Are Women Safe in AA?

By Amy Dresner 03/28/14

One of the dangers of AA is its open door policy. But is rape really a bigger threat in the rooms than it is anywhere else?

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In her book, Her Best Kept Secret, Gabrielle Glaser reports that a mysterious former AA board member told her that “Women have been getting raped since A.A. started.” A pretty provocative statement which got me thinking: are women safe in the rooms? I am a woman, despite having been called “a man with a pussy." I admit I have the sex drive of a gay guy, a frighteningly low voice and I dress like a soft butch lesbian. But inside I feel like a pretty princess. So fuck you. 

Am I the “best person” to query this assertion? Probably not as I have not been raped and I’ve been accused of having a somewhat lax attitude about some compromising (read disrespectful) and objectifying sexual situations I’ve encountered. But then again I have been an actively single woman in the rooms for years. But would a woman who has been raped or who has a more conservative view on sex be a better fit? No, she’d bring her own baggage. The truth is nobody can be objective about sex or rape. But I will do my best. That is my disclaimer.

If you want to get sober in AA, but are afraid of being raped, I have an idea: go to women’s meetings or gay meetings. 

Part of what makes AA great and dangerous is its “open door policy." Everybody is welcome. It’s a club that anybody can join. There is no filtering method. No velvet rope that you stand behind awaiting a nod from the oversized ominous AA doorman to be let in. No entrance fees. No official dress code (although I’m sure shoes and shirts are “encouraged”). This means, along with the myriad of celebrities and millionaires, there are also freaks, creeps and convicts (sometimes one and the same). It is what makes AA so interesting. It’s a free for all self-help group with some guiding principles. There’s no AA police, but gossip is so rampant in the rooms that if somebody is acting in a way that is blatantly dangerous to other members, people will find out and many times take action.  

For example, a certain man was menacingly texting women that he was going to “follow them out to their car.” It was strongly “suggested” to him by different men in the room that he stop attending the meeting. Alcoholics are nothing if not vigilantes. There was another incident I recall where a very respected secretary of a big meeting was accused of having sex with a much younger girl at a treatment center where he was employed at the time. Somebody took it upon themselves to spray-paint the gist of how they felt about him on the meeting wall. So what I’m saying is that besides The Grapevine, there is another, alternative, AA magazine if you will.

AA is not where you come when things are going well. It’s where you come when you are physically, financially, emotionally and/or mentally broke and broken. This means that there are a lot of vulnerable people in meetings. And we come in feeling very much like “victims”…of circumstance, of our drinking, of bad luck or shitty upbringings. (Which is why it’s so important to do that last column on your 4th step and take a hard look at YOUR PART in EVERYTHING you’re pissed about.) People are all “recovering” at their own pace and some are sicker than others as you’ve heard it said. So, bottom line, it’s an opportunist’s paradise on every level: emotional, financial and sexual. When they say AA is a “safe place,” I think it CAN be but I don’t think it always is. Hey the world isn’t safe. That’s the first thing you learn when you’re growing up.  

When I inquired whether anybody had heard of anybody being raped in the rooms, I got different answers. Many people said “No, never.” Other people had heard horror stories but wanted to protect the identity of the victim and wouldn’t get into details. I did hear one story of a guy who went over to a girl’s house (he was invited) and forced himself on her. (A similar scenario just happened with a nationally known comic and a waitress. AA is a microcosm of the world, not a utopia.) Not long later at a meeting, the police came in and dragged him out. I don’t think she pressed charges and he was later let go.

What Glaser doesn’t talk about is the lonely fucks who hook up in AA and find love and become that creepy sober power couple.

Other similar scenarios that I’ve been told about include sponsors using their position of power to coerce sponsees into having sex with them. I know of one man who was paid by his sponsor for sex. I’ve also heard stories of girls who have relapsed and, when drunk, went over to some long-time sober guy’s house only to end up getting fucked by said guy. And although this is all shitty, it is not unique to AA. Taking advantage of people when they’re inebriated is a classic college move. And people using their power or prestige to aggressively “convince” somebody to fuck them happens in offices, schools, the military, penitentiaries, religious institutions. Sergeants rape female soldiers. Teachers take advantage of students. Priests molest altar boys. For God’s sake there’s even “marital rape.” You wouldn’t think there would be anyone safer than somebody who vowed to love you until death! So unfortunately I don’t think any place is safe from the violent and vile act of rape although many and most places should be. 

My experience when I was new and needy in the program was that the men with double digit sobriety who fucked me when I was counting days are the same men who fuck most of the newcomers. If I had been closer to some well-established women in the program, I might have been warned about these “predators.” But like many women, I didn’t like women much when I first got sober so I had a lot of male “friends.” I think it is women’s duty to warn other women about men with this track record. When you’re new, you stupidly think they might actually LIKE you.

If you have shitty boundaries or a history of sexual abuse—or you’re so hot you’re afraid men won’t be able to control themselves—and you want to get sober in AA, but are afraid of being raped, I have an idea: go to women’s meetings or gay meetings. When I was a wayward promiscuous newcomer, that’s where my lesbian sponsor sent me for the first year. And when I whined and asked how the hell I was going to get laid in women’s meetings or gay meetings, she said, “You’re not.  You’re gonna concentrate on recovery.” Which I did until I got obsessed with a woman that looked like a man.  But that’s a whole other story…

When alcoholics put down the drink and drugs they grab whatever else is around to hotwire their brains.  This is usually cigarettes, coffee, food and SEX. They act out.  This is not an excuse. It is just a fact. As people stay sober and work on themselves, they address the other areas of themselves where their addiction might have migrated. In my experience, unless it’s a legal issue or your primary problem, people don’t end up looking at their sexual and romantic behavior until they have a few years of sobriety (or, God forbid, do their 4th and 5th steps).

And some people never address it. So is there a lot of untreated sex and love addiction in AA? Absolutely. Because if there’s a choice between getting loaded or getting laid, people are getting laid.  And there’s that vulgar saying, “You can’t drink with a dick in your mouth.” For many people it’s the lesser of two evils until it becomes a monster in its own right which it can…..or so I’ve heard. 

We’ve all heard that motto: “The odds are good (that you’ll meet somebody in AA) but the goods are odd.” It’s true. The program is full of fucked up people, people who are impulsive and sick and selfish and unstable…at least in the beginning. So buyer beware.  

I have never been raped by somebody in the rooms. I’ve had sex with somebody who has never called me again and that felt awful but that’s not rape. That’s life. That’s my naivete or my stupidity or my romantic optimism. That’s my impatience and impulsiveness and not being able to keep it in my pants till this person could properly court me and show their real intentions.  I take full responsibility for my bad decisions. When I relapsed and I called another newcomer to come over, I knew full well what my motives were. I was high. He was not. And what happened was consensual even if I wasn’t in my right mind at the time. 

What about women with male sponsors? I’ve had a few male sponsors. The one I had for the longest came to my house one day when I was shooting coke and had just suffered two grand mal seizures back to back. He was very attractive with a  terrific program. I initially told him he was “too hot to be my sponsor." He flushed my cocaine, bagged up all my rigs and said, yes he would sponsor me. Then he grabbed me by my boney shaking shoulders, looked into my gacked out eyes and said, “I will never have sex with you.” And to my dismay, he never did. So men with integrity do exist in the rooms. But I also had another male sponsor years later who did sleep with me once he was not my sponsor anymore. But I also wanted to sleep with him. So make of that what you will…

What Glaser doesn’t talk about is the lonely fucks who hook up in AA and find love and become that creepy sober power couple. Plenty of people meet in the rooms and get married. I did. I once made a joke that I was going to join an online dating site but then I decided to go to a meeting instead.

For people who naturally isolate, the social base of AA is a godsend: new friends, new business contacts, new lovers. Meeting new people WHEREVER it is, is fraught with danger and uncertainty. AA is no different. If anything, it’s worse. Junkies and alcoholics are manipulative. In their natural state, they’re con men and liars. It’s like an open door asylum, full of crazies and shitty coffee.

As Aesop said, “Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties.“

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix. She last wrote about hating on Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

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