First, thanks for being a good friend by reaching out to make sure you are better educated on how to best support your friend as she goes through the process of healing after being raped. It can be really hard to know what to do/say in that circumstance.
I just watched this amazing video on the difference between sympathy and empathy and I think it contains a lot of really important points that are relevant to what you’re asking about. One of the most important things to remember when interacting with anyone who is going through something hard is it’s not your responsibility to fix it or make it better (and in fact usually you can’t). This can be really hard for people. We’re hard-wired to want to fix problems, to make people feel better, and to look to the positive when things get hard. But the fact is, sometimes things just suck. Sometimes people are going through stuff that is too hard and too dark to do anything other than stand next to them as they wade through the darkness.
The beautiful thing about that is, while it may feel hard or uncomfortable at first, letting someone know you’re there for them and truly listening to them without an agenda is ultimately the best way to help. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been with sexual assault survivors who are going through things that I can do nothing about. It’s really hard to watch that happen to someone and to not be able to do anything. But I quickly learned that saying things like “that is a really hard situation” or “things really suck right now” may not feel like doing anything but is often incredibly meaningful to someone who feels alone, unheard, and who is going through hard stuff.
So to answer your question, there is no script. Not having a script is scary and makes you feel more vulnerable but that vulnerability is important especially when you are talking with a person who is likely feeling the most vulnerable she has ever felt. I think the most powerful thing you can do for your friend is to communicate to her that you are here to support her and to ask her how she would like you to do that. You can tell her that you aren’t totally sure how to navigate this with her but you want to do whatever you can to be a good friend to her. You can explicitly say something like “I don’t know if you want me to ask you about your hospital visit but I want you to know that I was thinking about you and I’m here to talk about it if you want to.”
When we avoid asking questions or talking about things, it makes people who are going through difficult times feel even more isolated. That said, not everyone wants you to ask questions nor do they even want to talk sometimes. That’s why it’s incredibly important to ask someone who is healing from sexual assault what they want. Give them some power back by enabling them to dictate how they need to be supported. Make it clear to your friend that if what she wants is to sit quietly with you, you can do that. If she wants to talk it out with you, also an option (and if that’s the case, make sure you’re ready to be non-judgmental and totally open to whatever she says). If she just wants to paint her fingernails and talk about pop culture, that’s perfectly acceptable too. But you won’t know what she needs until you take the first vulnerable step of letting her know that you don’t have the answers and you are here to support her however she needs.
All of that said, make sure you also figure out your own boundaries in what kinds of support you can offer. It can become really emotionally exhausting or even triggering to be the person your friend talks to about details especially if you’re the only person she feels like she can talk to. Make sure that you care for yourself and take time away from being a support person if you need that for your own health and well-being. I know that’s hard because it feels selfish, but it’s incredibly important to remember that you can’t help others if you aren’t helping yourself.
I hope this is useful to you and anyone else who has a friend or loved one healing from sexual assault or going through anything difficult. Best of luck and thanks again for being a good friend.