CLEVELAND, March 20 (RNS) -- Nearly 7 percent of former missionary children said theywere sexually abused during their elementary school years, according toa study by a consortium of mission groups.

In 1993, the consortium of eight major missionary organizationsconducted the most comprehensive survey ever made of missionarychildren. More than 600 former missionary kids responded to the surveyout of a sample of 1,200 randomly selected.

Although other portions of the study have been released, the resultson sexual abuse have not been previously published.

Forty-one respondents, 6.8 percent of the total, said that, lookingback as adults, there were times during grades one through six that theyexperienced sexual abuse. Four percent said they were sexually abusedduring grades seven through 12.

The survey question did not define what constituted sexual abuse.The respondents had to make that judgment.

The survey results, provided by research coordinators to The PlainDealer of Cleveland, puncture the wall of silence that has kept secretmuch of the data on evangelical sex abuse.

David Pollock, a researcher, said the results on sexual abuse struckthose involved with the project "with a great deal of pain andfrustration."

Pollock said publication of the results "will be the kind of thingthat will awaken some."

Why the delay?

"I don't think it was a matter of not releasing. It was just amatter of not getting it done," said Pollock, executive director ofInteraction, a Houghton, N.Y.-based group that provides ministryresources for missionary families.

Psychologist David Wickstrom, another researcher with the project,said coordinators face the constraints of working other full-timepositions, and publication of much of the data from the 47-page surveyhas taken time.

The study, done by mission organizations themselves, providespowerful evidence of a problem many evangelical groups have dismissed.

In a 1995 article, the Journal of Psychology and Theology reportedthat sexual abuse by missionaries can be found in almost every countrywhere missionaries are working.

However, the journal reported, in part because of fears thatsponsors might withdraw money, the tendency among mission agencies "iseither to deny the possibility or to bury the problem through variousadministrative strategies. ... We must rely almost entirely on anecdotaldata."

The Rev. Marie Fortune, author of "Sexual Violence: TheUnmentionable Sin" and founder of the Center for the Prevention ofSexual Violence in Seattle, said all the research indicates there is nosignificant demographic difference among religious groups concerningchild abuse.

Yet many Protestant groups still like to portray it as a Catholicproblem because of the publicity given to priestly pedophilia, Fortunesaid. "Certainly, the denial is there still, everywhere."