"13th-Stepping:" Why Alcoholics Anonymous Is Not Always a Safe Place for Women

Below is an abstract from a survey study of 13th Stepping in AA. It was published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing.

“Thirteenth-stepping” is a euphemistic term used among members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to refer to people (particularly men) who target new, more vulnerable members (typically women) for dates or sex. Previous research suggests that women frequently experience sexual harassment in AA meetings and even in chemical dependency treatment settings. The objective of this survey study is to describe the frequency of various 13th-stepping experiences in a sample of women involved in AA.

Fifty-five women, aged 17-72 years, completed an anonymous survey to describe their experiences with 13th-stepping by men in AA. Results showed that at least 50% of the participants had at least occasionally experienced seven of the thirteen 13th-stepping behaviors listed in the survey. Also, compared to women who had never attended a female-only AA group, women who had attended such groups reported more 13th-stepping experiences from their attendance at coed groups. Two of the study participants volunteered that men they met in AA had raped them.

It is important that chemical dependency treatment providers be aware of 13th-stepping in AA, particularly when treating women. Especially vulnerable women, such as those with histories of sexual abuse, should be referred to female-only groups when possible. When women’s groups are unavailable, women should be adequately prepared to protect themselves from 13th-stepping.

  • speedy0314

    ma & ftg,

    what was it old dr. bob said AA boiled down to in the end? oh right, "love & service."

    man, did bill follow up on that credo.

    pardon the darkness of the humor — considering i'm male & the seriousness of this all too prevalent condition when it comes to women in AA — but i couldn't resist.

    torquemada often invoked the 'loving embrace' of the triune christian god while subjecting tens of thousands of 'heretics' to prolonged, hideous tortures & horrific deaths at the height of the inquisition. funny how those who verbally espouse notions of universal love, open-mindedness & such (e.g., steppers) very rarely truly practice it.

    these statistics alone should prompt AAWS to at least empanel some kind of board discussion about the matter. but, as usual, AAWS has no opinion.

    reprehensible, really.


    • Itrust_noone

      You’re not wrong. And you phrased this well. I was 13the stepped and left due to that 🙁 He didn’t get what he wanted from me, but he experience left me with even less trust than I came in with.

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  • bill l

    typical of those who masquerade as true AAers, cheap date opportunities under the guise of recovery. It's a shameful but much repeated activity….sobriety isn't the main concern, should be subtely pointed out and then suggest the repeat offender not come again.

  • I have been 13th stepped by women several times over the years.

    Male abuse victims are sitting ducks for female sex addicts that take on the offender role in romantic relationships.

  • David

    I think all women should learn to love mankind… one man at a time 😉

  • amy

    it's all fun and games until a resently "felt-up" newcomer doesn't feel safe in the rooms of A.A., doesn't come back, and dies of this fatal disease…..keep laughing!

  • howlermonkey

    @amy – what fatal disease are you talking about? Cancer? Tuberculosis?

  • @ amy, I hear you loud and clear. not that i do not agree that it is a disease, really. not 100 percent on this at this point. but, yep, women leave all of the time due to this reason. in a sense, you could argue that 13 stepping is actually a blessing. in a way, it got me outta aa. well, it was one of the things that did. i realize that woemn 12 step men, too. but looking at statistics (ok, honestly, i do not have true statistics), i think to bring this up in more than a parethetical way is unhelpful.

  • ?–date on this aritcle joust outta curiousity? i have seen this before, but have only found the abstract. is this the abstract. confust.

  • Mike P.

    Always Question your motives.

  • Gunthar2000

    Always Question AA's motives.

  • Im not into argiung weather it's a disease. It's not , like cancer we all know that. SO Its a problem isn't it. we can all agree heavy drinking, problem drinking, alcoholism, wtf whatever we call it.

    Gunthar has said it clearly many times on ST as well as ftg as well as newcomer said it on my blog stop13stepinaa. Newcomers come in Male & female and get the impression we are to be trusted in a special way ( NOT TRUE) and that everyone is there to help them get and stay sober ( NOT TRUE). I was doing alot of outreach looking out for teh vulnerable new person. I just can't do it alone without my friend who moved far away. It's very sad. But Im just one person. I can't make a dent. I know some ripples have begun in the water, but it's a big f&%#@king ocean. No one cares anymore. No one says anything thing to the Predators. They do whatever the fuck they want. AA 's have become a bunch of wimps. They good guys have run off to big stagg meetings where trust me there are plenty of financial predators with lots of sobriety.

    I think the best choice is to build support with ALternatives to 12 step programs. Raise awareness, publicize. Do free PR for anything else that has worked for you.

    Just an idea:)))

    They are running rampant in AA in Los Angeles. I am getting emails from all over the country with problem, Mass, San Fran, Tennesee, Florida, Hawaii, Utah.

    I started a grass roots movement here, but mostly people are so self obsessed, rigid and close minded its not even funny,

  • Joe Sher

    Look Up if you want a Hook Up.

  • No na4me

    The best part for me was having some slut come up 2 me at a meeting & tell me how she used to come to my house 2 do dirty things for free drugs, then alanon tels me i should let go of my resentments and love the guy?!!!

    • Itrust_noone

      Love the guy? Slut? I’m confused as these are typically aimed at different sexes. Guys are never called sluts. They’re patted on the back the more notches from, Oh, right – sluts. Guys are rewarded for getting sex, women are shamed. This makes me sad.

  • SoberPJ

    So No .. am I to assume the guy you are supposed to love is the one that had sex with the “slut” and gave her drugs?

  • 13 stepping is people, men and women, trying to get fun and pleasure from each other. Some are better at it than others. People have sex, people have always had sex and people are always going to have sex. that will never change. It’s the fact that A.A is an insane asylum, and sick people with a mental illness (MADNESS), go there to find help to stop drinking. But all too often wind up abused by some of the other sick people with a mental illness (MADNESS), who have not had a drink in a while and are now suppose to be shining examples successful living, thanks to A.A… Well I’m here to testify that it is always the most successful person, “claiming,” to have been sober for quite a few 24 hours. It is always that person who has the prettiest wife, sponsors the most new comers and has the most 13 step success affairs with the most new and vulnerable female newcomers to the rooms of A.A… And that too will never change…

  • Pure-Id

    May I ask how many of the people posting (muck raking, if you will) on this site are alcoholics, still active in thier addiction, or people who tried AA and went back out? I have attended AA all over the country, and yes, there are those who are not living thier lives on a spiritual basis. However, I would be willing to wager that the percentage of amoral is comparable and probably less than the general population.

    From what I have observed AA makes a great effort to direct female AAs to get a female sponsor and most AAs I know suggest newcomer refrain from any major changes in thier lives for the first year, especially, jumping into a relationship.

  • Joan Robinson

    There are abusive 13th-stepping lesbians in women’s groups, as well as abusive 13th-stepping men in mixed groups. I love AA and sobriety, but AA is imperfect, and 13th-stepping vulnerable newcomers is one of the nasty things that sometimes happens.

    • ilse

      Hi Joan,

      It’s so great that you’ve been able to make peace with all this cross-gender sexual predation. Who gives a good god damn if men do it to women if some women do it to women too, right? How tolerant of you. Also very enormous of you to accept that sexual abuse is just “one of the nasty things that sometimes happens.”


      Your sobriety is your own, my dear. You do not owe it to any organization. You don’t have to just accept that abuse happens in order to be ok with your own well-being.

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  • rick

    I have been sober for 30 years so I have seen quite a bit in AA. If you read the big book it says (page 69) “we want to stay out of this controversy. we do not want to be the arbiter of anyones sex life. we all have sex problems. we’d hardly be human if we didnt”. Then it goes on to explain how each person has to deal with it according to their highest ideal. I watched a relationships wiped out by people trying to “protect” a newcomer. Half the newcomers have had sex with at least three different people every week before they ever sobered up. What bothers me is when people try to portray these newcomers as helpless innocent people. Almost always it boils down to A. the woman is jealous of her sponsee because they are getting attention or B. Some male is trying to gather up his “herd” of women. As far as Ive seen I have yet to see ANY woman in AA who didnt have sexual abuse, thats what the steps a for. So for those of you that want to argue remember you are arguing with the big book. Itwas the end of a relationship that brought me back into AA . If your going to stay sober your going to do it , relationship , no relationship , sex , no sex. Its none of anybodies business including your sponsors who you have a relationship or sex with, their job is to help you stay sober, period. And for your information I have never had sex with nor been in a relationship with anyone in the program.

    • massive

      rick- you have got to be kidding me. Why would I care what’s on page 69 in that stupid BB written in 1937 by the 13 stepping pussy Bill Wilson? AA and its archaic steps were not designed to help woman who have ben abused. IN fact if a person uses the steps for that they do more HARM! The Steps were stolen from the oxford movement all 6 of them and Bill made them into 12 …but my point is that Billy boy wilson used the steps for stopping drinking.

      It was an is not a “design for living” . I have seen woman woman with 30 + years who are so stuck its not funny. People need to get real outside help and therapy to heal from child hood abuse

      • Lou Bator

        Resentful much?

        • You’re calling her resentful, when you’re the one posting self-righteous insult in response to a year-old comment?

          • Lou Bator

            I just read it today while researching. Who are you to comment on something that is not your business? Clearly, you have issues. Resentful much?

          • oy vey…

  • Magaly Ortiz

    when we join A.A they tell us men with the men and women with the women. Sometimes people have motives men and women both …I have seen in my profession women cry rape or other things about men when they don’t get their way… I have never had a bad experience in A.A because I listened to what the old timers suggested and didn’t jump into anyone’s vehicle. just because you get sober doesn’t mean you change overnight it takes time and work. Now I am not saying it didn’t happen I am just saying that if you follow the program the way the program is outlined you shouldn’t have a problem. I have met great men in the fellowship. My sponsor is a man and the majority of my support group are men. Women have 13th stepped also in the fellowship. stick with the winners

  • massive
  • Brian Millar

    Have been back into AA the past month, not that I had a severe problem, just realized I needed to pull back the reigns, but have noticed on a few occasions women directing their relationship status clearly being single and details directed at me of their interest. I am not there to find a date, nor be played, and am extremely cautious along who I let get close to me, especially intimately. Flattered on one end, feel its a trap on the other so I refuse to feed their ame.

    There is a slick Willie old timer there that is the classic pounce on the new meat type. I probably should put him on the spot though. These women are there for recovery, its shameful they are driven out by some perverted old men, shame on them. Those women deserve a better life just as much as anybody else. I guess that’s a pitfall of being part of a self governing system, people can be afraid to speak up out if fear of offending someone that has long been part of the group.