A WOMAN is bravely sharing her story of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her godfather to help raise awareness of the importance of ChildLine.

Melanie Harris doesn’t remember when her godfather started sexually abusing but at the age of 12 she found vital support through the NSPCC’s dedicated hotline for children in crisis.

Melanie, who lives in Eastwood and has waived her legal right to anonymity, said: “The great thing about ChildLine is that, over time, it empowers you to think that your wellbeing is more important than the fact those relationships might break down when people find out.

“Talking to ChildLine lightened the burden of keeping such a big secret. I felt more in control and I was able to get the support I needed on my own terms.”

Her godfather was a close family friend who was also Melanie’s godfather who would have Melanie over to stay at his house.

“I can’t remember when he started to sexually abuse me or when I started to realise it wasn’t okay,” she said.. There were glimmers of it not seeming right but I didn’t really know it was wrong because it was so normal to me and it happened every time I went to their house.”

Melanie first heard about ChildLine during an assembly at school and she now credits it as a life-changing moment.

She said: “I felt like the deputy head was talking directly to me.

“I knew I wanted to phone them but it was difficult to find an opportunity to do it because I wasn’t often on my own.

“One day I suggested to my friends we call them for a joke. I spoke to a counsellor and gave my real details.

“I told him about the abuse in a way that made it sound like I was making it up. My friends got bored and wandered off.

“I started to call more often though, this time when I was on my own.”

Between the ages of 12 and 13, Melanie rang Childline regularly.

She said: “I was just so glad to be finally sharing things with someone. They made me feel confident that it wasn’t my fault and helped me realise I didn’t have to be ashamed.”

When Melanie was 16, she told her parents and the case was brought to the courts where he was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

“I remember first hearing he had been found guilty and crying for hours,” she said.

“My advice to young people is to talk to Childline - it’s the first step in the process of dealing with what you’re going through.

“It left a lasting legacy beyond those interactions with counsellors and was more powerful than I ever realised.

“I think the abuse I experienced as a child definitely impacted me. I felt broken at the time. I don’t feel ashamed though and getting through it has made me a better person. I now want to volunteer for the NSPCC Schools Service. I’ve always known I wanted to do something to help. If that assembly hadn’t happened I don’t know if I would have told anyone.

“I want to share my story too – if it can help just one child to speak out and something positive can come out of my experiences, it would be a dream come true.” Melanie’s story is featuring as part of a national campaign fronted by Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer.