The Culture of Alcoholics Anonymous Perpetuates Sexual Abuse

 I still believe in the foundation of AA because it did save my life and help me get sober almost ten years ago,” says Adrian Wilson. She tells me she had been in the program for six years when she met a man at an Alcoholics Anonymous barbecue hosted by her female sponsor. The man asked for her card, saying he could help promote her clothing business. Wilson says she checked with her sponsor as to whether the man was a “safe” person and was told “yes—he’s an elder with 30 years sober.” A few weeks later, Wilson alleges that she went on a bike ride with him and then stopped by his house for waffles where he proceeded to sexually assault her “in every way, shape, and form.”

Wilson says she drove to her sponsor’s house, hysterical, immediately after the rape where her sponsor told her not to call the police or go to the hospital because “everyone in AA will hate [her].” She suggested that instead, Wilson “get on her knees and pray, work the steps, and look for her part in what happened.”

Wilson says she initially trusted her alleged perpetrator because “elders,” those with many years of sobriety in the program, are considered golden in the AA community—highly respected and put on a pedestal. Wilson ultimately decided to press charges and is now awaiting a second trial nearly three years after the alleged incident. Her first case ended in a mistrial this past summer. Wilson states her AA “family” disintegrated quickly when she began speaking out about the alleged attack.

“I tried to stay in the family because that was my support group and that’s what kept me sober. So, I went into meetings and I talked about it. I said: ‘I was raped by a man in AA,’ and I was hauled out of meetings by various women saying: ‘How dare you say that in a meeting.’ They said that I was going to scare newcomers, that I was going to keep them from getting sober.”

The recent avalanche of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and other powerful members of the Hollywood community have been a horrifying reminder of the prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, exploitation and abuse in American society. There is something uniquely heartbreaking, though, about the way people who have been sexually abused in AA (and other 12 step groups) are encouraged to “look for their part” in what has happened to them.

In addition to that, the fear that goes along with being cast out of the AA community is about more than a loss of social and emotional support or employment. AA members are repeatedly told that leaving the fellowship will lead them to drink, which will lead them to die and that the community’s welfare is more important than the individual’s. “AA must continue to live or most of us will surely die,” states AA’s First Tradition. “Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterwards.”

Leslie (who wishes to remain anonymous) was in AA for five years before she left, and says sexual harassment within the program is vastly different than it is in the outside world.
“It’s not the same. Not at all, because you’re taught that AA is the only way you’re going to be able to survive. You’re taught that if you leave meetings, ‘you’re going to drink, you’re going to use, you’re going to die,’” she tells me. “So, to speak out against sexual harassment in meetings is like risking your life. Leaving meetings means using. Using means jails, institutions, and death.”

“Jails, institutions, and death” is another commonly used phrase taken from Narcotics Anonymous literature to refer to the inevitable fate ahead for those who leave the fellowship. Leslie also states she was told by a fellow AA member that she “wouldn’t be free” until she “found her part” in her own childhood sexual abuse.

“I still believe in the program,” says Natalie Patterson, who has been attending AA meetings since 2011. “I think the fellowship is dangerous—extremely dangerous.” Patterson states she was also sexually assaulted by a man that she met through AA. When she spoke out about the assault and filed a personal protection order against her alleged attacker, she says that she was ostracized by fellow AA members and that her membership at the club where her home meetings were hosted was revoked. Patterson attempted to prosecute her alleged attacker but was unsuccessful. She won a settlement against him in 2016.

“I just can’t imagine any female who attends AA for even a brief period of time doesn’t experience some form of sexual harassment,” says Jenny, who wishes to remain anonymous. Jenny was in the program for more than 12 years before walking away. “I would be slapped on the butt and I had people stalk me and the older people in meetings would say ‘Oh, they’re actually really good people and maybe they’re sick and you should pray for them’ and ‘What did you do to make this happen?’ Men in AA are emboldened to behave the way they do because you’re not allowed to have any resentments, and if you do have one the solution is to look at where you fucked up.”

“Look for your part” is a 12 step-ism that appears to have derived from a well-meaning passage from AA’s main text, “The Big Book,” which states: “Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame?”

The Narcotics Anonymous “fellowship-approved” document “Working Step Four in Narcotics Anonymous” uses the language to guide their members for through their fourth step “inventory”: “In each situation, try to see where you were wrong, what your motives were, and what your part was.”

What began as a recommendation encouraging members to take personal responsibility for their actions and let go of resentments against others for the sake of their own well-being is apparently being used in many 12 step groups as a way to put the responsibility for sexual harassment and assault within the community on the victims.

And while it hasn’t been this way for every woman in the program, a pattern of oppression persists. “AA has absolutely saved my life,” says Amy Dresner, who has been in and out of AA for 20 years, and recently published a memoir about her addiction and recovery called My Fair Junkie. “I was never sexually harassed per se,” Dresner says. “What I did feel happened to me was that I was preyed upon when I was very vulnerable. When I came in and I was new, no girls pulled me aside and said ‘Hey, these are the guys who usually wait for the fresh meat to come in. These are the guys that fuck the newcomers.’ I was fucked multiple times by guys with who had double digit [years of] sobriety while I was still counting days. I was 13th stepped.”

“13th stepping” is a phrase all of the women I spoke to were familiar with. It is not an actual step in the program, but rather an expression commonly used within the fellowship to refer to the practice in which elder members with more years of sobriety sexually pursue newcomers because they’re in a vulnerable state and more open to manipulation. A 2003 study in the Journal of Addictions Nursing showed that 50 percent of the female AA members surveyed had experienced the 13th stepping phenomenon.

In spite of this, Dresner says it’s the responsibility of those entering the program to go in with their eyes open. “If you’re expecting it to be a room full of saints, you’re an idiot. It’s a place where sick people go to get better. It’s a looney bin. Wherever there’s a power hierarchy there’s going to be sexual abuse. AA is no different. There is a power hierarchy,” she tells me.

Dresner states that she has witnessed some internal policing of sexual harassment within the group. “What I have seen happen is a whole meeting kicked someone out after he was sexually harassing another member, sending her texts and following her to her car,” she says. “I also knew a girl who was newly sober and a virgin. She got in a relationship with a fellow member and he videotaped her—without her knowledge—giving him head and dispersed that video to people in AA and his friends. She had a total breakdown, but he was not just run out of AA, he was run out of town. So there is our own Wild West type of police forcing that happens.”

Monica Richardson was a member of AA for 36 years before she walked away and embarked on a personal mission to expose abusive practices in the 12 step community. She produced a documentary about sexual and financial exploitation in 12 step groups called “The 13th Step,”and states that since starting her blog LeavingAA in 2010, she has received “thousands” of emails from current and former members who have experienced sexual harassment, assault and abuse from other members of “the fellowship.”

One of Richardson’s major points of contention with AA is their refusal to warn newcomers to the program that they may be sitting next to someone who has been court ordered to attend meetings as a condition of probation or parole. AA’s own 2014 membership survey states that 12 percent of members were referred to the organization by the criminal justice system.

“AA needs to warn its members that there could be a sex offender or violent offender who’s been sent there, so be careful who you trust,” Richardson says. She also thinks that the group should tell the court system to stop requiring attendance for violent offenders, that the program should institute a hotline for members to call if they’ve been sexually assaulted by another program member, and that safety guidelines stating that sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation within the group are “not okay” should be read and posted at all meetings. Meeting leaders and sponsors are not required to go through any sort of training.

She also rejects AA’s assertion that the program is a “microcosm of society” where sexual harassment and assault are no more likely to happen than they would anywhere else. “It’s not a microcosm,” she says. “You’re pulling together a group of people who are malfunctioning. They’re addicted to drugs and alcohol. They may have issues with self-esteem and being assertive. And they’re all reading a book from the 1930s.”

I contacted AA’s General Service Office for comment on this story and asked about the organization’s handling of what appears to be a rampant problem. They responded by directing me to two pamphlets released in 2017 which are available for download on their site, “Safety and AA: Our Common Welfare” and “Safety Card for AA Meetings,” which they tell me have been “made available to AA groups in the US and Canada should they choose to utilize them.” The first states that some groups have chosen to address issues including sexual harassment through their “group conscience.” The second states that members can ensure each other’s safety by “walking to your car in a group after a meeting” and also states that if “a situation breaches the law, the individuals involved should take appropriate action.”

When I pressed further, asking for specific answers to my questions, the response was always the same. I asked the rep if asking women to “look for their part” in their sexual assault, harassment, exploitation, and abuse was a practice endorsed by the GSO, and was told that the links to the two flyers I was sent (which make no mention of looking for one’s part in abuse) had already “thoroughly and thoughtfully addressed” my question.

It was the same deal when I asked if the GSO had ever considered establishing a hotline for members of AA who had experienced sexual harassment or assault at the hands of another group member. And when I asked if the GSO had considered alerting newcomers that 12 percent of AA’s attendees were referred to (or forced to attend) the program by the criminal justice system, again, it was: “Refer to the flyers.”

None of the women currently attending AA meetings that I spoke to for this article had ever seen or heard of either of these flyers.


Quit Smoking Advice – Allen Carr

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an 1887 painting by Victor Vasnetsov.



The less people tolerated us, the more we withdrew from society, from life itself. As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settled down. It thickened, ever becoming blacker. Some of us sought out sordid places, hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did – then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen – Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair. Unhappy drinkers who read this page will understand!

Alcoholics Anonymous p-151

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of physical and mental defects that can develop in a fetus in association with high levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

About the Effect of Alcohol on the Fetus

Alcohol can disrupt fetal development at any stage during a pregnancy — including at the earliest stages and before a woman knows she is pregnant. Research shows that binge drinking, which means consuming four or more drinks per occasion, and regular heavy drinking put a fetus at the greatest risk for severe problems.

Drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage, leading to a range of developmental, cognitive, and behavioral problems, which can appear at any time during childhood. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is the umbrella term for the different diagnoses, which include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, and Alcohol-related birth defects.

People with FASD often have difficulty in the following areas:

  • Coordination
  • Emotional control
  • School work
  • Socialization
  • Holding a job

In addition, they often make bad decisions, repeat the same mistakes, trust the wrong people, and do not understand the consequences of their actions. NIH – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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Women in recovery

Artwork by Sadie Solagnier.

Women Alcoholics have many odds stacked against them. Physically alcohol affects them differently than it does men and society judges women more harshly than it does a man. Worst of all, men in AA generally do not treat alcoholic women as they would treat their own.

Physical issues

Women Alcoholics face greater risks to their health than their male counterparts. Alcohol increases a woman’s risk of developing serious illnesses such as:

an increased risk of heart disease,
liver disease,
reproductive problems,
memory loss.
These are just a few.

The effects of alcohol on the liver are more severe for women than for men. Women develop alcoholic liver disease, particularly alcoholic cirrhosis and hepatitis, after a shorter period of time than men. Proportionately more alcoholic women die from cirrhosis than do alcoholic men. In the “late stages” of alcoholism women develop hypertension, anemia, and malnutrition much quicker than alcoholic men, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that a woman’s risk of breast cancer rises with the amount of alcohol regularly consumed. Stopping drinking can reduce the chance of getting breast cancer. The study showed that women who drink two to five alcoholic drinks each day, were 41 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than nondrinkers. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases the risk of several digestive-tract cancers.

Alcohol also causes reproductive problems. The alcohol in the blood is carried into the baby’s bloodstream. Because the baby is still developing, consuming alcohol can lead to a miscarriage. It can also lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effects birth defects, which are irreversible.

Health risk are even greater for the older women. Women are more likely than men to start drinking heavily later in life, and many times their alcohol abuse goes undiagnosed.

Stigma on women alcoholics

Dealing with addiction is hard, more so for a woman than a man. Society judges women more harshly than they would a man. Women are often stereotyped as promiscuous, slovenly, and immoral. Worse when there are children involved, women are considered bad and neglectful mothers.

A.A. approved text in the book “Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers” tells us how it was in the beginning:

However, Dr. Bob showed somewhat less assurance upon first confronting the most troublesome and, in some ways, the most unwelcome minority in A.A.’s olden days – women!

We have already seen some examples of his dismay at the thought of a woman’s coming into the Akron group. “He didn’t know how to handle them,” said Smitty. Others said Dr. Bob felt that the program would not work for women. Just the same, he tried to help several.

Bill recalled “explosions” that took place around the “out-of-bounds romance” and the arrival of alcoholic women at meetings. “Whole groups got into uproars, and a number of people got drunk,” he said. “We trembled for A.A.’s reputation and for its survival.”

Women alcoholics had to overcome a double standard that was even more rigid in the 1930’s than it is today – the notion that nice women didn’t drink to excess. This made it difficult for a woman to admit to the problem in the first place, to say nothing of being accepted in A.A.

Being a drunk is bad enough. Sadly enough many cultures make being a female drunk is doubly shameful even in this day and age. Over the last decades some steps were made forward and some backwards. Generally it is agreed that women are accepted better and more fairly by A.A. than before but there is still much room for improvement.

These are some passages of an article written as recently as February 2013:

Your mother, sister or daughter could be a closet drinker. You probably know it, perhaps consider it a dirty family secret and have run out of ways to camouflage the signs. It could be a matter of time before she’s alcohol-dependent, and you’ll either leave her to fate or seek a way out.

What holds Indian women back from coming out of the liquor closet is the shame of being identified as alcoholic and, by extension, disreputable-harpies who transgress social codes and defile the righteous image of Indian womanhood.

“It is very challenging to get women out,” says Rameela, a recovering alcoholic whose mission to help other women alcoholics led her to join the General Service Office (GSO) of AA India.

(Taken from “Alcoholism in women on the rise, but few seek help”, The Times of India, Mumbai)

It is still harder for a woman to seek recovery. Not only so in India but unfortunately enough in many, many cultures worldwide. For those who do seek recovery, its not always easy, even in recovery women to this day are being preyed upon.

It is noteworthy to mention that online recovery groups, which offer a different dimension to anonymity, are frequented more by women than by men.

Predators in A.A.

Predators are those who take advantage of others. Predators are existent in face to face venues as well as in online venues and seek to victimize for many reasons. Sexual harassment and sexual attacks are two of these reasons and are generally, though not exclusively, committed by male predators against female victims. Women, in many cases, have no other recourse than to organize special “Women’s Meetings” or seek women-only groups.

This article is not written for the eyes of women only. In fact, it is the intention of this writer to bring some attention with regards to our gender issues, specifically towards the men in A.A. If you have reached this far in reading the article it means that you care about this issue and are concerned. A.A. groups in general and men in particular can contribute their efforts in creating a safer environment for the alcoholic woman who so desperately needs help to get out of their hell-on-earth, a place many of us have been able to flee from thanks to unconditional love we have received from fellow members.

The GSO in Australia has issued some suggested practices which can be useful to groups around the world and online. These include:

Talking about the issue in the group and at group conscience meetings. An informed membership and group conscience creates much needed awareness which can make it more difficult for the predator to function.
Take courage to address the matter directly with the suspected predator. Make the predator aware that the behaviour is unacceptable, that he (or she) has been observed and that under no circumstances a continued deviant behaviour will be tolerated.
Avoid opportunities for possible predators to be alone with their victims. Encourage as much as possible for discussions to take place in a larger setting.
Don’t avoid talking about this with members of other groups as the predator might move from one group to the next.
Having heard a few horror stories of 13 stepping in A.A. it is understandable that some meetings and groups are segregated. This, however, does not alleviate the problem nor does it address the issue. The Internet over the years has provided a safer haven for women to be open about their addictions but even online we can still find the janitor pretending to be a minister in order to sponsor the new comer woman eventually exchanging personal information and pictures. Other men, aware of these tactics are equally at fault if they allow this to happen without their intervention. Turning a blind eye is unacceptable.

If all of us can do our part we can move our fellowship forward and bring much needed help to women alcoholics that today may be reluctant to seek help and those that have fallen victim to predators and don’t want to return. All members of the fellowship, men and women, should help raise awareness about these issues. The better informed the group and the individual member is with regards to these bottlenecks the sooner we can expect to move beyond them.

“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?”
― Mahatma Gandhi

A New Life

Is sobriety all that we are to expect of a spiritual awakening?
No, sobriety is only a bare beginning; it is only the first gift of
the first awakening. If more gifts are to be received, our
awakening has to go on. As it does go on, we find that bit by
bit we can discard the old life — the one that did not work —
for a new life that can and does work under any conditions
Regardless of worldly success or failure, regardless of pain
or joy, regardless of sickness or health or even of death
itself, a new life of endless possibilities can be lived if we are
willing to continue our awakening, through the practice of
A.A.’s Twelve Steps.
GRAPEVINE, DECEMBER 1957 ( As Bill Sees It, p.8. )

Nicotine Anonymous Slogans To Help Us Be Happy, Joyous and Free Living without Nicotine



Together We Change

Many of us once thought that living without using nicotine was “just impossible for me.” We may have thought there was just something wrong or weak about our character. We didn’t fully understand the power of nicotine.

At meetings we see and hear that we are neither unique nor alone. We discover our similar experience with this addiction and obsession. We support each other and share a common hope.

Our Fellowship offers sanity and strength to prepare us for, and then to live, the miracle of not having that “next” one. Your “impossible” becomes our “possible” as we each realize that, together, we change.

Keep Showing Up

One of the most important things active nicotine users can do after their first meeting is to keep showing up at the next meeting. Setting a date to stop using nicotine may not need to be the primary focus. Since a common trait we often have is to hide behind the prop and/or smoke of a “nicotine screen,” showing up might be enough of a new behavior for the moment.

When we keep showing up we receive the shared courage and inspiration. Maybe for today we can’t do the “big” thing but, if we’re willing to do a “little” thing, we’ll find hope we hadn’t thought possible. Ask yourself, “What am I willing to do for this moment?” The answers create possibilities.

Even old-timers can keep showing up and make fresh discoveries. Willingness is the key that opens new doors for all of us.

Lengths Become Strengths

For most of us, our relationship with nicotine has been deep and wide. That is why we must become willing to go to any length to get and remain nicotine-free. Often, just becoming willing, shortens the length we need to go.

Those areas where we would rather stop short are often where we need to stretch forward. Each of us has our issues; each person decides for themselves. However, the more we stretch to a new length, the more strength we gain.

First Aid First

Whenever a craving threatens our life or a character defect jeopardizes our sanity, we respond by using this program’s first aid first. By practicing the Steps and using the tools that help us (meetings, phone list, literature, sponsor, and service), rather than the things that hurt us, we welcome the healing of recovery into our lives.

To Postpone it, Phone it

We can postpone our usual reaction to a craving if we pick up a phone and talk about what we’re experiencing. We make the call to our sponsor, a member of our Fellowship, or anyone supportive we can reach. Waiting until we have done this first, we can then see how we feel.Using nicotine, we were visible but not always present. Using the phone, we can practice having conscious contact with others. When we let others offer this service, we help them enhance their recovery.