LIVING

Three Women Reveal How They Overcame Sexual Assault And Finally Healed

03/24/2017 12:04 EDT

In Canada, for every estimated 100 incidents of sexual assault, only about six cases are reported to police. And even if survivors move forward with charges, there's never a guarantee the perpetrator will ultimately be convicted.

Those facts alone can force many women who have experienced assault to stay silent, but they're compounded by the potential judgement they may face from others, the self-blame and the replaying of the terrifying memories in their minds. So is it possible for victims to move forward from these incidents?

According to Toronto resident Ryley Murray, who will share her full story of sexual assault in the upcoming rap symphony "The Decision," there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I came out the other end the most self-aware and empowered [I've ever felt], with the highest standards for the type of person I let into my life."

"When I was 17, I was raped by a former boyfriend," Murray tells The Huffington Post Canada. "At the time of the assault I was struggling with low self-esteem and this assault only made that worse. For years after, I gave away my power to men who were undeserving of me."

She also reveals that for years after the initial assault, she left her self-worth up to the men she was dating. She recognized this behaviour was doing more harm than good after ending an emotionally abusive relationship.

It was at that point Murray realized she had to look to herself, and not the approval of men, to fully heal.

"I went on what I call a 'relationship cleanse," the survivor shares. "I spent six months hibernating, simply getting to know the real me ... I came out the other end the most self-aware and empowered [I've ever felt], with the highest standards for the type of person I let into my life."

After her cleanse, the 32 year old says she manifested the perfect partner into her life, one she describes as a "feminist" and a true supporter. Her boyfriend also composed the script for "The Decision," which will explore the judge's ruling of the Jian Ghomeshi trial through music.

sexual assault

When Cola Bennett, 28, was first sexually assaulted, she was 14. And while her assault was ongoing, she tells HuffPost Canada it was her son's birth two years later, along with her faith, that kept her from drowning.

"[My son] saved my life," she confesses. "I was a single mother, struggling to raise a child with muscular dystrophy while completing a classical piano degree in university. I buried my feelings but after the last violation — I hit rock bottom.

"I sought help from a therapist to build my life back and as much as it helped I was still empty," she continues. "Poetry, music and Jesus became my outlets that gave me the hope to find my purpose."

Sadly, Bennett's son passed away in 2014, but despite her tragic loss, she refuses to lose the battle when it comes to finding inner peace.

"My quest for peace, change and forgiveness is constant," she shares. "'Cause the minute I give up — they win."

crying woman

Former teacher Sara Davidson also shared her frightening account with HuffPost Canada, which happened during a home invasion, where she was gang raped by a group of men she didn't know.

"My days [following the incident] rattled between a grief so deep I was immobile, struggling to eat from the preventative HIV medication I had to take, to the sheer terror as I closed my eyes at night," she says. "Happy moments were followed by dark days of nausea, shame and flashbacks that would literally bring me to my knees."

The mother shares that while her journey to heal and find peace was not an easy road, completing her master's in psychotherapy and speaking to young girls and women who also survived sexual assault helped her along the way. Building a relationship with a romantic partner wasn't as easy as she would have liked, though eventually Davidson found her footing.

"Although I will never be the same, and my life is forever broken into two halves — pre and post assault — I can truly begin to live again."

But what truly lead this brave woman to peace was simply finding it in her heart to forgive.

"Because there could never be justice, I learned that forgiveness would indeed be the narrative to my healing," she declares. "Forgiving myself and the perpetrators would inevitably be my light. They could no longer occupy a place in my soul where anger, shame and rage once lived.

"I desperately needed to live freer and lighter, and through therapy, love, laughter and the birth of my son six years later, I finally forgave them, and most importantly, I forgave myself," she adds. "I learned to love the new me. Although I will never be the same, and my life is forever broken into two halves — pre and post assault — I can truly begin to live again."

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