The 13th Step


TRIGGER WARNING. This article contains content about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering for some readers.

By Erin J.

By the time I was 21, I had already completed two failed stints in rehab and was in and out of AA meeting rooms. I’m always hesitant to attach narratives to my past experiences because it’s so easy to package them neatly into little boxes and explain away my actions using the brain I have now. I will say my understanding of me at 21 is that I was, first of all, 21, so all the things that go along with being 21 applied. I was also still drinking sporadically. I hated myself, hated the way I looked, felt misunderstood, and less than all of my peers. When I attended AA meetings I received a lot of attention. At the time there weren’t a lot of young people in the meeting rooms, particularly women my age, so it was a new experience for me. People, mostly men, paid attention to me and for the first time in my life I felt seen. It was a powerful drug.  I had a couple of gentleman who were incredibly patient with me and who spent a lot of time trying to help me see that I was worth recovery however one interaction has lingered in my memory since that time.

I attended a downtown meeting on a fairly regular basis in my hometown, and there was another regular attendee that everyone seemed to be friendly with, he seemed fairly innocuous and seemed to have friends in the rooms. We would engage in small talk on occasion and one day he invited me out to have coffee with him in a park nearby.  I went with him in his truck and we headed to a somewhat secluded area of a park by the river and took a seat at a picnic table where he began asking me questions about my recovery. It was so long ago I can’t remember the specifics of what we talked about but he definitely started asking about my relationships with men. About five minutes into the conversation I noticed that he was masturbating under the table. I was so shocked that I froze; I don’t remember what happened after other than I asked to be brought back downtown.

The intention of this article isn’t really to get into the nuances of sexual assault but I will say that in retrospect my reactions were pretty congruent with what is understood as a typical reaction to a violation. I blamed myself; I thought I had done something to provoke it, so much so that I thought maybe I had agreed to the interaction somehow without actually saying so. This incident has always stuck with me. For some reason, I haven’t shared this story with many people, I think because I was embarrassed because I felt so stupid for putting myself in the situation. Like many stories in my past, there is a lot of shame attached to my actions, but in this case, my actions weren’t the same as “I stole something”, “I lied” “I hurt someone”. I was seeking recovery and I trusted that the meeting rooms were a safe place for me, and they have been and remain so for the most part. I have developed some life skills and boundaries that have allowed me to interact with people in recovery. Those skills have been hard won and require continual maintenance and have come about through working a program of recovery and through thousands of dollars worth of therapy.

Unfortunately many newcomers to Alcoholics Anonymous don’t often come in with effective life skills and the meeting rooms can be ripe with opportunities for violence, abuse and poor decision-making when it comes to sex, love and relationships. A recent CBS 48 Hours episode titled The Sober Truth featured an expose about the 2011 murder of a young female AA member. What I essentially took from the program was an inference was that Alcoholics Anonymous meeting rooms are filled with rapists and convicted felons. The program “exposed” the fact that many AA members are court ordered to the program, and are then put in contact with other members without criminal pasts who might not otherwise associate with them. In my opinion, one of the fundamental sources of pride in Alcoholics Anonymous comes from chapter 2 of the Big Book:

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.

Tradition Three states that “the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking” which reminds us that membership is open to everyone, regardless of their gender, belief, sexual identity, association, political leaning, or their past. This tradition has been essential to the Agnostic / Atheist / Freethinker movement in AA and from my limited understanding of the organization of AA, a foundation of the program. So in essence, 48 Hours is correct, all are welcome in AA meeting rooms. While I am deeply sorry for what happen to the family and friends of the woman who was the subject of that 48 Hours episode, and for the victim herself who was just trying to find the solace that I also came to AA to find, I do not think that this tradition or AA as a whole is responsible for what happened. I believe it is the individual actions of people in AA that is responsible as well as the silence of other members, and the lack of discussion about this topic in the rooms. Without delving too much into the politics of sexual violence, I will say that for me, the blame lies in a dominant culture where predatory behaviour is trivialized, dismissed and deflected and in this case rather than 48 Hours exploring this larger issue in depth they chose to offer up a sensational piece about AA. Plenty of men (and women) without criminal records commit violent acts or behave in a predatory manner towards women (and other men).

I myself have been just as guilty of this kind of behavior in meetings at times in my recovery. My first decade in and out of AA I spent more time in the rooms looking for boyfriends than I did looking for recovery, and there was no shortage of equally damaged men looking to fill that role. I had very little warning or intervention from other members so today I make it a point of openly discussing this issue with other women in the program. I can’t tell you the number of stories I have heard from women in the rooms who found themselves under the “guidance” of more senior members of the program and inevitably ending up in complicated sexual liaisons. There are meetings in my city I just simply won’t attend because they feel like pick-up joints.  It’s whispered about amongst members but it never seems to be addressed directly which could be attributed to the reliance on group conscience as a guiding hand, and if the issue isn’t discussed, it isn’t addressed.

As a response to this issue, and it’s relationship to AA meeting rooms I think it is essential that we start talking about predatory behaviour more openly amongst ourselves as members of AA. I believe we must encourage our friends in recovery, our sponsees and to general attendees at meetings to respect AA meeting rooms as places of healing and recovery, and not encourage or turn a blind eye to members who use them as dating pools and partner hunting grounds. We especially need to be diligent about reaching out to newer, younger members, male and female and help them navigate themselves through early sobriety which mean the topic of sex, relationships etc… needs to be brought up in meetings. This for me is what I appreciate so much about the Freethinkers movement in AA, I believe free thinking and free speech really opens the doors for discussion about this issue that often doesn’t get spoken about in traditional AA meeting rooms. I don’t remember having a lot of women reach out to me when I was new and young in recovery, maybe they did and I can’t remember or I disregarded their warnings (that’s entirely possible) but I feel it’s important for me to have these types of discussions with new men and women in the meeting rooms. I am also guilty of not raising this issue as a topic in meetings and am making a commitment moving forward to do so. I think some of my fear is that many dogmatic, rigid AA members seem to frown on discussions outside of Big Book canon and will say so, and refuse to share regarding the topic if they feel that there is a dogmatic breach in the room. This often influences how a meeting progresses and often the topic gets lost in translation. I have witnessed variations of this when the topic of sex has been brought up.

I know there is no easy fix for this issue and that it is much more complicated than the opinion I am expressing, which is of course, my own. I was nervous about writing this article not only because I am sharing a very personal story but because I anticipate that the subject matter may be very polarizing. In some ways it really comes down to people being accountable for their own actions. For me, being accountable was something I learned how to do through my participation in the AA program and when I attended AA meetings without the distraction of dating, sex etc… the program started to work. Go figure.

In December 2014, after the conclusion of the trial, the story of the murder of Karla Brada Mendez – featured in the 48 Hours episode – was covered by a number of newspapers, including The Fix and the American Bar Association Journal

Erin J. is a recovering alcoholic, drug addict and practicing Buddhist and is also one of the founders of the first agnostic / atheist meeting in her hometown. She recently had the opportunity to attend the first We Agnostics, Atheists and Free Thinkers convention in Santa Monica, California, where she contributed her time as a volunteer and participated and recorded her experiences in several workshops. You can read some of her work here: Workshops at the WAFT Convention.

68 Responses

  1. Dorothy H. says:

    Dear Erin,

    WOWISHERS! It was truly a bold and brave act to write about this in such a public site. I too have been 13th stepped. I was warned by women in my early sobriety not to talk about sexuality in mixed meetings. I now know that was an attempt to protect me from 13th steppers. Sadly, it only made it worse because when I was suffering I felt that it wasn’t safe to talk about such issues.

    I was also advised not to date within my first year of sobriety. I didn’t listen to the latter and paid a price for it. The price I continue to pay is that he comes to my homegroup from time to time. I have dealt with my pain and resentment over his past stalking behavior but it still is difficult having him in the same room. I also make a point to new women who come into my meeting that he has a history, beyond me, of dating and tormenting newcomer women. I make a point not to have it based in gossip but just state the facts of the situation. Sadly, he is doing it again with another newcomer right now. I can only hope that she has the strength to survive it and be stronger for it.

    A different side of this is the social shame around sex/sexuality that is expressed in our culture which infects AA. I was heart broken when I learned that I had to learn to protect myself within AA. I thought I had a place where I could be completely safe. Sadly, that place doesn’t exist anywhere on earth.

    Lastly, though there is a lot of quality discussion on the comments here I find it striking that the male voices outweigh the women here. Not that women should speak up ONLY on this topic… I just find it interesting.

  2. kevin b says:

    As I cannot reply to so many of the comments, I have to post follow up thoughts here. As usual, I agree with bob k that there needs to be some sort of definition for 13th Stepping or predation. For example, is it “13th Stepping when 2 “newcomers” (which is commonly defined and less than a year, although I have also heard of it bring a 6-month requirement OR a suggestion that Steps 4&5 have been worked by both parties) get together? On court slips, I’m generally agnostic about the issue but I can see both sides of the argument.

  3. crescentdave says:

    The problem with using phrases like “13 stepping” is that they are not precise. And certain important issues get clouded by using imprecise language. Early recovery frequently includes marked sexual acting out … after all, addicts are trying to regain some sense of feeling good in the midst of a general serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin deficit.

    Both men and women can engage in 13 stepping, yet most of the damage we’re talking about centers around male predation of females. Another group, almost never mentioned, involves gay AA predators. And predation, rather than 13 stepping, is the proper terminology. Sexual activity without predation takes place frequently, despite AA strictures against becoming involved in any relationship in the first year. It may not be harmless, but it isn’t intentionally malignant. Sexual predators, male or female, exploit a power differential between two people. Typically, having more time or a greater familiarity with AA culture, they use this time and/or knowledge to establish themselves as a mentor/teacher/guides. They groom their victims and they use dependency and trust and lack of agency to exploit their targets. The consequences can be tragic.

    I have two starts in AA. The first was in Seattle. In my 20s, I had spent time living on the streets and exchanging sex for drugs. At the very first meeting I went to, at the break, I was propositioned by a man who wanted to be my sponsor. He said I could live at his house. He wanted to give me warning though- he only had one bed, but it was big enough for the both of us.

    I figured “well, that’s par for the course. I’ll trade use of my body for a place to live. And it will be a sober house, to boot! What a deal.” It didn’t occur to me that this might not be acceptable AA behavior. The way I looked at it? People used me. I used my body. I got something in return. That’s what I had to trade. It was just what I needed to do in order to have a sponsor and a place to live.

    Someone overheard the offer, took me aside and said “you don’t want to go there. You really don’t.” And I listened. But if the truth were told? I would have gone home with the guy if he’d been younger, not so fat, and more persuasive. And whatever would have happened I would have accepted as my responsibility, my fault, my blame.

    Predators exist in the rooms of A.A. According to a number of reports, sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic abuse are being mandated to attend AA meetings as a condition of release or deferred prosecution. That goes FAR beyond the “average Americans” referred to in the quote. This is a legally select group and can only skew any meaningful concept of the “average” meeting goer. This isn’t about such a person voluntarily attending a meeting- it’s about a system which funnels a significant percentage of these people into coerced attendance at AA meetings.

    It’s why I believe the single most effect action AA can take is to refuse to sign court slips. The American jurisprudence system is NOT going to allow folks with probation or deferred prosecution to officially “self-report” (even though that occurs on a regular basis). If we stopped signing slips, the courts would be far less inclined to send people with legal problems to our programs. Please note: in no way, shape or form does this keep a person from attending AA meetings. It just means AA doesn’t become the charity, pro-social trainer for those who have legal problems.

    For a while, Australia had a pamphlet which addressed predatory behavior. It has been pulled. The UK AA site refers to a bulletin from the 62nd General Service Workshop “Safety in A.A.: Our Common Welfare,” written in 2012. Perhaps it has been updated? It explicitly addresses the subject with the following topic heading: c.) “Inappropriate behavior towards vulnerable new members (e.g., 13th Stepping). Throughout the pamphlet, it talks about practical ways to meet this problem head on. It can be found here: Safety in AA. The subject is being addressed in “Conference Questions 2015, Committee No. 5” in a question posed: “Would Conference consider the adequacy of guidance offered to groups (pages 82 – 85, The AA Structure Handbook for Great Britain 2013) in situations of persistent inappropriate/predatory sexual/threatening/violent behaviour at meetings and online, by individuals, share best practice and make recommendations (including appropriate amendment to the Structure Handbook) to clarify the onus of responsibility on group members to disallow such conduct.”

    I have been uniformly disappointed with AA’s response in the U.S. We seem to take a look at this issue like we are all lawyers, fearful of saying or doing anything that might suggest we have a responsibility to the greater whole. Nothing in our structure argues against a pamphlet detailing the dangers of sexual predators. Our first tradition explicitly states that our COMMON welfare must come first. GSO seems particularly obtuse when it comes to this topic.

    • Carol says:

      I like your idea of AA not signing court slips. That would solve this problem of the courts using AA as their dumping ground and free social service educational program. Having this legal interface disturbs the original intent of the program. Identifying that the AA program is being exploited by the justice system, and that is affecting the membership, is an important step toward solving the problem. I hope the General Service Office is talking about this.

      • Lech says:

        I like the idea of court slips.
        It at least it gets people through the door.

        One group I heard of signs them before the meeting starts, and tells the holders of such documents they are free to leave if they want to.

        This seems to me to be a reasonable compromise between acting as an agent of the courts and carrying the message.

        • Roger says:

          It’s not a compromise at all. The courts will still use AA as a “dumping ground” and signing in advance doesn’t come close to changing that reality. I believe that was the point.

      • crescentdave says:

        Hi Lech. Court slips don’t get people through the door. They FORCE people through the door. My point is there are a significant number of sex offenders and domestic violence offenders who are FORCED via the courts into AA meetings. Or members of these two groups who take advantage of the opportunity and choose to go to these meetings in lieu of jail time. Once at these meetings, they encounter people in a heightened state of vulnerability, especially young newcomers.

        If court slips weren’t signed, then we wouldn’t see as many offenders attending meetings. In our county, the prosecuting attorney and the judge do not “sentence” people to AA. They have their choice between going to secular, outpatient treatment or attending AA. Almost all choose outpatient. If AA didn’t sign slips, all it would mean is that people wanting AA would have to go for a reason other than satisfying court requirements.

      • bob k says:

        Hopes of solving a sexual predation problem are damaged by those who are hysterically defining the term as “almost anything.” A guy asking a second time for a date (after getting mixed signals) is a predator, or someone flirting with someone else 20 years younger. There are some seeking to proscribe ANY social/sexual interaction between members. That’s naïve at best.

        I agree that before we move forward on this, there needs to be a rational defining of the terms. While that doesn’t exist, we’re talking to each other in different languages.

      • bob k says:

        The idea that an AA policy of not signing court slips would put a stop to courts sending those they currently send is more than naïve. I can imagine a policy meeting in reaction.

        “Okay, the AA people are refusing to sign our slips. Let’s get the probationers/parolees to write little report on what they heard at each meeting – 100 or 200 words minimum.” “I LOVE it!! Remember when we used to have to do those dreaded book reports in school? Ha ha!” “Perfect – let’s do it!”

      • Tommy H says:

        Bob, the court cards I see here in the BlueGrass have a couple of lines for the topic and what you thought about it, also the name of the chair.

        I met my bride in the rooms? Was that sexual predation? I was 65, she 56 so she was a younger woman. I had 14y and she 18y, which probably made up for it. 😉

      • Fred S says:

        “The idea that an AA policy of not signing court slips would put a stop to courts sending those they currently send is more than naïve.”

        Never been on probation, huh bob. You clearly don’t know what’s involved in mandated AA attendance and you also don’t know what’s on the slip.

      • bob k says:

        Very simply, the point is that if all AA groups stopped signing court slips, that does not put an end to mandated attendance. What would be necessitated would be a change in the system of confirming attendance.

        I’ve signed several slips. In my area, they were quite simple – DATE, GROUP NAME, CHAIRPERSON NAME, and SIGNATURE. Of course, there is nothing to preclude different areas having different forms. They do. It’s not an international system or federal. There is no standardized worldwide form, so the comment that I “don’t know what’s on the slip” is poorly thought out.

      • Fred S says:

        “…poorly thought out.”
        As was your judgment, “beyond naive”. Publicly assessing the thinking ability of those who disagree with you is certainly a well-established approach to discussion, but worthy of second consideration before use. And lest we slide into a contest of words, I will say no more on the matter.
        Through many years of observation as signee, signer and observer, I realized that those with the slips are mostly doing it (getting them signed at the meetings) because they haven’t thought it through. They think the probation officer (PO) is checking up on them. She is not, except maybe in cases where she is new or the area of oversight is small. Most are overworked and understaffed and are just trying to get through their day and go home to take off their frozen “You too can be rehabilitated” face and get respite from the unrelenting onslaught of lies and deception. They will take your paper and put it in a folder for a judge or superior to see, and no one will ever look at it again.
        It once occurred to me to suggest to my PO that she could compare signatures and meeting topics on various slips to see if they match. As a software developer, I envisioned writing an app that would document all the slip information and cross-reference it. I would then sell that app to counties all across the USA, and retire to Jamaica never to lift a finger again.
        I tested my PO by signing my own slips with my own name and making up topics. I was never called on it. Any probe could do the same thing. I figure it doesn’t occur to them, or they don’t want to run the risk.
        It’s the paper, not what’s on it, that’s important to everyone from the probe to the judge. Take away the paper, and you take away the reason for sending people to AA. They would probably still be required to attend as a condition of probation, but without the paper they would have no reason to do so.

    • Fred S says:

      I’m not aware of any reports of “sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic abuse being mandated to attend AA meetings” as crescentdave says. However, I have seen cases where people were sent to a treatment center for reasons unrelated to substance abuse (like being a habitual runaway). And I agree that AA should stop signing court slips. I had to get them signed for many years. For the first several it did no good whatsoever for me to be at the meetings, and multiple occasions saw me stumble into the middle of a meeting, tripping over chairs, blasted and reeking of alcohol, to sit there in a daze waiting for a chance to get my slip signed. In the latter years it made no difference that I had to get a slip signed because I had embraced the program and would have been there anyway. So if refusing to sign slips would save everybody some trouble as well as discourage the use of AA as a sewage disposal, I’m all for it.

      • larry k says:

        I haven’t bothered to sit with this issue long enough for me to have a reasonable opinion on the big picture of signing court ordered documents.

        Ironically this process confirmed an alibi which kept one of our members from being found guilty of a serious offense (robbery).

        Without doubt he was well known to police and they certainly wanted him for this act, but he was at our meeting. It wasn’t him. This time.

  4. kevin b says:

    Good post, Erin. You expressed yourself eloquently. While I do understand that newly sober women are especially vulnerable to this predation from men with various lengths of sobriety, I do feel the need to reiterate that in some cases the woman is the predator (notoriously so, sometimes). And as a gay man, I have seen the same predatory behavior from both gay men and lesbians (this is one of the reasons why some suggest that openly gay men who are newly sober find female sponsors). I was even the predator on one occasion with a newly sober guy who was also in a long-term relationship. As to what can be done about it, I don’t know. After all, even many workplaces have attempted to pass rules discouraging similar types of relationships on the job to little or no avail. And I do not favor sex-segregated meetings as suggested above (which would actually not be a solution for gay men and lesbians). I think that the most important deterrent is to make sure that newly sober men and women receive quality and effective sponsorship so that the newcomer is aware of the dangers.

  5. Roland V says:

    A wonderful topic to bring up. I recall early in my sobriety asking of a meeting “So many alcoholics seem to have problems with sex and relationships when they get sober. Why do we never talk about it?” Sadly the room did not respond in subsequent sharing. It’s a topic people shy away from and I think that’s because it baffles most.

    How does one get laid while sober? How does one get into a loving relationship sober? And all the things in between. I think we do a great deal more harm judging people silently and refusing to admit in meetings we’re having difficulty. I know people, having heard their story that I cannot imagine staying sober if they had not done so in the context of a relationship with another member. They were too broken and needed the constant support. I’ve known people that went out because they were so lonely and couldn’t make sense of dating sober. Of course, I’ve also been witness to two members getting together and breaking up, slipping every time they did. I will also mention that most couples I know with disparate amounts of sobriety that met in the program have had happy loving relationships that lasted a long time. People in my little corner turn a blind eye to that more than any other thing.

    The reminder I try to keep at the front of my mind when confronted with these issues is that I don’t know what’s right for anyone and I should reserve judgement lest I fall into the trap of being sanctimonious and interfering in what people might need.

  6. Tomm says:

    Good article; we all have the responsiblity of when we see 13th stepping happening to step in and stop it, for that we are all responsible.

  7. Laurie A says:

    “If we are not sorry, and our (sex) conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink…” (Big Book, page 70). As Susan Cheever, Francis Hartigan and Nan Robertson have documented, Bill W – the man who wrote those words – was a notorious womaniser in recovery. We are told he was riddled with remorse, which may be why he did not get drunk. Alternatively, as Robert LeFever, founder of the Promis treatment centers in the UK, has suggested, Bill was a sex addict in the grip of a compulsion over which he had no control. So it seems sexual misconduct in the fellowship has been there from the beginning, starting with our co-founder. We are not saints, says so in the BB so it must be right! In the scandalous Midtown group which hit the headlines it seems the oldtimers regarded deflowering newcomers as le droit de seigneur. But what can be done?

    The Great Britain Structure Handbook contains a guideline on Personal Conduct Matters (5:2) which is full of worthy advice such as: Treat other people with respect; recognise that newcomers may be severely damaged “victims”; don’t travel alone with a member of the opposite sex (doesn’t say anything about gays); be aware of the dangers of opposite gender sponsorship. It’s all self-evident and frankly somewhat patronising. And in any case it can’t be enforced. If someone is going to hit on a newcomer they won’t take a blind bit of notice of some well-meaning guideline.

    When I was intergroup chairman I was asked to deal with a complaint from a woman newcomer who said a member of the 12 Step telephone team had been harassing her sexually. When I phoned him he said, “You do realise she is still drinking and that it’s a pack of lies”. I said that nevertheless in view of the seriousness of the allegation I would have to ask him to stand down as a telephone responder. “So you are acting as judge and jury then?” he said. And there was no answer to that. We have no police force in AA or quasi-legal courts to bring one another to trial. Each member is responsible for their own conduct. If it affects the group then the group has to decide what to do.

    • bob k says:

      I’ve read Hartigan, Robinson, and Cheever, as well as some VERY interesting theorizing on this subject by biographer, Matthew Raphael. In fairness, “documented” is a poor choice of words. Although I’m convinced that Bill was a womanizer, it’s interesting that there have not been reports of more women coming forward. We know of Helen Wynn, perhaps Wynn C.

      Where are the others? Where are the bastard children? I think the biographers have passed on the rumors and the reputation, and cumulatively it may be compelling, but “documented?”

      There are those who contend that Bill’s outpourings of remorse to Tom P. were entirely about his adulterous long-term relationship with a single woman, Helen Wynn.

      bob k

  8. Brien says:

    I read through all of this pretty fast here is my opinion and honestly without alot of thought (sorry).

    First year same sex meetings men with men woman with woman.

    Do not date anyone in the program your 1st year of sobriety.

    Meetings have reputations SNL in San Jose CA always had a reputation as a meat market. Just so happens it was the most popular meeting in the area, it was also the 1st meeting I went to, about every 5 years I go to one meeting at SNL and I leave saying to myself the sickness is still alive at SNL so there is no need for me to be there.

    Ladies with time in the program take the newcomers under your guidance and direct them to women only meetings.

    I have 24 years in the program 99% of my meetings are men only meetings. IMO opinion it is the best way to go.

    In recovery men with men woman with woman.

    If my daughter ever has a drinking problem the last place I would send her to is AA.

    • Lech says:

      Don’t date anyone period, but especially from the program, in you first year was said to me as well.
      One of the guys who gave me that advice was an older chap who I discovered later was renowned for working Step 13. I figured he was just trying to cut down on the competition.

      I became involved with two women in my first year.
      The first was in AA, and it only lasted a couple of months. The split didn’t seem to devastate either of us greatly. She later married an AA friend of mine, but that one didn’t last either.

      The second was not of the fellowship, and we had an off and on relationship for many years.

  9. Joe C. says:

    Thanks Erin.
    Kudos for telling your story. I was young and sober in AA. I thought I was quite the (young) man of the world but while I’d pushed the envelope and jumped into some pretty risque activities in and out of the rooms, I see now that I was quite emotionally immature.

    I think it’s common for people to have identity and boundary issues, money issues, relationship issues and a host of obsessive compulsive problems. Sure some come to AA with just a drinking problem but that’s not my story. I identify with your need for positive reinforcement. I could avoid my own self-doubt and insecurity about my abilities and future with a fix of attention from others. It made me needy and overly amenable at times and controlling and obsessive at times.

    It was years into sobriety that I really found my values and my own sense of self that wasn’t for sale. Sobriety hasn’t been all upward in the area of emotional stability and responsible living. Much emotional suffering and inflicting of suffering from my needy, manipulative, selfish ways was still to come after I got sober.

    As you suggest, sexual identity, boundaries, abuse, trauma, relationships and the responsible management of our own human desires – these are not outside issues. These are sobriety issues, recovery issues or even 12-Step issues, if you like. Politics and religion – those are the only outside issues I can think of and even with those two topics, I suppose there are exceptions whereby they are fair game for AA discussion. The time and the place to discuss such things takes more than bravery; it takes tact, too.

    I have been to two service weekends in the last year – one Area Assembly and one Regional Service Conference with workshops on how to keep our rooms safe (safe from financial and sexual predators, safe from gossip or scapegoating, etc). Both were frank and personal discussions about real experience, lessons learned and concerns of the members, for the members. There were insights too, as far as how some groups have dealt with touchy situations. In both cases I was impressed by the intelligent discussion.

    A.A. is asking the courts to dismiss the charges:

    The parties were due in court on January 5th; has anyone heard anything? I agree that AA is not always a safe or healthy environment, but either were the bars and homes we came from in some cases.

    Could you imagine if a bar could be held responsible for child support for the unwanted child born of a relationship started on the dance floor of a nightclub? Imagine if a Library could be held responsible because a card-holder chatted someone up, followed them home and killed them? I’m not saying as AA (and we are the AA that is being sued) we ought to sluff-off our responsibility to the needy and vulnerable. But there is a line where personal responsibility comes into play.

    I feel for the loss of this family whose daughter’s (sister’s) life was taken. If I were in their shoes, would I want someone to blame, someone to pay? Maybe, but life is chaotic. I hope they find some peace.

    • life-j says:

      – and below the story you’re linking to there are readers’ comments. amazing read for a few minutes until the repetition gets tiresome, but it is evident that emotions run high about AA, both for and against in some quarters. Again evidence that the old AA as we know it is slowly fading because of the inherent problems

  10. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, Erin, a most pertinent and appropriate topic of conversation here and within AA rooms everywhere. Thanks for a well-written article discussing with dignity and respect this ubiquitous issue in AA and thanks, Roger, for posting it.

    According to numerous sources, our co-founder, Bill W. wrote the steps, all 13 of them. A notorious ladies man, there are anecdotes of men and women members of the groups he attended in New York swarming from all over the room to form a phalanx between Bill and any attractive newcomer women when she first attended meetings.

    I got sober in New York City during the swinging — literally and figuratively — 70s. A number of Eastside meetings, particularly on the weekends, were notorious pickup places, not only for alcoholics but for non-alcoholics as well, especially men, who wanted to cruise without having to pay for drinks.

    I was 13-stepped during my second month by an older women who gave me her 24-hour a day book, maybe to assuage her guilt? I was terribly shamed that I had been unfaithful to my wife, from whom I was separated at the time due to my drinking.

    A number of years later, I succumbed to the advances of a “newcomer” and was mortified that I was a 13-stepper. Though not often spoken about openly in regular meetings, there was a very strong taboo against 13-stepping newcomers among those of us who have a conscience — of course, like any group of people, a certain cohort will be sociopaths, some predatory.

    I don’t know how it is today, but at the Young People’s Conferences of the 70s one of the most lively and fully attended meetings was the Saturday night “Love and Sex” midnight meeting, which would often go on all night and deep into Sunday morning.

    I really appreciate what folks have shared here about how they personally or their groups are dealing with this delicate issue. Keeping it in our consciousness is a good start . . .

    • Tommy H says:

      “According to numerous sources, our co-founder, Bill W. wrote the steps, all 13 of them. A notorious ladies man, there are anecdotes of men and women members of the groups he attended in New York swarming from all over the room to form a phalanx between Bill and any attractive newcomer women when she first attended meetings.”

      I am told that was called the Founder’s Patrol, according to someone who was there.

      • Thomas B. says:

        Thank you Tommy, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to remember what it was called for several years now – “The Founder’s Patrol,” yes !~!~!

      • realneal m. says:

        It was called the Founder’s Watch Committee. It was started by Barry Leach and some friends of his and Lois’s and Bill’s. Barry Leach wrote the “Living Sober” book and I believe he was one of “us” but that is another story… Soon after this “committee” was formed, Bill quit going to meetings…

      • Tommy H says:

        Thanks, Neal and Thomas.

      • Lech says:

        My thanks to Realneal.

        I didn’t know Bill had stopped going to meetings.
        Anyone know any more of this change in direction?

      • Tommy H says:

        “Soon after this “committee” was formed, Bill quit going to meetings…”

        Do you have a citation for that?

        It’s news to me, not that that matters any.

        • crescentdave says:

          It’s sourced here The Founder’s Watch Committee and it’s taken from Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, by Francis Hartigan. I believe there are at least 2 other sources… don’t have time to look them up right now.

          I’ve never read nor heard the second assertion until now: that he stopped attending meetings. I don’t believe it’s a true statement.

          • JBP says:

            It is my understanding that Bill stopped going to meetings because of the fuss he created when he showed up. Not a negative fuss, in fact it may better be described as giddy excitement. But based on what others have posted, that may have been what Bill liked to believe but if he actually had to be accompanied to a meeting so he wouldn’t misbehave it explains why he saw it as a “fuss” when others simply wanted a few words with the founder.
            What this discussion has done for me is feel great compassion for Bill, but firm up my belief that AA needs to learn from its mistakes or unaccounted for changes in the cultures it is now serving.

      • Tommy H says:

        Dave, I have no problem with the Founder’s Watch. I heard about it, as I mentioned, from Ryan H, who was there and saw it in operation.

        I would like a citation for the assertion that Bill quit going to meetings around this time.

        Sorry for the confusion.

        • crescentdave says:

          I’m with you Tommy … I have never heard of it … so I’d be interested in an actual citation/reference.

      • bob k says:

        There’s an essay on this website reporting what has been written by the various biographers about Bill’s fondness for the fairer sex. I can’t recall the name of the author of Bill Wilson and Other Women, but he’s very good looking.

      • bob k says:

        “Founder’s Watch” is what I have seen in print, but as it was an unofficial group; others may well have called it “Founder’s Patrol.”

        My vague recollection re: Barry Leach was that he was paid a fee for “Living Sober,” but got no royalties. He seems to have undertaken the task without having a financial arrangement, and expected to be compensated to a greater degree that he was.

        bob k

  11. Skip D. says:

    Last year my Home Group adopted this 13th Step Announcement to be read at the end of our meetings. It seem to be working well, so far:

    In an effort to provide a safe environment for newcomers to recovery, this group actively discourages what is commonly called “13th Stepping”. If you have any questions regarding this issue, please speak to a group member about it. (a definition is on back of page)


    (not to be read – for reference only)

    A definition of “13th Stepping”:

    The term “13th Stepping” means the pursuit of a sexual relationship with anyone in early recovery in AA . The term sexual generally refers to an exclusive relationship with a person of the opposite sex or sexual orientation. The definition of early recovery is not fixed and will be considered in each case by the group’s conscience.

    Any particular action taken regarding this issue will be discussed and determined by the group’s conscience.

  12. John S says:

    I applaud AA Agnostica for publishing a story on such an important subject. I don’t have any experience with this as I went to a men’s group for the majority of my time in the program. When I heard of the 13th step it was always in the form of some sort of humor, but there is nothing funny about sexual assault.

    I don’t know what the answers is but a good beginning is to have an open dialogue about it.

    thank you for sharing your story Erin.

  13. daniel says:

    Thanks for the article. I think that why having a sponsor is so important, they can usually put you on the right path re the 13 th step.I think also we as individuals with some time in the program have a responsibility to watch what is going on in our home groups. In my home group if I see a guy with some sobriety always hanging around a group of the young women I will speak to his sponsor or to the individual himself and some of the women members do the same. AA has to be a safe place for all to come. Cheers Daniel

  14. JBP says:

    I’ve yet to find the place where issues of a sexual nature are discussed in a comfortable, mature fashion. Either it’s too clinical to be relevant to the individual who likely used alcohol and/or drugs to disinhibit themselves so they could hit on the attractive stranger or, it girded them for the rejection that, should it have come while sober, would have so painfully torn at their self esteem, they’d, by necessity, return to solitary drinking or resorted to pay and play “escorts”.
    I’d venture to guess that most people coming into AA not only have problems with mind altering substances, they have trouble engaging in sex as an expression of love.
    So what Erin described seems certain to happen to many of us sooner or later. The real surprise would be that it didn’t happen.
    Among my friends I was known for being famously oblivious to cues from the opposite sex. They considered it a wonder that I ever “got any”. But I did.
    There seemed no shortage of women in AA prepared to gamble their self esteem in an effort to have their needs met – an indication of how powerfully sex figures into the problem that drove us to AA in the first place.
    In some instances I was very grateful for the attractive, bold, woman who’d approach me, but in the long run it usually messed up my program because, frankly, I preferred my sex coupled with drugs and alcohol.
    I congratulate Erin for raising the subject but I think it’s going to be tough to get beyond our cultural prudishness to effectively reach a group of people, not to mention specific individuals, who, by definition, can’t function in common social situations.

  15. Anna says:

    What I’m beginning to see at some large AA meetings, is that one woman and one man volunteer to be the one to go to report sexual harassment. The subject is then brought to meeting leaders, and a plan is discussed. In some cases, the elders have taken a fellow out to the alley behind the meeting room and have suggested, simply, that he respect and honor newcomers and to “keep it in his pants.” If a woman is seen to be predatory, she is pulled aside and given a similar talk.

    I was 13th Stepped, and I felt so humiliated and hurt that I didn’t report it. In fact, I left AA at that point in an attempt to moderate for 20 years. I’m back again and a few years sober… wiser and stronger.

    • Lech says:

      I was 13-stepped when I had about 3 years in by my sponsor’s old girl friend. She had about 20 years in AA at the time, although she did fall off the wagon for a brief period half way through that 20.

      I didn’t know she was the ex when I first met her. It only became apparent after she began to talk about him.

      He used to talk about her, never referring to her by name, always as The Dragon Lady.

      She was a very nice person.

      Our dalliance lasted only a short time, but I remember her fondly.

      • JBP says:

        I think the subject of this conversation needs to be defined. Finding a person in AA who is compatible with you and the two of you decide to initiate a sexual relationship, that’s not a 13th step. If you’ve been in AA for 3 years and you get involved with somebody, that’s not a 13th step.
        If you’ve been in AA for 3 weeks to 3 months and a member of the opposite sex, with more than a few years sobriety, hits on you and exploits your vulnerability to get what THEY want, that’s a 13th step.

  16. Eric C. says:

    Thanks for sharing, Erin.
    Of course things are different for men. One of the few things that kept me coming back to A.A. meetings in early sobriety and gave me the ability to tolerate the religiosity of the program was the fact that there were women at A.A. meetings who were clearly interested in me. In my first year, I was 13th Stepped by several women who were 7-10 years older than I and who’d been sober many years longer as well. For me, the experience was more than harmless – it was fun and it kept me eager to attend A.A. meetings. These older women were clearly none the worse for wear as a result of our affairs either.
    After my first year, I vowed never to “date” any women in A.A. who had less than a year of sobriety. This at least kept me from getting a reputation as a predator. I was more of a serial monogamist.
    At 11 years sober, I met my wife in A.A. who had 3 years at the time. Today, I have 32 years of sobriety and she has 24 years. We have two beautiful teenage kids.
    Your story, Erin, reminds me that there is a dark side to sexuality in A.A. My wife and I were at a meeting just last night when we witnessed a guy offering his phone number and his “help” to a clearly new and vulnerable young woman. It made us both sick. You’re right – this needs to be talked about more often and more openly within the fellowship.

  17. JP says:

    In my experience this type of behaviour is spoken about often. Warnings are given. 25 years ago my sponsor at the time, literally grabbed me by the back of the neck (Thank you Carol) as I was headed off to make the acquaintance a new member of the group, a very handsome man who had just been let out of prison. Just my kinda guy (at the time). Three months later this guy murdered and mutilated another woman.
    Another sponsor I had early on explained to me that AA has a very high percent of maladjusted individuals and I should be very careful. I did not always heed this advice.
    Years later I needed to take ownership that my behaviour was manipulative towards men when I first came into AA. A women in a group I attended said to me one day that the reason that I had a male sponsor was that I could wrap him around my finger. She was right.
    As Larry said, we are all human and I do not say this to excuse any behaviour. I do talk about these issues today.

  18. life-j says:

    The biggest problem in AA in general is that, at least initially, our founding 13th-stepper didn’t include the step in AA’s inventory-taking at the group level. I guess it is also a problem that the individualized approach to recovery does not encourage the group intervening in any one individual’s behavior, “that is HIS program, not yours, mind your own program”, though on one occasion early in my program I actually did get pulled aside by one of the AA crones and have the riot act read for a couple of transgressions of my own.
    I also see it as a problem that we as a program take all the court mandated people. While many of them are content to simply sit and complain about their DUI, there are, relatively, many both preys and predators among them. That is not the only problem with court mandated people, but hopefully the recent court rulings on AA being a religion will help put an end to this practice.
    Finally, a couple of people that have been around for a while and have some good recovery, that get together, that’s not 13 stepping, that is good sense. I have been in a couple of those relationships too and though even at 10 and 15 years of recovery we still have some craziness left, I’d say these were fine relationships. Here I can only lament that we somehow within some sort of AA related framework haven’t taken the step to provide an internet dating service. There are such services for every other walk of life, I met my current sweetie of what, 6 years or thereabouts thru Green Singles, why not an AA Singles? Seems like someone ought to be able to put that together, though not me.
    Seems that though early in recovery relationships primarily provide a way of avoiding working our program, later in recovery most people need a relationship to fulfill their life, and while actual 13th stepping is never acceptable, we need to somehow get out of the mire of our prudish judgmental christian past, and support formation of healthy relationships, as part of working a healthy program.

    • Fred S says:

      Hi, life-j. AA is a group of people with an addiction who try to help each other fight that addiction. It’s not a social club. An AA-only dating service is a terrible idea for many reasons. Alcoholics need to be using AA for sobriety, not matchmaking. Newcomers are strongly advised not to start or seek a relationship for at least a year, preferably two, and to look outside of AA if they do seek one. Being an AA member is not a merit badge signalling someone’s fitness as a partner; in fact I’d consider it a warning flag. Even people with years of sobriety are often carrying baggage in the form of dysfunctional ideas about what comprises proper partnership behavior. That’s not to say that non-AA people aren’t; but I would never make AA membership an immutable requirement for my partner search, which is what an AA dating service would do. Who would monitor this service, checking that only alcoholics who have cleaned up their lives and thinking and “had a spiritual awakening” (step 12) are allowed in? Would background checks serve to weed out predators who immediately spot a hunting ground filled with distracted, weak and unwary victims?

      I used online dating services for several years before I entered my present committed relationship. There is a “code” that some AA members use to alert the discerning: in their self-description they include “friend of Bill W.” My wife/lover/friend has 20 years of sobriety. She and I met by dating service. We didn’t “code” our profiles, but we both were upfront about it when we met. Since we committed, she has maintained her sobriety. I have relapsed, gotten sober, lasted a few months, and relapsed again several times. I’ve been associated with AA since 1987 and have been in treatment centers twice. From 1995 to 2002 I had a glorious period of continuous sobriety, and from 2003 until June 2014 I’ve done the flip-flop. Currently I’m at six months of continuous sobriety. I’m an old-timer in AA, and if I stay sober I’ll be a decent relationship partner. Unfortunately for my lady, I’ve had drinking periods as often as sober ones. And this relationship didn’t even come from an AA dating service or 13th-stepping.

      When people use AA to get sober, and use the steps to clean up the wreckage of their lives and start living well, they possibly can in time become good partner material. Why then seek only a partner who is guaranteed to come with alcoholism and all its attendant issues built-in? There’s no reason we can’t have a happy, rewarding relationship with a non-alcoholic… in time, after we’ve done some character reconstruction work and are, ourselves, the kind of persons we would want to have for a partner.

      • Lech says:

        Everyone has baggage.

        I would be wary of any woman in AA, especially if she is a newbie, but I would be equally careful of a woman I met outside of AA.

        The population of ladies in AA is pretty limited for me.

        For starters, there is a higher rate of smokers among them, and that is not something I can live with.

    • Mike says:

      Here I can only lament that we somehow within some sort of AA related framework haven’t taken the step to provide an internet dating service. There are such services for every other walk of life, I met my current sweetie of what, 6 years or thereabouts thru Green Singles, why not an AA Singles? Seems like someone ought to be able to put that together, though not me.

      Like these? Sober Singles.

  19. Ann M. says:

    I am female, but also was a sexual predator for about the first 10 years of my sobriety. I equated sex with love, maybe as a result of being molested by my father. And I was desperate to feel loved. I became celibate at about 11 years, and remain so. I am not capable of making good choices when it comes right down to it.
    And my first sponsor, a female, kissed me on the lips and said, “I know what you want”. I never talked to her again, and went sponsorless for almost a year. I have spent a few years in SLAA as well as AA, and it helped a lot, but I still don’t feel I am going to make good choices, so I choose not to get myself into a position where I would have to make them.

  20. JHG says:

    Some of the worst 13th steppers are pillars of the AA fellowship. They are charming and slick, and they have credibility and clout, which is why they are so successful at what they do. The garden variety predators who are on the margins prey on other marginal AA attendees, but that is what happens in any organization. There is little we can do about them, but like the Catholic Church with its predatory priests, we have some responsibility to do something about the predators who have an implicit endorsement from mainstream AA.

    • Lech says:

      I have seen that happen on several occasions.

      The group guru on one of the first meetings I ever attended was a married guy who was sleeping with one of the meeting regulars.

      I only learned this later, of course.

      But I also recall that was the first occasion when I heard the expression ‘If you want what we have’, and it was said by Mr. Guru.

    • Laurie A says:

      AA is NOT at all like the Catholic church in this respect; it has no jurisdiction over any of its members, apart from the few employed under the conditions of Tradition Eight, and cannot discipline or expel (defrock) anyone. I don’t accept that AA implicitly or in any other way endorses sexual predation. We are not complacent and these concerns are discussed at group conscience meetings, regional and intergroup workshops and other gatherings. Central offices offer advice. Step 12 encourages us to practice spiritual principles in all our affairs; sexual predation is certainly not a spiritual principle. In the UK sexual harassment is a crime and should be reported to the police; consensual sex is not – caveat emptor.

  21. Danijela says:

    Love this article! Ive been speaking about this for a few years now. I believe there are many issues that need to be spoken of more at meetings about the meetings themselves. Thank you so much for sharing!

  22. Alyssa (soda) says:

    Erin, my courageous hero. You really put yourself out there & this act enables other young victims of violence to come forward. Or, at least begin to think about it.

    When I first entered the rooms of AA at 25, I wasn’t ready to give up drinking. Coming in as a victim of sexual assaults & sexually promiscuous behavioural patterns, I was afraid of anyone who attempted to comfort me physically (an arm around the shoulder or a hug). Sometimes even in talking to me, I questioned your intention. I’m now proud to say that is not the case & I’ve grown tremendously.

    I was fortunate to grow up with experienced male old-timer wisdom in my life and knew the meaning of the 13th step long before I entered the rooms. I’m certain, as you pointed out, that many young women and men are not prepared and they may not find the proper guidance before it is too late. You making this a goal is highly commendable!! You go girl!! 🙂

    When I was 25 and did a balancing act of getting my 3 month chip and trade it in for a drink scenario, I was still afraid to come out as an atheist, but not as a victim of assault. Until, I was SHOT down for doing so & I daren’t say another word. I asked this other newcomer who looked like he had been around the block a few times (like me), if he was a 13th stepper. I asked this question after the meeting. Perhaps it was an inappropriate way of asking someone if his solr purpose here was to get sober. His sponsor immediately walked away and I was told by one of the old-timers to watch my mouth. I wasn’t guided in the direction of a safe and warm environment, I was silenced. The only person who was Not offended, was the person I had asked, who answered it honestly.

    This is a societal issue as a whole and not strictly an issue of AA, as you clearly pointed out. And the “hush hush…” keep it quiet attitude is something that has been going on forever. It’s thanks to women like you, and strong caring men, who can claim it as they see it and keep everyone safe. Keep telling it like it is. Everyone will live their alcoholic recovery as they will, we can only be guidance for each other. Don’t allow your shame to silence your guidance like I did.

  23. Carol says:

    I like your article and appreciate that you wrote it. I can relate to the incident with the predator and that you felt responsible for it in some vague way. There is so much to learn when we get sober.
    I saw the 48 hour program and clearly the responsibility was with the individuals involved. That said, it did make me realize that the justice system is using the AA program as a revolving door for education for its clients. This is different than 20 years ago. I do think this makes the composition of the group very different from the composition of the groups I went into 25 years ago. I’m glad to hear people mention that they will make predation a topic for AA groups.

    • Fred S says:

      Carol, thank you for sharing your thoughts. One thing surprises me – that in reference to the justice system using AA as education for its clients, you said, “This is different than 20 years ago.” Not where I live. Between 1987 and 1994 I earned four DUI’s, and with every one came mandatory attendance at AA meetings as a requirement of probation. We had to get slips of paper signed by the chairperson as proof of attendance. It was interesting, the different approach to this by different chairs. Some made everyone put their papers in a passed basket at the meeting’s beginning and signed them at the end to be sure the probe (guy on probation) actually stayed for the meeting. In other cases a probe would come in either at the beginning or in the final moments, get his paper signed, and leave. In answer to my asking, one of these “easy” chairpeople explained, “It’s not my place to do the probation department’s job for them, and it’s not my place to work the probe’s program for him. He asks for a signature, and I give him one. The rest is between him and his probation officer.”

  24. larry k says:

    Great article!

    I met one of the great loves of my life in AA. Though we are no longer together, it wasn’t because of anything disrespectful, indeed we remain terrific friends and supporters of each other albeit at a tremendous geographical distance.

    My experience in my early days, was an affair that my wife had in the rooms while she attended for 9 months before discovering she wasn’t alcoholic. I stayed sober… in time we divorced. I avoided women in AA for many years because of my “sensitivity” to these issues. Well that and having a holier than hell attitude to compensate for my pain.

    I do have to remember a few things however… we are all human and we aren’t doing ourselves any favours by denying ourselves our own human nature. We seek love… and so we should. We do, however, have to protect ourselves from bad choices. The world has predators in it and AA has a fair share of humans as members. You can sober up a horse thief and you still have a horse thief.

    I have seen a lot of tears from both men and women whose lives have been damaged by rape, assault, abuse, degradation… all strains of exploitation.

    The culprit is vulnerability and sadly we need to develop that ability to establish trust. It is a catch 22 from which we will have to risk ourselves to move forward in recovery… but we should not do that until we can think and act with a higher degree of clarity. We have to become both critical thinkers, feelers, actors.

    One thing though… being sober helps to make better decisions. It helps to delay gratification. It helps us to become responsible for ourselves in a world where responsibility is eschewed. It behooves us to remember that in all things, buyer beware.

  25. Pat N. says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I appreciate the challenge it must have been to submit it. As a happily-married, sober old geezer, my thoughts of love/romance/sex are separate from AA, and I needed the reminder.

    If my memory is correct, when I fled into AA I was incredibly lonely and generally needy emotionally. My body was waking up, and normal impulses were on the move. I couldn’t help but notice attractive women in the rooms, and wistfully wondered what it would be like to be loved by one. Fortunately, my well-honed inhibitions and the teachings of mature AA men kept me (and them) rational and safe.

    I intend to make this the topic of today’s home group meeting. We’ve been getting a lot of younger women lately from some treatment program, and we’re sited in an Alano Club with some shady characters, so you may have saved someone today with your article.

    Thanks again.

  26. Tommy H says:

    I met my wife ten years ago in the rooms. We each had double digit sobriety and will celebrate our tenth anniversary in July.

    My home group in Baton Rouge is a large noon meeting that meets week days. We recognize that there are predators. Both men and women team up when we would see these men chatting up a new woman. One of them would copy phone numbers from the meeting lists going around for women’s phone numbers so we made it a point that women would pass the list directly to another woman.

    My point is that things can be done to take the edge off of predation, but it needs to be recognized and coordinated.

    I wonder how many of those in relationships asked their sponsor if they thought it was a good idea?

  27. Kal B says:

    Thank you for your courage in sharing on this difficult topic. I got in the way of the predation of a young woman by an experienced member with a track record of predation, by insisting I handed over the treasury role which I held directly to her (she’d just been voted in) instead of “through” him. He became extremely angry, and during a meeting break grabbed me violently enough to leave bruises when I tried to walk away from him yelling in my face. Neither his violence against me, nor the underlying issue seem possible to raise or adequately address, inside or outside meetings and this troubles me. It seems everyone knows, but no-one cares enough to help the perpetrator by working with them on their issues. My own situation has been worsened by gossip, presumably emanating from the perpetrator (I don’t know the content, but getting spat at on the street by a previously friendly AA member does suggest to me there’s been some!) My name is now mud is some quarters. The net result is that I don’t feel safe in meetings, and those who have attempted to support me have also been vilified on the gossip mill. The fellowship I entered in the mid 80s seemed to me to be more confrontative about these issues (in a kindly and helpful way) and to have greater clarity about the need for personal change and not hiding behind the illness as an excuse for continued bad behaviour. It is a sad state of affairs, and the greater openness you propose could most surely prevent it from happening to someone else.

  28. Clarabelle12 says:

    My problem with the piece isn’t that you will meet any and all in AA, but the fact that most of the meetings open to the public don’t take place in recovery rooms that are part of men’s rehabs. Karla herself was the same kind of criminal that I am – a person with drunk driving record. While the family has suffered, to suggest that their daughter was in a place with people substantially different than herself isn’t really true. And it was noted that neither Earle nor Karla were mandates. When is a person no longer considered a criminal? Her mother also said that if he had been able to help her to stop drinking, she would have loved him for it. Yet he still would have been… a criminal. Just not a raging active alcoholic. For me, this isn’t even 13 stepping. It was 2 people who followed none of the suggestions. Tragically, they provide the best illustration I can think of for why those suggestions exist.

  29. Lech says:

    I have done a Step 13 twice, both times with women who had more sobriety than I did at the time. The relationships didn’t last, but no harm came of them, either.

    The predators among us are well known if they have been around for a while.

    I have, on occasion, warned younger, attractive newcomers to be careful.

    In once case the lady assured me that she had been around the block a few times, and could look after herself.

    Not long afterwards she got hit on by one of the wolves in spiritual clothing, and seemed quite shocked that something like that could happen.

    • Alyssa (soda) says:

      Lech, good thing there are people like you to warn newcomers. Good on you.

      • Lech says:

        I try to do my bit.

        But I think it would be better if women with some length of sobriety took over that role.

        They are far better equipped for that role, and more credible.

        The next time I detect something in the offing, I will suggest to one of the ladies that she take the task on.

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