AA and sexual harassment in the rooms

Here is a link to an interesting piece on Substance.com  featuring Monica Richardson that I have mentioned many times on the blog. http://www.substance.com/should-aa-be-held-responsible-for-sexual-predators-in-the-rooms/19461/ It looks at 13 stepping in AA 12 step meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous has not done much about this problem.


I think that AA has not changed with the times and that the old traditions that were aimed at the original members who were middle aged men are not protecting the young women that come from rehabs and are over trusting. People in early recovery often make bad lifestyle decisions, but AA does not warn people (especially newcomers at the start of meetings), about potential problems.

I did see 13 stepping in AA and am not surprised it happens, especially when men are sex starved after being told not to have relationships for a year by their sponsors, and given the fact that any man who has been around the program for some time can impress a newcomer with their knowledge of AA and how it works.

In the recent documentary on Karla Brada, a pro AA judge, said AA needs to change and I think he is right. It would not take too much effort to make a few changes that could help people, avoid the mistakes in unsuitable relationships which are often made.



Commenting area

  1. Travis Collins January 28, 2015 at 3:21 am · · Reply

    I ‘ve read the article. Richardson is right. AA must be responsible in protecting their patients from situations like this. They must be aware of the things happening in their meetings and must monitor their patients regarding their experiences and what are their progress.I agree that separate meetings should be included in their programs especially for new comers and anyone under 18 to avoid this issue to happen again.

  2. Shawn Thomas February 5, 2015 at 10:02 am · · Reply

    If AA still not take action of this issue, it only means harassment and predation are part of their 12 step meetings. No offense but this is a serious matter; some are just there to prey on the new comers? That is a sign of psychotic mind. Maybe they should conduct a thorough evaluation of each person who wants to attend the meetings, history background, criminal record, and other things to make sure the safety of others.

    • In an ideal world they would be able to keep people are dangerous away, but I do not feel it is practical. It is a tiny minority that cause problems as most people who remain in AA for any length of time are focussed on recovery. Any addiction group is going to have its share of nutcases and violent people. That goes with the territory and reflects the type of people who abuse substances – many are criminals or mentally ill. This is obviously going to create a few issues and most people are able to see who is nuts and who to avoid.

      The problem comes with those who are new and overtrusting, especially in the kind of religious environment that AA often takes place in thatnks to the link with churches. Many alcoholics make really poor decisions throughout their life and are emotionally imature. They do not stop making these mistakes with a few weeks of sobriety, and some form dreadful relationships. AA certainly warns against relationships in the frist year but as everything in AA is mearly a suggestion, it is often ignored. I certainly ignored this and many other suggestions!
      I think AA really needs to mention a few of these issues at the start of meetings, and make this a priority. It is one thing to have no accountability in a small village meeting where people know eachother and quite another in a big city environment, where there are a lot of vistitors and people are generally a bit more violent. AA does not reflect the changes in society that have happened in the last century. It also trys to ignore these issues. It was designed for low bottome middle aged male drunks, not the cross section of people who attend today. I do not think AA is a healthy environmemnt for the young.

  3. I am very happy that I am seeing articles online addressing the sexual harassment that is so commonplace in the rooms of AA.It is very prevalent and very serious. I agree AA was created for low bottom middle aged male drunks and the cross section is not necessarily going to be well served by AA. I think this is an unfortunate truth but yes it is the reality. I have been trying to make AA work for me for years. I have been sexually harassed at a lot of meetings. I am now looking into Women for Sobriety and Smart Recovery options. I will continue to look for more Women’s meetings. Unfortunately a lot of the men who attend these meetings have very oppressive ideas about women. They use the room’s to act out their idea’s. I signed up for recovery I did not think that I would have to worry about my health and safety at these meetings. Thank god I can stop drinking on my own . I wonder what would happen to me if I just relied on AA. I don’t see a real success story that is for sure.

    • Hello Heidi, harrasment is an issue in some recovery groups, especially those who would rather pretend evryone is working a spiritual programme and not take any action. Most people in AA are probably OK but of course in any group full of addicts there are going to be some bad people (this is not just in AA the behaviour of some of the anti AA brigade leaves a lot to be desired!). Some people are vulnerable and are not protected and others have no sense of normal boundries. Add to that,people sharing about there problems and it is not suprising there are some problems.
      Of course some people do form great relationships in recovery groups, and others get great support but there are a few who are out to take advantage and that spoils it.

  4. I had 15 years recovery when I returned to my hometown. As a gay person in recovery, I shared my story as someone who sought other gay people to confide in, and had moved to a larger city to find such support in AA and NA. Back in my hometown though, several members thought it inappropriate for me to share such details. One woman, came over to me and inviting me to an alleged soup party, where she made Clam Chowder to die for, was rubbing her hand up and down my thigh as she invited me there. She was 20+ years in recovery according to others and her. She also said if Clam Chowder wasn’t to my liking, she had a Beef Stew that would put hair on my chest. I felt powerless and humiliated, but could only get angry at the smallest things, and couldn’t tell anyone. i finally quit AA and went to NA for the next 15 years. I was also bullied in NA by an extremely homophobic man and his sponsees. It was terrible. Trying to return to AA, there she was, and now he followed. They were actually friends. Here I am at 38 years Clean and Sober (my preferred label), and she and he continue to bully me, even though I have repeatedly told them it is unwelcomed behavior in no uncertain terms. That just seemed to make them do it more. I have quit the meeting that she attends regularly, but recently ran into her at the yearly AA picnic where she made unwanted sexual gestures towards me again. At another time, the man threatened to kill me in front of everyone, one time, saying how much he had hated me ever since I came back to my hometown (15 years ago at the time). I’ve concluded it not my gayness that perturbs them … it is my artistic nature that causes them to feel they are losing control when they get around me, or just look at me from across the room. I notice his leg starts waving back and forth like he is losing control when he stares at me. I’ve tried contacting the police, but since he does not say what weapon he will use to commit the crime, they cannot act. The lady has such clout amongst her friends, she continues to get away with her sexual advances, saying she is a “touchy feely kind of person”, among other excuses. I’m having rage attacks at present, which I have not had for a while. Just started attending AlAnon to try and deal with this and other codependency issues. I jokingly say I’m there to recover from recovery in AA and NA … then I discover your website today. Suggestions well-comed. I currently do not have a sponsor, but continue into my 39th year of recovery by continuing to attend a nearby meeting where I am welcomed as the creative, gay man, that I am. Like I said though, my gayness rarely is an issue at meetings … its just a part of my recovery story. Although, I would like to find a gay man for a sponsor, as I had my first 15 years while living in WDC. That saved my life. i just don’t know what to do about this sexual harassment and other bullying at AA and NA.

  5. I remember now … it was Oyster Stew she was offering at the alleged soup party. Implication was an Aphrodisiac I believe it’s called.
    I’m also currently being questioned as to why I don’t want to be paired up with a (still married) woman, who they’ve seen with me laughing together. Only willing to be friends I’ve said repeatedly. Only friendship.
    You straight acting people have strange ideas about gay men. Codependency ideas. Trying to match make me with a female is demeaning and disrespectful to say the least. Never will please them inside AA and hopefully will be able to manage the condescending remarks in the present and future. Already feeling the pressure of “not measuring up’.
    Never will measure up to their codependent standards, justifying their codependent relationships.
    And they say the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

  6. All of the above and what follows, is “as I perceived it” … and perceive it today.

    Lastly … one particular group which use to meet 4 times a week, now 3, fell in need of a chairperson. I did so for a year or more, opening the meeting place, making coffee, asking for volunteers, getting speakers … until it was time for me to stop. On several occasions, I had stopped some abusive behavior, receiving threats in response; but, the homegroup did not offer additional support and it was really too much for one person to bear alone. No one came forward, so I stopped after a woman moved here and took over the group, with the additional purpose of “making it a safe place for women to attend”. There had been no problems to my knowledge with discrimination against women. Everyone was welcomed. We did have one man who was known as a womanizer, but he did not propagate that behavior at the meeting. at least not after I took the responsibility of opening the meeting place. He was the one who had threatened and bullied me, at this meeting place as well. I did express my anger several times, after being sexually harassed by 2 woman, who also got a few men to participate in their antics. I was also told I was their favorite person to gossip about, by the same group of women who sat at the end of the tables in their usual grouping. This was abusive to me.

    The problem became though, that “making it safe for women to attend”, also made it safe for women to exercise control and abuse over men, which the one lady who abused me, did so freely. This was the main reason I left the group, and have not returned.

    The other reason for leaving, is the woman who became “in charge”, still today. accused me of stealing money from the group, which I did not. To the contrary, I was the one who kept asking the acting Treasurer to make a written report to the group, which they never did. I started the practice of writing down the amounts collected at each meeting, in the calendar book, so there would be accountability. I have been publicly accused of stealing from the group twice now I believe. The 1st time definitely at a Meditation Workshop, this same lady created and hosted, and used the male speaker to attempt to shame me regarding the group’s treasury, “never to expect the person responsible for the theft to repay the debt, given how she knows what kind of person he is”. And most recently, perhaps, at another yearly event, using the person who spoke there. That was possibly just a coincidence as they labeled “alcoholics unable to be honest, so that’s why they have 7 non-alcoholics on the board, so there will be no thefts from the treasury” at the District.

    This kind of abuse by accusations needs to stop. I also feel it is fueled by an anti-male type of abuse, so it is particularly personalized, and comes under the heading of this topic.


    The recovering alcoholics I surround myself with are living the suggested rigorously honest program that is required for a successful life. They do not sexually abuse others in the fellowship, expecting “anonymity” to cover their indiscretions. I say indiscretions when I should be saying criminal activity. I don’t hang with people who, for example, gamble, playing numbers that another is running around some of the rooms. I support those who talk about being abused or who feel victimized, and try to find a solution, realizing there are some severely abused people who may use the fellowship to retaliate. So I am careful not to be used by these unfortunates.

    In my opinion, with all these difficulties, AA & NA still works for those who take the suggestions. A safer way to proceed is as follows: Don’t get into an intimate sexual relationship (especially, with anyone in the fellowship) your first year of recovery (to me that means until you’ve practiced all 12 steps for a year). Leave sex at the door. The people that come there are admittedly, not well people. To strike up a deep meaningful sexual relationship in AA or NA, would be like going into a mental institution and looking for a healthy life’s partner. Now that doesn’t make sense … well, not to me today.

    I am finding AlAnon to be very beneficial to learning how to strike a balance in my boundaries. One result may be that I hopefully might find a healthy intimate, sexual relationship that will last, outside of any 12-Step fellowship. I will know what my part is in such a relationship, and hope that I will be as healthy as I can make myself, and that I will attract a likewise, healthy individual. Not another codependency.

    For the abuse at AA and NA … today, my only recourse seems to be to talk about it some at meetings, and to write about it like I am doing here. But, I am receiving retaliation from a few as time goes on … some a year or more after I actually write about it.

    So fellow writers, be prepared … and, you might throw out for discussion … ” Don’t Kill the Messenger “.

  7. Sorry you have had so many problems. Have you thought of attending Smart Recovery which has trained facillitators running the meetings as well as online meetings. I have seen problems in AA but when the issue is brought up, they often try to call it an outside issue and little gets done.

  8. I don’t know anything of the group you suggest. Is it similar to Rational Recovery? That wouldn’t work for me.

    I’m very familiar with the “it’s an outside issue” avoidance technique some folks use. I just find another group of people that are more educated, and will accept the challenge of confrontation. I’ve also gotten so I can talk about it, in front of the perpetrators, and that seems to be working somewhat.

    AA, NA, and now AlAnon are working for me. An interesting combination.
    I have been without a Sponsor from time to time, for too long.
    Just need to vent from time to time.

    Its also the area I live in (my hometown).
    Many right-winged Christians, Belt-Buckle of the Bible Belt type area.
    Main church organization here is very large, has also built a university to take over the world, buys its way into all organizations it can, including the public schools, is Facist and was built on money made from bootlegging from its very inception back in the 60’s.

    The AA meeting I attend nearby, doesn’t allow the behavior I experienced in the in-town meetings. The people I spoke of don’t attend this one, as someone said, because they’re “not in their element” there.

    As an Artist in recovery, I find it a difficult challenge, but one I have currently accepted.

    Thanks you for your response.

  9. Thx again.

    With other AA and NA groups nearby, I could find support there. One even claims folks like the ones I had problems with, including antigay folks, are “out of their element” there.

    I also want to stress: even though I put up with the abuse for way too long, after trying several attempts asking them to stop …

    It made perfectly good sense to quit that group.

    Perfectly … good … sense.

  10. Currently, being ostracized for writing about these incidents and publishing them here. So far, 2 of my regular AA groups have been leaving the AA Traditions page where I usually sit.

    Tonight I pushed it away. One man implied there’s a rat in the midst of the meeting.

    I was verbally abused last night by someone people tried to couple me with for my remarks about codependency. I ended that friendship earlier today. Not going to allow that again. Stay out of my face.

    I do not believe in Anonymity when criminal acts against anyone is being committed in AA or NA. To me, sexual harrassment and bullying are criminal acts at an AA meeting. Accusing someone of stealing falsely is that thing that is called “a polite form of murder by character assassination”.

    Then there’s the guy who kept warning people to watch out for me, because I was “that way”. At NA, people started turning away from me because it escalated into “always in pursuit of sex, that’s why he’s helping guys in halfway houses”. I stopped offering help of any kind to anyone at NA, AA or at any of the halfway houses. Why endanger my life because of rumors and gossip.

    Then they opened one of their halfway houses on my street

    Some people are so ignorant about gay people, but I don’t have to make myself available for the resulting abuse. They seem to be learning new things … But it has been rough on me.

    Probably the oldest female member of AA did surprise me with this about 20+ years ago: “Lynchburg AA needed to change”, and, as she looked over at me, she said “she certainly would hate to be the one who had to do it”, hands over the head of her ornate cane, as she sat in the center of the front of the room. She had recently witnessed 2/3 of the AA room leave as I began to tell my story about being gay and in recovery. The only time I’ve been asked to speak, I asked myself at the Fort Hill Big Book Group … The group I have the most trouble with if I go back there. Then there’s the Boonesboro Group … another insulting group.

    Hoping to survive all this … I tell myself I don’t have to take the abuse from talking about these things publically either.

    “The truth shall set you free, but first it may piss you off ”

    Please hold me in your thoughts and/or prayers.

    • Hi Bill,
      It sounds like you are having a tough time. Criticism of AA does not generally go down well in meetings. A lot of people have had a tough time and have found that putting faith in AA methods and traditions is the only thing that has kept them sober after years of difficulties. They take any critisism of AA very personally.
      However some criticism of AA is certainly valid and there are certainly some meetings that are allowing behaviour that can have an adverse effect on members. There was certainly issues of predatory behaviour in some Gay meetings in the UK when I went to AA and it took a long time to stop that behaviour. There was also predatory behaviour in some of the more cult like meetings and some members would try and stop critisism by saying it was an outside issue.
      I traveled a lot in my early days of Aa and often felt more comfortable in strange meetings away from home where I would not get caught up in the politics.
      Perhaps it may be an idea to travel to some new meetings and see what they are like. They may have a different feel to those you are used to. There are always online meetings by Smart etc which I found really helpful and safe.
      Bset wishes

  11. Thanks again Michael.

    I wanted to reiterate that all of this is “as I perceived it” … Under advice of Counsel years ago … Lol

    I’m surviving the reactions. Not too many I cannot handle, one day at a time. Also surviving what goes on in between my own ears … That can be a challenge, too

    Yes! Other meetings are like breaths of fresh air. There’s a gay AA group in nearby Roanoke that saved my life (and others possibly) by defusing my anger, and surrounding me with love. Being around new faces that haven’t transgressed boundaries yet, is like starting fresh.

    I’ll try to travel some to other meetings.

    The gay AA groups in DC did definitely save my life, and yes a few folks had issues that caused problems … We learned to laugh and accept we needed to protect ourselves, and others at times. My Sponsors watched over me and shielded me from time to time. I had to cooperate too.

    I was going to talk about those who try to get you to keep these issues to yourself, and even try to define it so it isn’t “wrong”. That’s happening, too.

    I love (and hate) AA and NA. And I’m growing increasingly respectful of AlAnon. Still open to learning about Recovery of different flavors.

    Thanks for your forum.

  12. About covering it up …

    Yes, folks aren’t skilled at confrontation. That’s probably why criticism is met with opposition. They don’t know any other route.

    For example … People have talked about learning to allow people to touch them at meetings. After months of being standoffish, they were finally able to allow touching. Hugs became possible. How nice.

    The “touching” I was talking about earlier, was fully inappropriate rubbing her hand up and down my inner thigh, as I sat in my chair, her hovering over me, inviting me to her Oyster Stew / Beef Vegetable Chest Hair producing soups Party. Then making tickling your genitals hand gestures from across the room on chance meeting in the rooms. And coming up behind you tickling the back of your neck, while she returns from the bathroom during a meeting … after you’ve asked her to keep her hands to herself.

    Then kissing a male friend of yours on the mouth, both of them looking over at you … And laughing. Doing that multiple times at your home group meeting.

    That kind of “I’m not touching you” kind of touching.

    Inappropriate and being exposed now, here.

    May it die in the exposure of the Light.

    Some people in my group have been put up on a pedestal mainly because they “sound good” when sharing … asked multiple times to speak at speaker meetings. There are no Queen Bees in AA … except here in Virginia.

    I’m never been asked to speak around here. 38 years clean and sober practicing AA NA AlAnon 12 Step programs … I have a good program, I practice it to the best of my ability. I’m Honest, Open-minded and Willing to learn more …


    I don’t need other’s approval to feel good about myself anymore.

  13. Oh yes …

    A Cover Up / Redefine It Tactic:

    She actually labels herself as a
    “Touchy Feel-ly” kind of person.

    Whether or not you want or like to be …


    That makes it ok to her …
    She does it anyway.

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