“We had to begin to make our peace, and so we listed the people we had harmed and became willing to set things right.” (12×12 Step Twelve, p. 108)

Alcoholics Anonymous has this weird logic that if they set rules against sexual harassment that it will hurt their image.  Funny, because it’s the exact opposite that is happening.  AA’s reputation is damaged because they won’t make any rules against members forcing other members to have sex with them.

Why is AA against creating a zero tolerance rule against bullying and sexual harassment?  My kids go to elementary school and junior high, respectively, and their student handbooks include rules of zero tolerance against bullying and sexual harassment.  Parents don’t view that as an admission their kids are in an unsafe environment- they view it as a safety policy that is strongly enforced.  Any violators would be punished accordingly and that makes for a safe, secure, pleasant environment for children.  The same goes for colleges and workplaces and churches.

But AA doesn’t need rules.  They are wild west cowboys with their own form of law, and if there’s a bad guy, the folks at the meeting will give him or her the boot.  But it’s so hard for new people to distinguish who’s the sheriff and who’s the bad guy.  The trust newcomers place on these strangers is enormous, so if another AA member harms them that really destroys that trust.  But if other members blame the victim, or ask them what their “part in it” was, that cause further damage.


Besides, there’s very little advice for an AA member who is “struggling.”  Maybe go back to the first step- admit they’re powerless and their lives are unmanageable.  Little is done about the personal issues not related to drinking.  If they’re not getting along with their wives, “go to a meeting.”  If they’re having a hard time at work, “pray about it.”  What about someone who goes to another AA’s house under the impression they’d be doing “step work” only to be raped?

What is it about rape, sexual assault, and physical abuse that makes AA members get so defensive?  When I went to AA meetings, boasting of humility was the norm- as well as boasting about how moral one was. I find it cunning, baffling, and powerful that these same individuals consider crimes committed by AA members “outside issues.”  Deflecting the problem onto the victim, or pointing out how “bad things” happen everywhere, or how the victim should have done this, or done that, seems to the norm.

“Go to women’s meetings only.”  “Stick with the winners.”  “Some are sicker than others.”  “Ask God for HIS protection [my emphasis on the capital male pronoun].”  “People act out sometimes, and not always by drinking.”  These excuses about rape are the same across state lines by people who have never met each other— Whose only common thread is that they all have attended AA meetings.  That’s pretty scary, actually.

“Or we may just procrastinate, telling ourselves the time is not yet, when in reality we have already passed up many a fine chance to right a serious wrong.” (12×12 Step Nine, p. 85)

I really don’t care if I become a broken record.  I am speaking up against any and all abuse in AA because I care about what is right.  I won’t budge or back down when it comes to making all AA meetings face- especially because treatment centers rely on their 12 Step meetings almost exclusively.  For so many people, it is not even their fault for attending AA, how can it be their fault for trusting the drug treatment counselors- the professionals- who sent them there in the first place.  If AA attendance is mandatory, there is an added addition that the person cannot refuse the treatment.


DUI convictions.  Nurses.  Lawyers.  Other professionals.  That’s a short list of people who are forced to attend AA every day as a part of their probation or job requirements to keep working in their field.  So this isn’t just about people who were abused as children, or live with an abusive partner, it’s about someone you yourself might know.  Someone you love and care about.  Maybe even you.  Even children as young as thirteen years old are mandated to AA.

Essentially, many people who start going to AA meetings are not in a position of power.  That goes for those “ordered” to go to AA, as well as those hoping to escape a life of abuse.  Some may be more vulnerable than others, but each person should be kept safe.  You tell them their “best thinking” got them there, that they have “stinkin’ thinkin'” and then you blame them if they’re raped for putting themselves at risk?  If that’s the case, then you’re basically saying the same thing as, “If you go to AA, you are at risk for rape.”  But no one in AA would say that.  It’s the fact that they don’t say anything at all that should be an indicator something is wrong here.

On the flip side, there are those who are proud of the fact AA welcomes the lowest of the low, those who no one else will accept.  But unchecked abusive and criminal activity should not be accepted- anywhere.  There are professionals who are better equipped to deal with that.  And if those people refuse to change, they can go to prison, where they belong.  It is not righteous, nor are you a better more accepting person to allow anyone into AA.  What you are is an enabler- a co-conspirator.

I think perhaps the “defensive” nature of AA members about the topic of rape comes from that place of virtue- a place where they know in their hearts they are wrong and feel guilt about it.  And if that’s the case, they can help rid themselves of that guilt by speaking up with me and the rest of us who are brave.

“He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn’t deserve it.” (Big Book, Into Action, p. 73)