Episode 83: Sexual Harassment and Predation in AA

Podcast Transcript

00:00 John: This is Episode 83 of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast, and I’m your host, John S.


00:25 John: Today’s episode is the first of two, addressing the topic of sexual predation and harassment in Alcoholics Anonymous and features a conversation with Heather B. from Indianapolis, Indiana and Bethany B. from Jacksonville, Florida. We’ll talk about the problem from their perspective and possible solutions. Our next episode on this topic will consist of the personal stories from women who have experienced sexual harassment in the rooms of AA.

00:58 John: Hello, I’m with Bethany B. And Heather B. Bethany is from Jacksonville, Florida, and Heather is from Indianapolis, Indiana, and today, we’re going to talk about sexual assault, harassment, and predation in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. A heavy subject but I think that it’s an important one. Perhaps a good way to start is by describing the problem from a couple of paragraphs from an article that Heather published in AA Beyond Belief some time ago. The article was titlted Predatory Behavior Within the Fellowship. I’m just going to read two paragraphs really quick as written by Heather:

When someone with a significant amount of sobriety seeks out a romantic sexual relationship with someone new to the program and or sobriety, it’s referred to as “13th Stepping”. It is predatory because, at best, it takes advantage of another’s vulnerability and interferes with their recovery. At worst, it compromises the other person’s sobriety, leading them back to alcohol and drugs.

The program is often the first and sometimes only lifeline that many of us find. Many women, including myself, arrived carrying the weight of sexual trauma. Now we have to get sober in an environment filled with men we don’t know. Imagine, on top of this, getting befriended by someone who pretends to help, offers you a lifeline, but only wants to sleep with you. It is irresponsible and reprehensible to manipulate a newcomer in this way. If we are to carry the message to those who suffer, it’s up to us to honor, not take advantage of, the vulnerability that newcomers carry through the door.

02:45 John: I thought that was an excellent description of what the problem is, maybe a good place to start if you guys don’t mind, is to talk  about your firsthand personal experience with this issue and maybe even some secondhand observations you’ve had since you’ve been in the rooms. Would you be willing to do that? 

03:07 Heather B: Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me, John. I guess, I first took a stab at trying to get sober in a different fellowship about 20 years ago and found the environment there to be very meat market-y and it really just left a bad taste in my mouth, so about 10 years later, when I… I had periods of staying sober, trying to stay sober, relapsing, going to treatment, so there was a lot going on there. About eight years ago, when I came back to the rooms of AA, there was a gentleman and I already had a significant number of years of sobriety at this point, and he asked me to see a movie. I wasn’t really sure if he was asking me, because he wanted to have a romantic type of relationship or if he just wanted to be friends. So, the more I thought about it, the more I became uncomfortable with it. When he called me, and texted me, I just said, “Hey, look. I’m not comfortable with this. I think I misinterpreted your intent here.” That really set him off. He got angry and started rapid-fire texting me., and I ended up blocking him. He continued to come to this mixed agnostic meeting that I attended here in Indianapolis.

04:36 Heather: He talked a lot about his untreated mental illness. He was really disrespectful to men and to women, but particularly, to women. He was very aggressive, and name calling and always wanted to dominate the conversation, and when a woman would share, he would shake his head, roll his eyes, grunt, sigh, make it known to the rest of the room that he was the authority on sobriety. And so, in any event, it got really ugly and I won’t drag this out any longer, but he ended up coming to a different agnostic meeting. Well, he called me and threatened me, first of all. It’s just this sort of, I don’t know if it was real rejection or if it was just perceived rejection. I’m not sure. There were some other things that happened in the meantime. My partner who’s also in the program, who’s a man, came and defended me and sort of told him… They scuffled a little bit. In any event, he ended up showing up to another meeting with a weapon. He assaulted my partner and went to jail that night. About a year later, we had a trial and he was charged with a felony, but he had a really good attorney and was found not guilty. So, yeah.

06:01 John: So, was the group able to do anything, or did they try to do anything about this guy?

06:09 Heather: We talked about it, and I think everyone was kind of at a loss as what to do. I didn’t attend that meeting consistently, and I certainly don’t… I wish that the group, as a whole, had been more proactive about booting him out, but at the same time, I was part of that group, and I… There’s this feeling of, “This is Alcoholics Anonymous. We’re helping people save their own lives here.” And so, to really boot someone out could result in a relapse for them. So, it’s something that we took really seriously, and yes, there were several people from the group who were great about it, who tried to talk to him, who gave him a warning, but it just seemed to escalate and get worse and worse and worse. He was harassing me, he was harassing a sponsee of mine, who was also a woman, by the way.

07:05 Heather: And so, when my partner came to that meeting after I’m relaying all this to him, he came to the meeting and sort of man-to-man said, “Look, this is going to stop.” And that kind of made it worse. So, in any event, the group did try to reason with him, and that was not successful. But I will say that at least, the facility where those meetings are held, the board members there were very supportive, and they kicked him out, and he’s no longer able to go there, at all, for any meeting.

07:34 John: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, and I was wondering about what to do about this, and we can talk about that later. But one of the things we can do is let the people who rent the facility to our meetings know about what’s going on. They can step in because they don’t want to have that kind of a problem in their facility. 

07:51 Heather: Yeah. Well, they were really supportive of… He actually tried to show up there a couple times after this happened, and the men who were on the board there called the police once or twice. I’m not really sure though, I’m getting all this secondhand from them. But he did try to show up there and they did not allow it.

08:19 John: A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation online with, I think, four women, and they were all from different states. And this topic came up of what we call “13 stepping,” and I don’t really use that term anymore. But I asked them, I said, “Have you guys experienced this?” And every single one of them said that they did. And it kind of surprised me. But now, what I’m hearing in the media with all the news that’s going on with the #Me-Too movement and so forth, it seems that this is just such a widespread problem throughout society, not just in AA. But particularly in AA, it’s dangerous and it’s something we need to be talking about and finding solutions for. Bethany, have you had experiences or anything you would like to share related to this?

09:05 Bethany B: Sure, yeah. And John, thanks for opening up a dialogue about this. I think this is one of the chief reasons that I left physical meetings. I got sober right after I turned 23, and I had gotten a sponsor, and I had been sober, I don’t know, less than three months. And my sponsor told me that if I didn’t date for the first year, that she would take me shopping at the end of the first year, and… But she really was trying to incentivize me to stay away from, any of that enmeshment. But there was a fella that was going to this clubhouse where I was going to a lot of meetings. He was about 17 years sober. He was pretty… A lot of these guys that we hear about are well-respected because they have time, they’ve been around a long time, and they say things that make sense. And he took me out. And it was something that resembled dating, and it was romantic and sexual in nature. It was consensual on my part, but I didn’t know that the reasons why we avoided this were to give newcomers a chance. I didn’t know that I was at risk of drinking because of this.

10:16 Bethany: But my sponsor, she said, “Listen, I can’t tell you what to do. But if you’re… I hope you’re not messing around with this guy.” And I was messing around with him. And I think I learned years later that she had taken him aside, like, “Just give it a rest, give her a shot. Let her have a shot at this.” I was probably emotionally beaten up by this fresh-raw rejection, something that I knew in the bar culture that I had been a part of during my drinking years in college. It was a meet market kind of situation as well. And to experience that sober, I was really… I was shaken, but I didn’t relapse because of that. But then, I stuck around long enough and went to tons of meetings, and  I witnessed people’s lives getting decimated by making poor decisions during their first year sober.

11:20 Bethany: And there is a woman in Indiana in Champaign that I respect a lot. She has done a lot of conferences, and I’ll just respect her anonymity now. But in her area too, there’s this pervasive culture of older men with time, who are respected in the group, and who  habitually predate the women in the rooms. And this happens in my area too. So, we’re told, too, John, “Okay, what’s your part in it?” So, I’m having to look at this thing that happens, and it was totally inappropriate from the other party’s perspective. So, what is my part in it? Well, I accepted his offer of going out to dinner. And whatever else is my part in it, did I wink back at him or squeeze his hand during the prayer at the end of the meeting? We’re told to look at our part in some of these things where we really are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

12:12 John: Right.

12:12 Bethany: And this fella, when I was 10 years sober, so I was 33 at this time, he came up to me at a meeting. I really just had not, not in an angry way and I didn’t run around warning women about this fella. And he just kind of drifted away from AA and would only come back on his anniversary. But at 10 years sober, he came to me. So, I guess he was 27 years at that time. He said, “I need to make an amends to you.” I was like, “Yeah.” Oh, he said, “You look so young!” I’m like, “Well, how do you think I looked 10 years ago?”

12:40 John: Oh, wow!

12:41 Bethany: And he was a bit of an older… And he got sober young too, but he was definitely older than I was at the time. That was kind of a two-passing ships, and I got an amends for that. I do appreciate that to a degree, but it’s like the problem is so overwhelming. It’s almost like I don’t want to go to AA and even see it anymore. And I certainly, at this point, don’t know if I could even recommend this as a place for people I care about. It’s just like some bad stuff goes on.

13:10 John: Do you think that the other men in the group knew that he was doing this?

13:14 Bethany: Oh, sure. I’m sure because it was really consensual and because I have a bit of a mouth on me that probably we were more evenly yoked than some people that are perhaps in financially dire straits or don’t have opinions and things like that. Years later, at the same clubhouse, some of the older men were out at this picnic table or wherever and one of them said that they had all bet on me. Some of them had actually lost some money. They didn’t think I was going to make it. Let’s talk about how sick that is.

13:48 John: I know. That is really… I’ve heard that before and I hope that they were just kidding, that they weren’t actually literally doing that, but who knows. It’s sick, isn’t it? The reason I was asking about that, about if other men knew, because I’m becoming a little bit more sensitive now about recognizing what’s going on and then speaking out if I see something that doesn’t seem right. Here’s an example of something that happened at our home group. There was a guy who had been sober for maybe 30 years and he would come to our meetings with a young woman who was just getting sober. They were dating I guess, and I remember thinking to myself, “Well, this isn’t appropriate for somebody who’s 30 years sober to be dating someone who’s just getting sober. He should know that she needs some space.” And I didn’t say anything. They kept coming to our meetings. Another woman in our group pointed out to me that it was 13-stepping. I said, “Really?” [chuckle]

14:47 John: That sounds stupid, but it’s like, yeah. I should’ve gone to that guy and said, “You know what? This is inappropriate. You’ve been sober for 30 years. This woman is just now getting her feet on the ground. Stand back.”


15:05 Bethany: John, really the last straw for me in leaving the physical meetings in AA was there’s this tight-knit group of women that had their clique for a number of years in my regional area. And after this convention where I met you, I talked to my sponsor who was affiliated with that group. There was a woman that she was still under a year sober. Within that first year, she had already married this fella that had been sober 30 years. Within her first year she was new to the area, new to AA, and even before she hit a year, she already had been married, gotten married to this fella in that group. I asked my sponsor about it. I said, “How do you reconcile that?” She said, “Well, you know women have a part in it too.” That was actually our last conversation. She texted me and suggested I should write about some of my feelings about that, and I did. I wrote a blog and I sent her a link.

16:02 John: I wouldn’t say the other person plays a part. I don’t know how true that is when you’re looking at the power balance. It’s like in the workplace; if you have someone who’s a manager over a subordinate, that’s not really an equal relationship. Or if you have somebody, like what’s going on now, who’s in the media and is a very powerful person in the media and you have someone else who’s trying to rise up. You have someone who’s been sober and knows the ropes of AA inside and out, and someone who doesn’t and is not sure of themselves, that’s just not an equal relationship. And I think the person who has the power has the responsibility to not leverage that, to stand back. But these are probably not well people, this is what’s so odd about it. 

16:47 Bethany: We give so much authority and respect to these people who are perhaps career criminals and have done some unspeakable things, and here they are as role models.

16:56 John: Yeah.

16:57 Bethany: It’s unfortunate.

16:58 Heather: Yeah, I think the other thing too is that you were talking about the power imbalance. Women, at least in my regional area, are often the minority. I know that’s true in the agnostic meetings here. It’s not uncommon to go to a meeting where it’s 90% men, 10% women. So, when you’re pushing that gap even further of this guy has five years, this guy has 10 years, you’re new,  and you’re also the only woman in the room.

17:36 John: Yeah, I see that imbalance in our group too. I think at any given time, the vast majority are men. Lately it’s been more like a 30/70 kind of a mix. The way we put people on pedestals who have long periods of sobriety or say things we like. They talk the program talk. I think that that’s a danger in a way, is that and the whole thing of sponsorship, of having these people with some sort of authoritative air about them, simply because they say things… [chuckle]

18:16 Bethany: And wholly unqualified to counsel another person on how to live their life, and maybe even people that have a personality fallibility or a disorder even, such that they enjoy dominating other people and telling them what to do. I mean, this is a… It’s just the whole… It’s a flawed system.

18:35 Heather: And then in my situation, the man talked freely in the meeting about his untreated mental illness. And this guy was sponsoring people. I think that this is probably a topic for a different podcast, but it just highlights how unable to handle mental illness, the fellowship really is.

19:06 John: But there’s got to be a way that we can protect the group. I was looking at that too, of possible solutions. And I was reading your article Heather, and one thing that you mentioned was the importance of men speaking out when they see things going on.  Do you want to talk about that and maybe some solutions that you see for the problem? 

19:30 Heather: Yeah, sure. I think it’s interesting when I wrote that article, I remember a comment that someone made at the bottom that said, “I’m sorry, good men cannot keep the bad men out.” And I thought, “Well, that’s pretty telling,” and I wondered if that was kind of the feeling across the board, that men felt that it wasn’t any of their business. But I would argue that as we’re seeing now, like you mentioned, and in our culture as a whole, rape and sexual assault are not really a woman’s problem. I think as a whole we need to hand this problem back to you, and while I am certainly willing to have conversations about what the solutions are, I also think that this isn’t a woman’s problem. We didn’t create this problem, and so because of that, it really is up to men to step up and solve it. I do think that just as it’s my responsibility when I see it… And hey, I’ve seen this happen, I’ve seen the guy who’s always with the cute, young newcomer. I see this all… I see it and I don’t say anything either.

20:55 Heather: So, it’s my responsibility I think as a member of the AA community to reach out to her and maybe offer her something, but I also think that when men see this behavior in other men, it’s important that they put a stop to it as well.

21:13 John: I do too. I’m beginning to understand that. I think there’s certain degrees of this too. I don’t think the men who are doing this, who are the predators, who are the assaulters, are necessarily talking about what they’re doing. Maybe they are, but I haven’t heard that.  I think part of the problem is that if  I see something, if I see the guy with the young woman or whatever, and I just kind of turn my head and say, “It’s none of my business, they know what they’re doing,” or whatever. I think that’s what I need to change, it’s that mindset. If it feels wrong then I have an obligation to that woman, to let her know, “Hey, this may not be appropriate, think about this.” And I should go to the guy and say, “I don’t think this is appropriate, what you’re doing. Give her some space.” Wow.

22:10 Heather: Right. And it’s also important for me to reach out to the women who are newcomers and give them my phone number. And because I’ve seen it happen where a few newcomer females come in, and then after the meeting, she’s surrounded by men.

22:31 Bethany: Oh, that’s actually… Okay, so I have a story about that. So, when I was maybe 10 or 12 years sober, I had told my sponsor like, “Hey, I think this whole God thing is kind of a crock, and I think that everybody in these meetings that believe that, I think they’re… I don’t respect them. I think they’re dim.” And she’s like, “Well, you go to a meeting where you don’t know anybody and listen for a different message.” And so, I went to this meeting for the first time where I didn’t know anybody. And yeah, it was obvious that if I didn’t know anybody there and it was my first time and I was, yeah, I was surrounded by men. I was like, “Oh, thanks for the schedule, I don’t need your phone number.” Yeah.

23:10 John: Wow. [chuckle]

23:11 Heather: So, at the Thursday, at one of the agnostic meetings, and we’ve started just an agnostic women’s meeting here, but at the mixed meeting, there are a couple mixed meetings, but at one of them, we at the end of the meeting, it’s in the format to announce who the female contact is and who the male contact is. “So, if you’re new, please approach this person,” you’re kind of directed to, at least pointed in the right direction.

23:41 John: I was actually thinking about, our group creating a sexual harassment policy and procedures. Companies have these, and you have a process to follow. I think it should be something so we can give it to every newcomer, and we can have like a safe contact where people can call, and maybe it can even be a third party. But, I’m kind of thinking that we could actually come up with some sort of actual policy and process and let people know it’s in place. I think that that could help so that if somebody is a victim, or at least they could be aware that they’re even a victim, they might not even know until they see this thing in writing that says this is an issue that can happen here. So, I’m kind of thinking about trying to get something together like that. And I know that we could have like a woman and a man in our group who could be like a safe person that you can go to and speak to, but also, I’m thinking about the people who operate the facility where we meet to let them know about our policy and maybe even have them as a contact person. These are just some thoughts I’ve had. I don’t know, what do you think?

24:54 Heather: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. I also would wonder too, what do you guys think about the idea of bringing it up as a topic in the meeting?

25:04 Bethany: Well, I think it’s a great way for people to add their list of reasons to shun a person from AA, and I’m really not even joking about that. And I think if I had not just walked away from this community that I’d been a part of, but If I had said things out loud, then certainly you see that I would have been, vocally, outspoken, loudly shunned. I hate to be pessimistic, and I really, I don’t know what the answer is, and I just choose not to participate anymore. It’s overwhelming.

25:35 John: You and I were talking just a little bit in Jacksonville, and something that you said there that it’s almost like the religious nature of AA itself gives these people this authoritative air about them, and it’s really sick in a way, how the rest of the group idolizes these people, and you pointed out that there are a lot of people that are really well-respected that are just serial predators. That is amazing. That’s what needs to happen, I think is that, as a culture in AA, we need to find these predators and bring them to light and let them know it’s not okay. And shun them, the predators.

26:25 Heather: Mm-hmm. Which is what’s happening in the… We’re seeing a shift in culture, in American culture, happening right now.

26:37 John: That’s right. And it seems… And I think that’s been an amazing thing to watch, and I think that would be helpful in AA, to bring these people out and show them for what they are, regardless of… because there’s a lot of men, you see them, people in the public ey, in the news media or actors or whatever. I see them and I think, “Well, I love their work and I think that they’re a good person,” but then you find out what they’re really doing and it’s… I don’t know, it’s eye-opening. And you know that this exists in AA too, but there’s plenty of people out there who are highly respected, and we think they have a great program and everything, but behind the scenes, they’re a serial predator. And we need to bring those people out I think to make the rest of us safer. But also, I like the idea of women’s meetings too, and I know that they’re real popular. Some women in our group were talking about starting one, but they haven’t really gotten anything off the ground. I’d like to see that meeting get started. And you mentioned this too in your article Heather, you said it’s a good idea, to have the women’s meetings, but that you didn’t like the idea of our being totally segregated, that that’s not a total solution.

27:58 Heather: Yeah, at least in my experience, women’s meetings are, we always go deeper, people share on a deeper level. It could be the safety factor of women just feel more safe, being open. And we can talk about our experience, sexual and otherwise, that doesn’t always feel comfortable. It doesn’t always feel comfortable doing that in a mixed meeting. For me, alcoholism involved a lot of promiscuity, right? But I also think that there’s a lot to be learned from everyone in the program. And so, I don’t know, I love women’s meetings, but I would also like to see the culture change rather than just segregating us completely.

28:57 John: During my first 25 years in AA, I went almost exclusively to an all men’s meeting which a lot of people might find kind of unusual. I just fell into that group. I didn’t go to it just because it was a men’s group, it’s just that when I was starting out there, there were other people my age and I just felt comfortable, so that’s the group that I went to. But then after 25 years, then I started the We Agnostics group, and of course it’s a mixed group, men and women. And I really enjoyed that because I never really got to hear from women all those years that I was in the program. [chuckle] I really liked having that perspective. But one thing that I learned is that there’s a real difference between how men and women share sometimes in meetings. We had an issue at our Friday noon meeting that was causing a problem. Women would come in and they would share, and then these older guys, who I think meant well, but they were offering advice and counsel, and it’s like, [laughter] I don’t know if this is true, but it seems to be what happens is that men might sometimes do this. I also noticed sometimes that women seem to be speaking more from experience whereas a lot of the time, the men will be quoting from some book or something.

30:16 John: So, there’s a little bit of a difference sometimes between men and women in how they share at meetings. And I think that men should be aware of that a little bit more. I’m only aware of it I think because I noticed that difference when talking to some of the women in our group, and because of that particular problem at our Friday meeting, which was really difficult to address. We tried to address it by telling people that we can’t have cross-talk. Because it was kind of in the form of cross-talk. 

30:46 Heather: Well, it’s telling too that the Big Book is really pretty patriarchal. It was written by men. And it’s also written from the male perspective. So, when I first came in, I could never relate to this ego run wild thing that the big book describes. Because I came in feeling like shit. I came in hating myself with incredibly low self-esteem, lots of shame, lots of guilt. So, I couldn’t really relate to that. And I think that’s not true across the board for all women, but I know for me, that was difficult to relate to.

31:30 John: Did you feel that way, Bethany?

31:31 Bethany: Well, I guess I just… I was thinking that I haven’t been around with the fellowship since this summer, actually, John, since that weekend that I met you, and I have to say, gosh, I’m not upset about it. I’m not looking for solutions for it because I’m not involved in it. So, I’m not pretending like it doesn’t exist, I will say that I am not conflicted about it any longer because I just don’t see it. And I know, that’s really a bad way to look at it, but depending on the type of agnosticism or atheism that you have, there’s really no meaning to any of this. I can certainly find community elsewhere with a lot less headache.

32:12 John: So, you’re pretty much just done with it, done with AA pretty much.

32:15 Bethany: Yeah.

32:15 John: Yeah, that’s so amazing because you were really involved heavily for a long time, weren’t you?

32:21 Bethany: Daily meetings for my sponsor.

32:24 John: And it was that state convention in Jacksonville, huh?

32:27 Bethany: Yeah.

32:27 John: Incredible. That’s amazing.

32:30 Bethany: You know what I do with my extra hour a day?

32:32 John: What do you do?

32:33 Bethany: Anything I want. [laughter]


32:36 John: Well that’s cool.

32:37 Heather: Right on!

32:39 John: Yeah.

32:41 Heather: But I’m also sad. I’m also… Hearing you say that makes me sad. And that was one of the reasons that we started a women’s meeting here, is to provide people like you a place to go.

32:55 John: Yeah, that experience in Jacksonville was kind of an eye opener, wasn’t it, Bethany? Because you heard us talk about the program in a different way I guess than you’ve ever heard before?

33:06 Bethany: Yeah. I just know that I was not alone in feeling, it’s just like, “What are these people even talking about?” And just to understand that other people had this existential disconnect, that I certainly felt I had been using reality as my higher power all along anyway, like my life is very crappy when I’m drinking, and it’s been fairly easy ever since. I mean it’s just doesn’t even make sense for me to drink. And I don’t need to sit in these rooms to be reminded of that. For me, AA was… I’m conflicted because I was so young when I got sober. Really, everybody was so welcoming, and it was a way better life than what I was doing on my own devices. But for me it was just time to move on. But I’ve had awakenings of whatever variety you want to call it where something happens, or I hear something or read something and just all of the sudden look at something a different way. It’s like flipping a switch. That’s happened numerous times in my life, and this is just one of them that’s like, I hope it works out. [chuckle] because you know what we hear about people that quit going, so..

34:14 John: Oh, yeah. Well, honestly, I sometimes think about leaving myself, but I don’t know, I’m kind of committed to this whole agnostic AA thing now. So, I do enjoy it, I do love it, and I do want to have a safe place. How I feel is that we need to create a safe place for people who are in a time of crisis. Because like it or not, if people are having a problem with drinking, they’re going to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, and I just like for there to be a safe place for them to get them through that time of crisis for however long they might need it. Some people might only need it for a month. Some people might need it for six months. But I had that for me and I was a young person too, Bethany, I was 25. I needed a safe place where I could talk, and people who would listen. And it just meant… It saved me. And I think there’s some value in that. So maybe that’s why I’m still around. But I can certainly respect people who choose not to because it can be an unhealthy environment, no doubt about it.

35:16 Bethany: Yeah. If I’m the role model in the room, I need to be in a different room.

35:21 John: [laughter] That’s funny. This was a very constructive conversation and I appreciate you guys agreeing to do this. It’s such a deep topic. There’s so much to explore here, so many behaviors and so forth. Do you have any final thoughts on the topic that you want to express, either one of you?

35:39 Heather: I just want to say thank you for opening up the dialogue and… And thank you too. I know you do a lot of work for the AA Agnostics Movement. So, I appreciate you giving us this platform to share our story.

35:56 John: You’re welcome. Thank you very much.

35:56 Bethany: Yes, I echo that.

35:58 John: Great. Well, thank you.


36:00 John: I think I interrupted you, Bethany.

36:02 Bethany: Oh, no, I was just echoing Heather’s sentiments. Thank you so much, John. I mean, just getting to know you and all that you’ve done for this community is much appreciated.

36:10 John: Thanks so much. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been an education for me too. Alright, well thank you all very much. You all have a nice weekend.

36:16 Heather: You too. Thanks, John.


36:20 John: Thank you for listening everybody. That concludes another episode of the AA Beyond Belief, The Podcast. Next week’s episode will feature additional stories from women about sexual harassment and predation in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. So, join us again for episode 84 as we continue to explore this topic.

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  1. bob k March 9, 2018 at 9:13 am - Reply

    It’s good to be having these conversations, BUT before we get any where near a discussion of enforcement, what we are planning to enforce needs to be clearly defined. The statement “We oppose sexual predation” is meaningless. The law doesn’t say “Don’t misbehave.” Instead it gets very specific as to what is verboten. Currently, our use of the terms “predation,” “harassment,” “inappropriate,” etc. is much like the term “spirituality.” Everyone using the terms is ascribing a different meaning. I agree with Mary that predation is bad, until I find out that she thinks that any 60 year old asking out any 40 year old is among the forbidden behaviors.

    When I was new, I was told the “no new relationships in the first year” “rule” in a way that I thought it was a REAL rule or policy. I obeyed that. Later on, I figured out that the policy is really directed at those of us with more than a year to stay away from vulnerable newcomers in way related to dating, romance, or sex. I think that’s a good idea, but others don’t. They make the case that it isn’t in the literature. So how do I, and others, enforce policies that aren’t policies?

    99% of what’s described as sexual predation in AA, are actions not against the law. The situation has been further complicated by the death of the notion that men should sponsor men, and women sponsor women. That’s another non-rule that is unenforceable.

    Whenever I see experienced members dating newcomers, I am presented with a “fait accompli.” Spike and Candy are already coupled up. Are we supposed to try to break them up? Good luck with that. The small amount of folks (mostly men, but some women) who repeat this behavior, are very clever about it, and work “behind the scenes.” The “operators” do no groping or inappropriate touching, and they don’t press for dates while under the prying eyes of the righteous.

    So, what are the rules???

    Can men talk to newcomer women? Can they drive them home? Can they sponsor them. Can they give them a Big Book (their business card cleverly secreted inside)?

    The whole thing is a mess, and compounded by the fact that the “prey” in most cases if fully cooperative, and probably enthusiastically so. While we may view these folks as vulnerable and incapable of giving informed consent, the law doesn’t see in that way, and neither do many of our members.

    • John L. March 15, 2018 at 1:56 am Reply

      Bob, I agree with all your points.  I think the rule or notion that men should sponsor men, and women sponsor women is good most of the time.  Regardless of sex or sexual orientation, men have more empathy and more in common with other men than with women.  Likewise, women with women.  There are also female predators in AA.  I encountered a number of them when I was still young — took it as a compliment and got the hell away from them.

    • life-j March 13, 2018 at 12:57 pm Reply

      Bob, yes it is a mess, but funny you should mention people who say “it isn’t in the literature”. This is just another thing that goes to show how twisted our fellowship has become. These people seriously are of the opinion that whatever Bill wrote before 1955 has ALL the answers, not just about recovery but about everything. So therefore, if Bill did not write something about it, it could not possibly be an issue, because the issue could not possibly be part of the real world if Bill didn’t write about it. And people will in turn sift through the literature to see if they can find an answer to some problem somewhere, instead of just taking off the blinders and think up a sensible answer for themselves. Really makes it feel like this is a program for people who can’t find their mommy.

      OMG we have a lot of work to do.

  2. Susan Jones March 8, 2018 at 8:37 am - Reply

    When I read about this subject, what I am generally left with is a feeling that people simply don’t speak up.  In our newcomer meetings, women and men are given envelops with meeting schedules and a list of people who have CHOSEN to be available to these newcomers via text or phone.  No one shares a phone number with someone unless they choose to do so.  Meetings differ due to groups conscience, but I wish meetings were consistent in this area.  I have never felt forced to give out my personal contact in any way at any time during the last ten years.  My husband felt the same, and his sobriety date was 01-18-1990.

    We can’t preach self empowerment on one hand but then infantilize people on the other.  I used to take in women who claimed to be followed by men and I have personally approached men whose behavior I thought was suspect.  I had a sponsee who had stars in her eyes over a man I didn’t know much about.  I told her to put off any notions of relationships until she figured herself out.  Believe me, who looks good to you in those first meetings will look much different to you in a year.  Often, the most attractive man in the room is the guy wearing the ankle bracelet.

    She didn’t do that, and I came out of a meeting to be confronted by her, him, and him’s wife, who each told me to mind my own business.  He wasn’t going to leave his wife and whatever arrangement they had was between them.  Yes, my sponsee drank over this man.  I had to remember that this was an adult woman that eschewed good advice.  I was a sponsor whose sole job is to take women through the steps, not to oversee their lives and save themselves from themselves.

    I remember my husband holding a man at bay in our driveway, gun in hand.  We had given his SO refuge in our home.  Turns out that while my husband was putting himself at risk, she was sneaking out the front to to go off with Mr. Dreamboat.  They were gone by the time the police arrived at our house.  We were told to just not get involved.  I haven’t taken in a woman since.

    It isn’t a dating service.  Neither are the altenatives to AA.  As they grow, they will have the same problem.  SMART Recovery has a statement on socialization, encouraging their members to build a social network within its members.   SMART removes themselves from any negative result because they are only responsible for what happens INSIDE their meetings.  That is a good call.  Remember that if something is illegal OUTSIDE a meeting, it is illegal inside as well.  We don’t dump our rights simply because we join a recovery option.

  3. Joe C March 7, 2018 at 5:34 pm - Reply


    This has been the culmination of a lot of talk in AA Regional Forums and Area Assemblies.


    The attached is good basis for many safety issues in AA, not the least of which is safety from sexual or violent perpetrators. Here’s a shorter form that can used as a business meeting inventory idea-starter or even read in meetings if the group so chooses:


    My own Area devoted a couple of workshops and sharing sessions on the topic. I learned a lot.



    • John S March 7, 2018 at 6:04 pm Reply

      At our last Assembly there was an excellent presentation about Safety in AA. It was so good that I keep wishing I could have recorded it. The speakers presented on different forms of harassment; Financial, Sexual, Religious and Racial. There are degrees to all of this. Sometimes we can unintentionally behave in a way that makes someone else feel uncomfortable, so it is important that we listen to people who let us know if they feel unsafe. Then there are those who intentionally prey on people who are vulnerable and they know very well what they are doing. In those instances, it is our obligation to look out for the person who is vulnerable. It’s not easy, but if we listen and think about what is going on around us, we can make a difference. I’ve seen a lot of things over the years that didn’t seem right to me, but I wouldn’t say anything, figuring it was none of my business. That’s what I need to change. It’s really not easy though.

  4. Gerald March 7, 2018 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Well … what a depressing meeting (!) And next week’s going to be the same? 🙂

    I think I said that, “The good men can’t keep the bad men out,” and, of course, I’m referring to the sex addicts/ sex predators there. I wasn’t talking about men who simply have no class.

    And there are plenty of bad women in AA, too (just not enough to go around 🙂 )

    … And I’ve been wondering for a while now if AA meetings couldn’t just add a public service announcement to the meeting format, something like “This group discourages members from dating newcomers.”

    But who can stop a sex addict? Only “God,” right? The solution of asking the good men to be vigilant and intervene on behalf of newcomer women seems like a co-dependent way of thinking.

    … I know that the good women can’t reach all the newcomer women in time. And I figured out in early sobriety that most AA groups are too sick for me. I got really, really lucky in where I landed in AA: steps- & traditions-oriented, small church basement meetings, truly “principles before personalities.” I know that most newcomers land in those 90% of AA groups that I wouldn’t bother to attend.

    … By the way, I took five years off from the 12-step world, and those were the best five years of my sobriety ever (!) and they continue to be, now that I’ve been back in the rooms that past four years.

    Came in young, 20 in ‘93, never dated within the fellowship. Met my wife in France in my second year of sobriety in ‘95, married in ‘98, Baby #5 due next month. Really, really nice guy – so I was the kind of nerdy boy that needed to learn how not to be nice but instead put on a rough edge in order to play the dating game successfully. No, pre-AA, my lifestyle was not promiscuous, quite the opposite 🙂

    But Wow! In sobriety, just a little bit of self-confidence (totally faked, by the way, but faked self-confidence will do just fine at that age) plus a sober understanding that “nice” = weak, = uncourageous (plus no boundaries), and Wow! the experience of having a whole bunch of girls lined up, taking numbers, waiting for their chance to date me, Me?, yes me! the boy who could talk to girls only in a black out, the boy who was always picked last for the dodge ball team … OMG I didn’t even know who a lot of these girls (on campus) were … but they knew who I was (and that’s what important) 🙂

    Anyways, fond memories – finally – really some of the only happy years of my youth.

    But I know who we are talking about here, the sex addicts & predators – and the women who fall for them.

    And I’ll say it again: there are no victims in romance, only volunteers. So don’t volunteer to be a victim.


    Gerald, in Japan

  5. life-j March 7, 2018 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    This is important, but besides the various obvious stop-gap measures talked about, I think we also would benefit from looking at the larger context of it within the AA philosophy. People ARE sexual, regardless of how recovered they are, and it is part of AAs problem that people can be in AA for decades, and still be sick. It is part of AAs problem that we can help people keep from drinking, but drop many of the other problems on the floor. Though young and horny at 40 I did make some unwelcome advances, I have been able to refrain from doing so as an oldtimer, and thus be safe company, even in a few situations that damn near qualify me for sainthood, and ok, I am still sick in other areas, but what I’m getting at is that we have untreated problems in AA members because we have this loose structure without any sort of oversight, and without any authority. And that is of course a relief in many ways, no-one to tell us what to do is a good thing, but also has in it the potential for us to not deal with our problems, and so we wind up with oldtimers who are still shy teenagers on the inside, and need to use their oldtimerness as leverage.

    So what do we do? oldtimer women are all taken, we don’t go out to bars seeking company, the AA dances are far between, and all parts of our anatomy are recovered and woken up. Of course, obviously we don’t harass the newcomers, I’m just pointing out that the structure of AA, including its puritanical streaks, creates bubbles of unresolved social needs that will want to burst from time to time. In other words, keeping to ourselves to be safe from drinking, and the general emotional inbreeding that happens in AA leaves us without proper outlets for many things. Not sure what the solution is, except there is something missing. We can’t send oldtimers barhopping to hook up. It comes down to that something is missing in the AA program, something that would turn oldtimers into healthier people than they are, and something in the fellowship structure that would make the problem less pushy. So on the one hand we need a program that helps us heal better, and get a handle on our emotional/social/sexual issues, on the other hand, we need something in place to take care of a very real need. For instance, I have the impression that AA dances are a, what shall we call it, “safe place for 13th steppers to work their charm”, which is good, there needs to be SOME place, but we need more, I have for a long thought that we ought to have 12 step online dating sites, or other means of helping people hook up in such a way that it doesn’t harass anyone. It is not enough to tell people that AA “is only for recovery, it is not a job referral, nor a money lending place, nor a dating place” – etc., – but it IS! When we wind up associating mostly with people in the program, how can it not be? So we as a fellowship refuse to deal with this very real problem. It manifest itself as 13th stepping, but mostly because we have nothing in place to keep it from becoming 13th stepping.

    Am I getting anywhere with this rant? It is forbidden rich as well as poor to sleep under bridges and steal bread. Of course stealing bread only happens because there is no legitimate way to get it for the poor person. It is a structural societal problem, not an individual one. And there is an element of that with the 13th stepping too. We don’t solve the underlying problem of theft by putting the thief in jail – though we may have to do it anyway – and whatever measures we take to keep women in AA safe from predators, may be equally necessary to take, but there is an underlying problem or a whole slew of underlying problems, that needs to be looked at.

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