Esther Rantzen reveals childhood abuse that inspired ChildLine

Veteran children's campaigner speaks about her own traumatic experience

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ChildLine founder and That’s Life star Esther Rantzen has spoken for the first time about her own experience of being abused by a male relative when she was 15.

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“I had a disgusting member of the family who behaved inappropriately when I was in my teens,” she said. “I remember the revulsion I felt. The whole thing was traumatic – he said ‘Don’t tell on me’. I wouldn’t have known the phrase ‘sexual abuse’ but I knew it was disgusting. He frightened me and disgusted me from that moment on. It gave me nightmares.”

Rantzen, 71, formed ChildLine in 1986 as an organisation that children could phone for help. She reports that when it happened to her, she told her mother – and was not believed. “My mum said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Esther. You’re over-dramatising.'”

ChildLine is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and Rantzen says she has revealed the incident because a journalist asked her directly if anything had particularly influenced her decision to set up the organisation. “I felt that it was really incumbent on me, since we encourage children to talk to us, and since the book I’m doing is based on adults’ memories of their own childhood, I couldn’t very well not go down that road myself.”

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Rantzen’s book, Running Out of Tears: Twenty-Five Years of Childline, is published in October.