Forced Retention of Bodily Waste: The Most Overlooked Form of Child Maltreatment
By Laurie A. Couture
Laurie A. Couture, © 2001

The practice by school teachers and other caretakers of denying children use of the toilet is commonplace. The so-called "bathroom privilege" in schools is often seen as precisely that: a privilege, not a necessity or a right. Denial of students' access to the toilet is many times done for punitive reasons; rather than coming up with a positive, humane alternative, teachers often punish students who misuse the bathroom pass by denying or restricting their use of the toilet. Most often, rigid scheduling of designated bathroom use times, restriction and denial of toilet use is done for the sake of the caretakers' convenience or their need for power and control.

The external control of another person's bodily functions is viewed as a human rights violation in the case of adults but as an acceptable management tool in the case of children (Knutson, 1998;, 1999):

In 1999, inspectors at the Hudson Foods processing plant in Missouri found the plant in serious violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration codes for denying workers use of toilet facilities (Repa, 1999). Barbara Kate Repa (1999), author of an article in Your Rights in the Workplace, a legal publication, stated:

"...Few could fathom the human humiliation behind it all. Hudson workers claim they were required to ask permission before being allowed bathroom breaks-- and that permission was denied as often as it was granted" (p. 1).
Such a degrading, humiliating violation of human rights is viewed as such when adults are the victims (Repa, 1999; Knutson, 1998). When children suffer this form of demeaning physiological pain at the hands of school teachers, parents and caretakers, it is often overlooked and viewed as acceptable (, 1999; The Associated Press, 1997; The New York Times on the Web, 2000; Krupinski and Weikel, 1986).

"I never let a student go to the bathroom when they ask," instructs Stephanie Brown, a teacher responding to the classroom management "How-to" section of Another teacher, Loren Mead, states, "If they need to use the bathroom, sharpen pencils, etc. during class, they need to give me a card. When all three cards are gone, they lose a recess for every time they need one of those things. It allows for three "emergencies" a week" (, 1999).

...[S]he tells her students that they must pay her "five dollars" in order to use the toilet...

Another teacher, L. Shaub, states that unless she receives "doctor's notes", she tells her students that they must pay her "five dollars" in order to use the toilet or the water fountain when they ask to do so. She also suggests docking children's recess time for time spent using the toilet or water fountain (, 1999)., a website with the slogan, "where educators go to learn", insists on respectful treatment of children and creating a classroom climate for learning. Yet, the authors contracted a classroom management tip from a teacher who advocates for giving students "two bathroom passes" per term. States educator Laura Dowling about her two-pass rule, "They may use them when the need arises, but get no more chances after the passes are gone".

It is unlikely that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would tolerate employers that stated that they denied toilet use, restricted toilet use to "three emergencies a week", restricted toilet use to two visits per term, required that employees submit "doctor's notes" or pay them "five dollars" in order to use the toilet (, 1999;, 2000). Knutson's article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal states, "OSHA... believed that when it required restrooms in all workplaces 20 years ago, it had made clear to all companies that workers had the right to use them as the need arose" (Knutson, 1999). When the union found out that bus drivers in Palm Beach, Florida were being denied liquids and toilet use, union business agent wrote:

"The school district... is denying adults the basic human right to drink if thirsty, and... the right to eliminate body waste through threats and intimidation... The union considers such directives to be inappropriate and inhumane" (Flannery, 2000).
Yet children of all ages have been forced to painfully retain bodily waste for long periods of time, to wet themselves, attend school diapered and to urinate in school garbage cans because they weren't allowed the right to use the toilet when the need arose (The New York Times on the Web, 2000; Krupinski and Weikel, 1986). Adults who attended Catholic school in the 1950's and 1960's unanimously report suffering this form of bodily control at the hands of the nuns. One former student of a Catholic school reports severe urinary dysfunction as a result of a school rule that banned use of toilet facilities all day, including during after school hours.

Although this form of abuse is widely practiced in educational settings, forced retention of bodily waste is also practiced by parents and by caretakers in other settings such as residential facilities, youth detention centers and day care centers. This form of abuse can range from arbitrary denial of toilet use due to adult power and convenience to severe acts of torture.

One boy was routinely forced by his mother to stand in the cellar and retain his urine for several hours as a form of punishment. An adult respondent to a questioner reports urine retention being used as a form of torture to boys living in group facility in the 1950's. The boys were made to drink large glasses of water at supper time and then were forced to retain their urine into the night if they had presented with behavioral problems during the day. When the children would plead for relief, they were threatened with more glasses of liquid. Boys who wet themselves were severely beaten and made to repeat the routine the following night.

Another adult respondent recalls similar torture at a private school that she attended. Toilet use was designated to certain times during the day, except for children who lost their recess time due to misbehavior. The respondent reports that the teachers would look for children displaying obvious signs of distress and then would keep them inside for recess until they wet themselves. These children would then be beaten with a paddle.

It was recently reported to PTAVE that several children detained in a California Youth Detention facility were chained to a wall overnight for oppositional behavior. These children were made to retain their waste through the night, causing them to eventually wet themselves and remain in urine-soaked clothing.

The stories of this form of childhood suffering from children, adolescents and adults young and older are too numerous to list individually. They are often revealed with embarrassment, a sense of shame and uncomfortability, only after the issue has been raised by someone else.

Interestingly, prisoners of war often suffered forced waste retention, the same act viewed as "good classroom management" by school teachers. Two of the most severe published cases of child abuse each involved incidents of children, Ursula Sunshine Assaid and David Pelzer, being forced to retain their bodily waste during periods of isolation and torture by their parents (Krupinski and Weikel, 1986; Pelzer, 1995).

Some sufferers of chronic forced waste retention develop sexual fetishes involving waste and waste retention. The aforementioned adult respondents reported using masturbation as a way to dissociate from the pain of a full bladder. Websites that cater to the sadomasochistic desires of urolagnia ("water sports") enthusiasts are prevalent on the Internet. Urolagnia, a paraphilia, is a sadomasochistic practice in which retaining urine, urinating in one's clothes or urinating upon another person to humiliate or punish them is deliberately practiced for sexual gratification (Goldenson and Anderson, 1994; DSM-IV; 1994).

Adults who engage in urolagnia are often reenacting scenes from childhood, some in which they were denied toilet use by school teachers or caretakers due to adult convenience or due to punishment or containment (Krupinski and Weikel, 1986; The New York Times on the Web, 2000). Due to the close proximity of the urethra and bladder to the sex organs, some adults who chronically suffered this form of bodily control as children conditioned wetting in their pants or bladder tension with sexual arousal (Goldenson and Anderson, 1994).

Denying toilet use in children runs contrary to educational goals. A child concentrating on a full bladder or painful bowels is not able to concentrate on class material, nor is he or she able to learn. Prominent Behavioral Psychologist Abraham Maslow stated that unless the basic physiological needs of the body are met, the brain cannot function on higher tasks such as learning (Ewen, 1998). One adolescent boy reports that when his school teachers deny him use of the toilet he has only three options: Bolt from the classroom and into the bathroom, risking receiving detentions; urinate in his seat and risk humiliation by his peers; or sit and dissociate by fixating on a positive object in his mind such as ice cream or a pet. This is hardly conducive to learning and hardly conducive to healthy care of the body. This form of control over a child is an egregious abuse of adult power that would not be tolerated if an adult were the victim.

Denying toilet use and drinks of water in children runs contrary to medical advice advising that to maintain health, people should drink several glasses of water per day, empty the bladder frequently to prevent bacteria from collecting in the stagnant urine, and to empty the bowels when the need first arises in order to prevent constipation (Chalker and Whitmore, 1990; Lohn, 1999). Whitmore (1990), a clinical associate professor of urology considers these healthy habits "common-sense preventative measures" to infections (p. 117). Few competent medical authorities would support the popular school teacher notion that the elimination of bodily waste is a privilege rather than a necessary, basic human right.

Little attention is given by pediatricians, child psychologists, child welfare advocates and legal authorities to the physical and psychological health risks to children of waste retention, including urinary tract infections, constipation, bowel obstructions, kidney (renal) failure, uremic poisoning, overextension of the bladder muscle and weakening of the brain-bladder/bowel signals (Chalker and Whitmore, 1990; Lohn, 1999; The Associated Press, 1997).

Once again, as with all other forms of pain that the law allows for us to inflict on children in the name of "discipline" and control, we must ask ourselves: Why are children not afforded the same basic human rights protections as adults in this socially conscious nation and era in history?

See related materials:

  1. Health Risks to Children Associated With Forced Retention of Bodily Waste - A statement by health care professionals

  2. Are Your Children Safe in School? - Confronting the Issue of Teachers who Deny Toilet Use, by Laurie couture

  3. University of Iowa Study: Elementary Schools Need A Lesson In Bathroom Breaks, by Christopher Cooper, M.D.

  4. The Medical Risks Of Forced Retention of Urine, by Laurie A. Couture, M.Ed., 2003
    (Use your browser's "back" button to return to this index.)

  5. Letters from Parents About Denial of Toilet Usage in their Child’s School
    (Use your browser's "back" button to return to this index.)

  6. Using the Bathroom Is Your Right, Not a Privilege! By Laurie A. Couture

  7. Letter to the New York Times Re: "Teacher in Urination Flap", by Laurie A. Couture, February 11, 2000

  8. IMAGE: First graders, Wesley School, Houston, Texas: "One of the school's special aspects is its regimented bathroom break every morning," Contra Costa Times, February 11, 2001.

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