13th Stepping & Sexual Predators in 12 Step Recovery

13thstepYou don’t have to be in 12 Step recovery long before you hear the terms, “13th Step” and “13th Stepping.”

The definition is simple – someone with more time preys on a newcomer, usually for sex and/or sometimes for money. Generally it’s men who hustle women newcomers, but sometimes it’s the women who hustle men. Of course, gay, lesbians, etc. have been known to do the same.

It’s an example of how one person has power over another and exercises it in a detrimental way.




The term came to mind recently when I  came across the only recent and complete story I found is at ProPublica – Twelve Steps to Danger: How Alcoholics Anonymous Can Be a Playground for Violence-Prone Members by Gabrielle Glaser who has been getting a lot of press recently around the subject and who has written a book called Her Best-Kept Secret – apparently about why women drink.

The article tells of a 31-year-old woman who 13th Stepped and eventually murdered by her abuser. The article goes on to point to at least two stories of girls under the age of 18 being 13th stepped and abused. It’s pretty shocking.

Groups & sponsors can help

Of course, getting statistics on 13th Stepping is nigh on to impossible – but there are some things 12 Step groups can do.

In 2001, the General Service Board in Australia published a simple set of guidelines. In 2002, well over 3,000 AA groups in Great Britain adopted a Code of Conduct (page down to page 63) that strongly suggests members intervene, stop and if necessary report abusive 13th Stepping.

To date, AA’s General Service Board has opted to assert they have no control over any meeting and leave it at that.

Which doesn’t mean individual meetings can’t address the problem, perhaps by adopting one or the other guidelines listed above and distributing them. Sponsors can also guide women away from such predators and help them report them to the proper authorities.




Groups can also bring up the topic for consideration at annual conventions.

Silence doesn’t do anyone any good

One of the things that needs to happen is for people to bring up the topic of 13th Stepping – at meetings, with sponsors and in the coffee klatches after so many meetings. The saying, “we’re only as sick as our secrets” certainly applies here.

Sure, talking about it isn’t easy – but it’s in the talking about it that the solution will be found. When one member warns another about a 13th Stepper, when folks keep watch over under-aged members, much of the potential for abuse will be eliminated. Just because we’re anonymous doesn’t mean we have to put up with predators in our midst – sexual predators or predators of any other type.

Your turn: What’s been your experience, if any, around 13th Stepping? Do you believe the groups can or should have a roll in warning members, at least in a general sense? What about the national organizations? What are your thoughts on this topic? Tell us in comments.

Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Rev Dan Catt




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{ 5 comments }

Loretta Dutton July 30, 2014 at 12:27 am

Is there an advocacy group? My daughter was taken in by the aa leader after a relapse 10 montha ago, he had complete control. I met with this sex yak predator and told him he was acting inappropriately. He responded by telling me I couldn’t show him in the big book where is says he couldn’t be her sponsor and special friend. The baby is eights months old now and he is pushing evevery button to wear her down. Is there help out there?

annew September 3, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Loretta, I’m so sorry this has / is happening… and no, there’s not anything official that I’m aware of. What he’s doing is shameful and covered in a general way in the Big Book – Step 10, probably, but nothing specific. I suggest you write to AA directly (http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/regional-correspondent-us-and-canada) and ask for guidance… maybe even for help with the ‘leader’s’ comments about the big book. Good luck… wish I had a better answer for you.

trish October 8, 2014 at 5:16 am

i found out about aa thru an online chat room..i was filled with hopethat i might be able to find a way to stop drinking..i asjed for help..a man with 35 years of sobriety in aa offered to help me thru the steps//at first all went well..but when it came to step 4 and the sexual part he really became aggressive in asking me for details..i went along because i was afraid he would fire me for not goiing to any length..ong stiry short..i became involved with him emtionally and thru skype ..email and phone..the only thing that prevented him from coming and having a real life sexual relationship was the latge distance between us in miles…now i am a few years sober..i realize that my hp protected me from more hurt then i have already felt..i take my part in this because i was lost and lonely and shold have told him no when he wanted to cyber sexually etc..now i worry about other females who come to that chat site..are they safe…he has had women come to his home town so he can sho then what aeal aa meeting is like…i hope they are safe…and for me…i will never ever trust any man in aa…trish

annew May 4, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Well, you might not want to promise never to trust an AA man again… that may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater as it were… many of the men in AA are trustworthy and you’re wise to be cautious.

julia sanchez January 20, 2015 at 1:48 pm

one thing women can do is to show the newcomer the womens meetings they have at different fellowships.

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