come a long way in recent years, but there is still more work to be done.”
The episode — which was about sexual assault and the care survivors receive — ended with the lead actress addressing the audience directly, urging them to seek help and providing information about the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, hotline.
Researchers searched for relevant terms on Google Trends and Twitter for 2 weeks before and 1 week after the episode aired to determine if posts or searches for the terms were affected by the episode.
They found that Google searches for RAINN were 41% (95% CI, 17-65) higher than expected after the episode aired based on previous searches. In addition, searches for “rape” were 8% (95% CI, 2-13) higher than expected, and “sexual assault” searches were 9% (95 CI, –3 to 21) greater than expected after the episode aired.
The day after the episode aired, tweets that mentioned RAINN’s twitter account were 1,097% (95% CI, 676-2,512) greater than expected, while the volume of tweets mentioning “sexual assault hotline” was 1,955% (95% CI, 406-207,600) greater and those mentioning “RAINN” were 292% (95% CI, 120-1,731) greater than expected.
In addition to increased Twitter activity and Google searches, phone calls to the RAINN hotline increased 43% in the 48 hours following the initial airing of the episode.
Torgerson noted that the findings suggest that the established WHO guidelines that standardized the use of suicide hotline numbers in the media could be applied to media portrayals of sexual assault.
“The more exposure the public can get to using a crisis hotline, the process once they call, and what the recovery process might look like after the call, the greater influence the hotline may have,” he said. “Most importantly, we recommend getting the crisis hotline numbers as much exposure as possible. We can’t expect people to get help from a resource they don’t know about.”
In addition to providing hotline numbers, “leveraging television and movies to show people the process of getting help which may ease the minds of those who are afraid to take that next step,” Torgerson said.
However, he stressed that public health issues like suicide should be handled with caution, to prevent negative effects like the increase in suicidal ideation in teens after the release of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. – by Erin Michael
Disclosure: Torgerson reports no relevant financial disclosures.