A follow-up to The Nightingale post two weeks ago, Silver Damsen shares her research and resources on where else this frequently silenced or dismissed idea of 13th stepping has begun to break the silence. We share this with you as a means to continue to say “you are not alone” and “we believe you”.


Sexual Predation in Recovery

by Silver Damsen


I’m distressed that despite the growth of the #MeToo movement the still dominant self-help “recovery” groups of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other related 12 Step groups, can mislead the public into falsely believing 12 Step is their Salvation and end of all their degradation. Rather, 12 Step is too often just a new chapter in the pain of those who have developed a habituation/dependency for alcohol or other drugs.


For many, 12 Step culture is not a solution but rather a new problem because “old-timer” members conflate simple dating with sexual predation—calling both the 13th Step. This conflation allows 12 Step groups to avoid responsibility for their culture of abuse—one where members use their “old-timer” status and “spirituality” to more easily lie to, manipulate, mislead, coerce, and even rape newcomers. Worse yet, the blame is even reassigned to newcomers, and the old-timers still retain the label of “spiritual.”


It’s also relevant that while more LGBTQIA are becoming involved in 12 Step programs, so there are increasingly examples of lesbian “old-timers” predating new women, and also gay “old-timers” predating new men, and technically women could predate men, as well as those that reject stereotypical gender categories taking on the role of predator—still, the dominant pattern is old-timer men predating newcomer women, usually heterosexual and cis-gender. Thus, 12 Step is part of patriarchal oppression, even if most members might not know what this means.


12 step culture makes the damage worse by insisting on the “spiritual” lack of those with less than a year of “sober time,” which is why those new to 12 Step aren’t supposed to date anyone in their first year of sobriety. So, a new member to 12 Step is unlikely to understand THEY will be safer with another newcomer than a “spiritual” old-timer.


Newcomers don’t understand “spirituality” in 12 Step includes, and for some even seems to require, that old-timers treat newcomers as fuel for their own pathology/sobriety, regardless of the outcome for newcomers. If the newcomers understood, they not only wouldn’t date “old-timers,” they probably wouldn’t attend 12 Step, which would also, probably, be a good idea.


Still, despite the endemic predation, related pain, and even death, that accompanies the 13th Step, it’s getting better. The mainstream is becoming increasingly aware of the problem, and the more aware the mainstream, and hence newcomers to 12 Step are, the more difficult it is for old-timers to find easy victims, as these recent articles help to evince:








One reason for the growing attention is the work of activists like Monica Richardson, mentioned in the below article on the controversial murder of Karla Brada, a newcomer who was beaten and murdered by her long-time 12 Step boyfriend:




While American women still active in 12 Step have written on the problem of sexual predation within 12 Step culture, they’ve tended to blame the victim. Thus, women in 12 Step are more part of the problem than the solution.




Similarly, the below articles are written from the perspective of women who believed 12 Step was a supportive community, and, therefore, tended to blame the victims of sexual predation.






The article below is one of the oldest, (which again seems to suggest progress). Authors in even treatment-centered venues would no longer depict themselves as a “Jezebels” who got what they deserved, as this author does.


Unfortunately, the “Jezebel-attitude” is what the newcomer is most likely to hear from the old-timer women. Blaming victims remains the usual attitude in 12 Step. Much of this is because “spirituality” is defined as NOT feeling “resentment.” And God is believed to show His blessing by keeping someone sober. Thus, someone who feels hurt, and especially one who drinks or takes drugs as a consequence of hurt feelings, is considered NOT to have God’s blessing. So, when a relationship goes sour, even the most obviously injured party has no one to blame but herself—according to 12 Step. Not surprisingly, those who stay in 12 Step often come to believe those who are victimized are actually to blame.




Unfortunately, the most archaic/offensive view, similar to the “Jezebel” article but adding the nuance that old-timer women protect the newcomer women who deserve to be protected, is not only represented in one of the oldest articles in this survey, it’s ideas also appear in the comment section of one of the most recent articles, the contributor in this most recent example going by the handle of “Stingy finger.”


Thus, change within 12 Step is much slower (and I would add is probably impossible) than the changes with how outsiders perceive 12 Step.




What I’m hoping is this historical survey of popular media will convey to the reader that sexual predation is a problem endemic to 12 Step for a variety of reasons, but most especially because the culture blames the victim. Thus, the more recent the article the more likely it is for the author to be protesting the predation and the more likely AA will be described as a culture of abuse.


So, as activists, we are making progress, which is cause for congratulations, despite the tens of thousands of new members to 12 Step every year who suffer and even die because the courts, government, and even medical professionals, have said 12 Step is the path to Salvation.



Silver Damsen grew up in Southern California. She earned a Ph.D. in English literature from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her fiction has appeared in Your Impossible Voice and Central Illinois Buzz. Her activist Facebook account can be found under her name and the orange tick icon. She also moderates an AntiAA group, Expose AA with Memes.