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'Little House on the Prairie' star Alison Arngrim says protection for child actors is so much better today, but it still has far to go

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Are the Kids Alright? is Yahoo Entertainment's video interview series exploring the impact of show business on the development and well-being of former child entertainers, from triumphs to traumas.

Alison Arngrim recalls that when she was playing local brat Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie in the '70s, there was no official way of flagging any issues that you encountered. There were no hotlines or formal policies for filing complaints about sexual harassment or anything else.

"It's a lot better now," she tells Yahoo Entertainment. "There's a lot more legal protections in place and a lot more people aware of how nuts it can be … but [they] absolutely can do more."

Arngrim —who started on the show when she was just 12, beginning in 1974 and ending in 1982 — considers herself fortunate to have appeared on a family-focused show with a large number of young actors.

"So, it was pretty bad [in general], but Little House was good," Arngrim said. "I felt protected by the crew. I felt very much that if someone on the set had really bothered me, I could have gone to the crew, and they'd kill them. It wasn't like a set where it’s all grown-ups and, like, one or two kids."

Melissa Gilbert, left, and Eric Shea appear alongside Alison Arngrim on
Melissa Gilbert, left, and Eric Shea appear alongside Alison Arngrim on 'Little House on the Prairie.' (Photo: Everett Collection)

After all, the story centered around young Melissa Gilbert, who played Nellie's nemesis Laura Ingalls. The kids in the cast were much more than an afterthought. But Arngrim heard from friends her age working on other sets that that was not always the case.

"If you had to be on a [TV] series as a kid, if you got on Little House on the Prairie, you had basically won the child safety lottery," Arngrim said.

Still, Arngrim was sexually abused off-set by a relative when she was a young child, and she has spent years working with the National Association to Protect Children to advocate for those who are in her former position. She was part of a team that persuaded California lawmakers to close the "incest loophole," which enabled sexual offenders who abused someone related to them to get a lighter sentence than those who abused a nonrelative.

She explained her theory that abuse has always been especially rife in the entertainment industry for a simple reason.

"People who are looking to abuse children will gravitate towards occupations and situations where they have free access," she said. "So becoming an agent, a manager, a photographer, etcetera — yeah, they're gonna do that." 

In the years since Little House, Arngrim has continued to revisit her most famous character, with her 2010 memoir, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, and a one-woman comedy show based on it.

— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee

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