Dou­ble rape hell – I couldn’t save my son

I un­der­stood my son’s agony but couldn’t save him from it...

Chat - - CONTENTS - Deb­bie Coo­ley, 48, Kent

I knew some­thing ter­ri­ble must have hap­pened

My son Ryan reached for a take­away menu and slung his other arm around my shoul­ders.

‘Let’s have a girls’ night, Mum,’ he winked.

‘Only if I can pick the film,’ I gig­gled.

It was Satur­day night in June 2011, and his mates were all out.

But my boy wanted to stay in with his mum, a pizza and DVD.

Ryan was great com­pany, had started mak­ing peo­ple laugh as a beam­ing tod­dler and never stopped.

He’d been born on Christ­mas Day 1994 – my best present ever – and we’d had girls’ nights to­gether since he was tiny.

Now 16, he loved fish­ing and watch­ing Eng­land football matches with his dad Wayne, then 38.

He was am­bi­tious, too, wanted to be an artist. I was so proud of him.

But by the time Ryan was 17, our nights in were a dis­tant mem­ory.

He’d go out par­ty­ing, reap­pear­ing at dawn with glassy eyes.

‘What’s go­ing on?’ I de­manded one morn­ing.

And he ad­mit­ted tak­ing drugs.

Wayne and I were an­gry, then scared. But Ryan promised to give it up and knuckle down at school.

At 18, he went to Can­ter­bury Christ Church Univer­sity, to study Fine Art. His dream.

At first, he seemed happy. But, one night, as we watched TV, Ryan called Wayne, drunk.

As Wayne lis­tened, his face dropped.

‘Just come home, son,’ he stut­tered.

I knew some­thing ter­ri­ble must have hap­pened.

‘Ryan was abused,’ Wayne said, hang­ing up. ‘It started when he was 7. He was raped at 11.’ The room spun. When Ryan even­tu­ally stum­bled through the door, we wrapped our arms around him as he told us ev­ery­thing.

The name of his abuser: some­one we’d both trusted.

‘Why didn’t you tell us, love?’ I sobbed.

‘It was too painful,’ Ryan whis­pered.

He couldn’t face re­port­ing it to the po­lice ei­ther.

Over the next weeks, Ryan went down­hill – he quit uni, re­fused to have coun­selling.

So I saw a coun­sel­lor in­stead.

‘How can I help him?’ I asked.

But as we talked, it res­ur­rected dark mem­o­ries I’d tried to for­get.

You see, I’d been raped, too.

Aged 14, I’d been at­tacked at a car­a­van park in broad day­light.

Trau­ma­tised, ashamed, I’d kept it se­cret, only ever con­fid­ing in Wayne.

I’d never seen my rapist again, but the men­tal scars were deep.

Still, in time, I’d man­aged to build a happy life from the wreck­age.

I wanted Ryan to re­alise that abuse didn’t have to de­fine him, ei­ther, show him there was hope.

‘I un­der­stand what you’re go­ing through,’ I told him, soon af­ter, shar­ing my own ter­ri­ble story.

Ryan was shocked.

‘It doesn’t get bet­ter overnight,’ I soothed. ‘But it is pos­si­ble.’

‘You’re Su­per­woman, Mum,’ Ryan said.

‘You’re brave too,’ I re­as­sured him.

As time passed, Ryan perked up – got a dec­o­rat­ing job, found a nice girl­friend and moved out.

But I kept a close eye on him, and when he was 21, cracks opened up.

His re­la­tion­ship broke down, his usu­ally spot­less flat be­came ne­glected.

He was dis­ap­pear­ing for days par­ty­ing – fi­nally he ad­mit­ted us­ing drugs again.

‘They help me for­get,’ Ryan sobbed.

This time, we got him drugs coun­selling, but his men­tal health de­te­ri­o­rated.

‘I can hear a voice in my head,’ he told me in June 2017, eyes fear­ful. ‘A fic­tional man called Sam, who says I’m worth­less.’

He drew a dis­turb­ing pic­ture of Sam and my heart broke.

Five months later, he turned up, bare­foot, in the pour­ing rain – wear­ing only a pair of track­suit bot­toms.

‘Mum, make the voice stop,’ he begged.

He was vol­un­tar­ily sec­tioned, treated for drug-in­duced psy­chosis with hal­lu­ci­na­tions.

Five days later, Ryan was dis­charged and came to live with us.

‘I’ll stay clean this time,’ he vowed.

He be­gan ex­press­ing his

pain through po­etry, and we started up our girls’ nights again.

But it was tough. He’d miss doc­tor’s ap­point­ments – and by June 2018, the warn­ing signs were back.

Ryan was go­ing out all night, los­ing weight…

‘I feel pow­er­less,’ I de­spaired to Wayne.

On 16 March this year, Ryan was up­set af­ter row­ing with a friend.

Wayne and I stayed up talk­ing to him, thought we’d made a break­through…

‘I’ll speak to a coun­sel­lor about the abuse,’ he vowed. ‘It’s time to face it.’

‘Son, you may have been knocked down, but you can get up again,’ I promised.

At 4.30am, Wayne and

I fi­nally headed to bed.

Ex­hausted, it was al­most lunchtime when I padded down­stairs.

‘Ryan,’ I called. No an­swer.

So I knocked on his bed­room door, opened it and went in­side.

See­ing his bed­sheets flung back, I sighed. Where’s he gone now?

Then I glanced at the win­dow – and saw my son. He’d hanged him­self.

I was too shocked to scream. Dazed, my body numb, I stum­bled back to our bed­room to tell Wayne.

He cried out and we sobbed in each other’s arms.

Our beau­ti­ful boy was dead at 24.

We di­alled 999 and paramedics and po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rived.

I spent hours in the chapel of rest, hold­ing Ryan’s hand.

‘I’m not an­gry,’ I said, sob­bing. ‘But I wish you hadn’t done this, my dar­ling.’

Two weeks later, I stum­bled across a note in Ryan’s room.

I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered my­self lucky when it comes to my par­ents... it read.

Now I don’t want to be here any more and that would hurt them...

Hope­fully my mum and dad will end up be­ing happy, no mat­ter what.

If it’s pos­si­ble, my heart shat­tered even more.

Around 300 mourn­ers came to Ryan’s funeral.

In June, at an in­quest into Ryan’s death, the coroner recorded a nar­ra­tive ver­dict of death by hang­ing due to men­tal ill­ness brought about by sex­ual abuse.

We tried so hard to save Ryan, and I would have done any­thing to take away his pain.

Now I’m fundrais­ing for the men­tal-health char­ity Mind.

I want abuse vic­tims to know re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble. I’m proof of that. Af­ter my at­tack, it wasn’t easy, but I forged a good life, full of peo­ple I love and who love me back.

Now, though my heart is bro­ken, I have to try to find that hap­pi­ness again one day – it was Ryan’s last wish.

Un­til then,

I am spread­ing a mes­sage in my son’s name.

If you know the same pain as me and Ryan, I beg you to get help.

Be­fore you do some­thing you won’t be here to re­gret.

• To help, visit just­giv­ing. com/fundrais­ing/ re­mem­ber­ing-ryan­coo­ley.

I’d have done any­thing to take away his pain

Ryan and me last De­cem­ber

My smil­ing boy, aged 7

Now mem­o­ries are all I have

Ryan’s sketch of ‘Sam’

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