Expose AA

It's about time someone told you the truth about Alcoholics Anonymous

The 13th Step and Related Crime in Alcoholics Anonymous                                      

 November, 2011

Curiosities of AA/NA often have searched the web questioning a common term used in 12 step groups:  “What exactly is 13 stepping”?  I googled it myself, and found some of the answers to be well off the course:  “That’s when a person pushes their own god onto another” or “When women don’t look out for other women in meetings”. 

This is not a god issue, and it isn’t only associated to women.  The common and well termed phrase “13 stepping” can be defined as a man or a woman of seasoned experience in the rooms that use their status as a knowledgeable and trusted member to engage with vulnerable new persons.  In other words, it's when cultured members try to pick up a newcomer.  13 stepping occurs in degrees:  Manipulative, but seemingly pleasant “come-ons” can be considered a mild form.  Blatant sexual harassment and abuse is a more severe form of 13 stepping. 

"Keep your skirt down, Honey"

It is generally discouraged for newer members just on the wagon to date within the first year of sobriety.  Women have suggested that their sponsees keep their skirt down, and men are often told to be patient:  “there will be more time for that later”.  But as much as it is advised against and discouraged, non-dating within the first year is only an unwritten rule.  As we all know, the only requirement of AA is a desire to stop drinking.  Newcomers often feel shaken and desperate, and they come to AA seeking help for an illness that they come to believe that they are powerless over.  When 13 stepping, an AA perpetrator seeks out the weak and susceptible, luring them into their lives with the promise of alcoholism recovery, as well as spirituality and peace of mind.  However, this is done with the intent of abusing their own self imposed belief of “power”.  The result is sexual and sometimes financial exploitation of vulnerable members.  

"You need another alcoholic to talk to. You need another alcoholic just as much as he needs you!" ~Bill Wilson

An AA sponsor is a fellow alcoholic that has a sufficient amount of sober time (a year or more) and counsels newcomers about the program, also guiding them through the 12 steps of recovery.  These steps can be found and defined in Chapter 5 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Text (often referred to as the Big Book or incredibly, the “Bible” in meetings), and are strongly suggested as a model of principles needed to achieve sobriety.  It is also strongly suggested during meetings and in rehabilitation centers to seek out a sponsorThe sponsee is led to believe that they need help to manage their lives.  There is no requirement for sponsorship.  It is very important to note and understand that a sponsor does not receive any formal training as a drug counselor, licensed therapist, or ordained minister. They are recovering alcoholics and that is all! However, it is common for a sponsor to take on the above roles, as well as one of a life coach.  This could lead to controlling situations and sponsor abuse.

There are no background checks in Alcoholics Anonymous and anonymity is encouraged.  Any person, a convicted felon for example, can walk into the rooms of AA claiming to be “sober” (considering themselves a miracle), and work with a sponsee.  John G. could be someone like John Wayne Gacy.  Andrea Y. could be someone like Andrea Yates. The fact is that we don’t know "who" is guiding us on our paths to achieve sobriety and spirituality, and we don’t know "who" we are sitting next to in meetings.  Anonymity plays a key role in many abusive and violent situations.  The dynamics of the program allow for a perpetrator to feel secure from disclosure and reprehension, while at the same time potential victims are letting their guard down and are being told that they are safe.

There is only an honor system in Alcoholics Anonymous and it is routinely broken.  A sponsor or “old-timer” does not have to answer to anyone, and can implement their own beliefs onto others, directing newcomers in any way that they want and choose to.  There is no authoritative figure to ensure that they don't abuse their role.  I'm not trying to imply that all sponsors and old-timers are manipulative or abusive, because that is simply not the case.  Although it is a fact that some are, and it is also a fact that newcomers are often taken advantage of (sexually or otherwise) because of their vulnerability and eagerness to please and work the program to the best of their ability.

Do you want what they have to offer?

Sponsor abuse, spiritual abuse, and controlling relationships occur as well.  This is all unacceptable behavior for a self help group!  Officially there is no hierarchy in AA, no one “in charge”, and no one in authority to turn to for help in that closed society.  However - sponsors, old-timers, and gurus tend to believe and behave as if they are in charge and are more superior.  A new member that so desperately wants sobriety and serenity (what old-timers “have to offer”) is taught to have the willingness to go to any lengths to get it.  They may be compelled to engage with a so called trusted servant (a fellow member of the group, or a sponsor) that could possibly be a predator.  Women, minors, and also men easily become preyed upon in this environment.  With the increase of court mandated ( or coerced) AA attendance, the percentage of sex offenders and violent persons in the program has risen.  When criminals with a substance abuse problem get released from prison, it is often part of their parole agreement that he or she attend AA.  Also, many 12 steppers solicit jails and prisons to recruit members and encourage meeting attendance upon discharge.  These recruits are not limited to DUI offenses.  Sexual and violent offenders often get sent to AA by parole officers and judges.  Any dangerous felon can attend 12 step groups upon release and remain incognito.  It is also common for judges to send young drinking offenders to AA.  Mixing vulnerable people with a high rate of felons is paradoxical.  Allowing this arrangement in a non structured group setting that doesn’t have safety procedures, code of conduct policies, or even warning pamphlets is a perfect recipe for disaster.       


The dynamics of the program allow for a perpetrator to feel secure from disclosure and reprehension, while at the same time potential victims are letting their guard down and are being told that they are safe. 

That is insanity!      



 Victims are sometimes too scared to go to police and oddly, afraid to speak out against other members of the program.  Often times they don’t want to be shunned from their group or by other group members.  They also might feel that they would be reprimanded for breaking anonymity.  Newcomers have come to AA for help, and they feel sick and are scared.  It is common for them to believe that AA is their last opportunity to quit drinking and changing old behaviors.  They are actually told that this is their best and last opportunity at life, and that AA members should be regarded as their new family.  They are also told that AA members understand and care about them more than their real loved ones.  No one wants to hurt members of their “family” and no one wants to be ostracized by them. 

Keep in mind that members of anonymous groups, including sponsors, are not always sympathetic toward victims.  It is often called an "outside issue".  Perhaps you have heard the phrase: “Look at your part in it”.  This indicates that a victim should keep quiet and actually examine their own role as an abused member.  Some advice given regularly in the rooms is: "keep your own side of the street clean" and "don't do another person's inventory".  It can be emotionally harmful to bring on undeserved shame and guilt.  Many have tried to let go and let God in these terrifying situations.  Shame and guilt, fear of betrayal by family, and fear of jeopardizing their group status often leads victimized members to not speak out and  not protect themselves - resulting in the continuation of abuse.

The traditions of AA or NA are not legally binding.  This includes anonymity.  In the United States Judicial System, the courts still consider your individual rights more important than the group consciousness of Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous.

If you are in an unsafe position and want help or protection, please notify your local police and find support from outside trustworthy organizations or from loved ones.  And always remember:  If you are preyed upon, there is no your” part in it.  Many members of EXPOSE AA have been in the same position and understand.  For discussion, link to the 13th Step Forum.

~Sally J

*Contact Massive or Leaving AA for safety and awareness pamphlets.