Uptick in sexual assault hotline awareness after 'Grey's Anatomy' episode: study

While more study of other public awareness measures is warranted, the researchers said their observational study of a Grey’s Anatomy episode on sexual assault was associated with increased public awareness of sexual assault and the RAINN hotline. (Shutterstock/Have a nice day photo)

TV medical dramas often get a bad rap for how they portray healthcare. 

But an observational study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine is giving "Grey's Anatomy" some credit for increasing awareness for a sexual assault hotline. 

In the study conducted at Oklahoma State University, researchers examined the impact of a March 2019 episode of the ABC TV show called 'Silent all these years' which centered on the theme of sexual assault.  At the end of the episode, the show featured actress Ellen Pompeo urging viewers to seek help and providing the contact number for the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline.

For the study, the researchers used Google Trends and Sprout Social to examine interest across the web around search terms such as “Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network” (including “RAINN”), “sexual assault,” and “rape" in the two weeks prior to the episode airing and one week after it aired.

They also contacted RAINN about telephone call volumes in the 48 hours after the episode aired.

The researchers found searches on Google specifically for the term "RAINN" were 41% greater than expected following the episode. Searches for the term "rape" were 8% greater than expected and searchers for "sexual assault" increased 9% over what was expected. 

On Twitter, tweets mentioning the organizational account @RAINN increased to 1,097% more than the expected volume while tweets mentioning “sexual assault hotline” and “RAINN" jumped 1,955% and 292% more than the expected volumes, respectively.

Finally, telephone calls to the RAINN sexual assault hotline increased 43% in the 48 hours after the episode released.

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

While more study of other public awareness measures would be warranted, the researchers said the observational study suggested the Grey’s Anatomy episode was associated with increased public awareness of sexual assault and the RAINN hotline. 

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"Hollywood may be poised to help put the public back into public health," the authors of the study wrote.

They pointed to recommendations that the media standardize the inclusion of suicide and substance abuse hotline numbers when addressing those themes. "We believe this recommendation can be extended to sexual assault as well," they said.