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

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

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

Forty-one respondents, 6.8 percent of the total, said that, looking back as adults, there were times during grades one through six that they experienced sexual abuse. Four percent said they were sexually abused during 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 Plain Dealer of Cleveland, puncture the wall of silence that has kept secret much of the data on evangelical sex abuse.

David Pollock, a researcher, said the results on sexual abuse struck those involved with the project "with a great deal of pain and frustration."

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

Why the delay?

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

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

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

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

However, the journal reported, in part because of fears that sponsors might withdraw money, the tendency among mission agencies "is either to deny the possibility or to bury the problem through various administrative strategies. ... We must rely almost entirely on anecdotal data."

The Rev. Marie Fortune, author of "Sexual Violence: The Unmentionable Sin" and founder of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Seattle, said all the research indicates there is no significant demographic difference among religious groups concerning child abuse.

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