Content notice: This post discusses rape and victim blaming in AA
Most everyone in America has heard of the Twelve Steps, but generally only members are aware of the thirteenth. “Thirteenth step” is the group’s jocular name for the practice of longstanding AA members (“oldtimers”) preying on new recruits (“newcomers”) for sexual gratification. This ranges from coercion to violent assault.
One of the Twelve Traditions of AA, the third, says “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuses none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.” The short form version is “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”
Alcoholics Anonymous has no mechanism for removing predatory or unsafe members. If they want to “keep coming back”, the rest of AA – including their victims – are supposed to welcome them with open arms. Rape victims in AA have been instructed to “find their part in it” – that is, to apportion some of the blame on themselves and not worry about the rest. One woman was forced by her sponsor to write an apology letter to her rapist, and to “share” it in the meeting, with him present.
When you couple this unwillingness to police dangerous oldtimers with courts sentencing drug users, drunk drivers, and others to twelve step meetings, newcomers have no power in the situation. If they don’t go to these meetings, if they don’t please their sponsor, if they don’t follow group expectations that they love and forgive and confess to their abuser, they can be sent to prison or lose custody of their children. The power imbalance is astronomical.
Some women only Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups have been formed. For women sentenced to cult meetings, I do recommend you try to avoid mixed gender meetings. Casual groping, sexist jokes in “sharing”, and predation are all examples of the group norms which favor men over women and oldtimers over newcomers. AA is a secxist cult started by a sexually harassing wife abuser which defends itself and its core members. It is not safe.