The relevance of fecal soiling as an indicator of child sexual abuse: a preliminary analysis

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2006 Feb;27(1):25-32. doi: 10.1097/00004703-200602000-00004.


Encopresis is typically characterized as resulting from chronic constipation with overflow soiling but has been portrayed as an indicator of sexual abuse. The predictive utility of fecal soiling as an indicator of sexual abuse status was examined. In a retrospective analysis of three comparison groups of 4-12 year olds, we studied 466 children documented and treated for sexual abuse; 429 psychiatrically referred children with externalizing problems and 641 normative children recruited from the community, with the latter two samples having abuse ruled out. Standardized parent report measures identified soiling status and sexual acting out behaviors. Multiple regression analysis was used to predict abuse status in each group. Reported soiling rates were 10.3% (abuse), 10.5% (psychiatric), and 2% (normative), respectively. The soiling rate in the abused group differed significantly from that of the normative group, but not from the psychiatric group. Similar rates of soiling were reported among abused children, with and without penetration, and the psychiatric sample. Rates of sexualized behavior were reported significantly more often by the abused group versus both the psychiatric and normative groups and were a better predictor of abuse status. The positive predictive value of soiling as an indicator of abuse was 45% versus 63% for sexual acting out. The psychiatric sample displayed significantly more dysregulated behavior than the sexually abused sample. The predictive utility of fecal soiling as an indicator of sexual abuse in children is not supported. Soiling seems to represent one of many stress-induced dysregulated behaviors. Clinicians should assume the symptom of soiling is most likely related to the typical pathology and treat accordingly.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Encopresis / epidemiology
  • Encopresis / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Reference Values
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Statistics as Topic