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Predators in 12-Step Meetings

The last place that anyone wants to face predatory behavior is in a 12-Step program. For those who are working hard on their sobriety, meetings should be a safe place to go. But not everyone has good intentions, which is why it’s important to be able to spot predatory behavior when you are at your most vulnerable. Your sobriety is your journey. It’s not for anyone else to judge, control, manipulate, or meddle with. You’re allowed to say no to a new relationship or deny anyone who is looking for one, with no explanation required. 


Predatory Behaviors In Meetings

Predatory behaviors in 12-Step meetings happen most often between a veteran member of the program and someone who is coming in as a new member. Many people who engage in a 12-Step program for the first time are harboring feelings of low self-esteem, shame, anxiety, depression, or trauma from past abuse that make them vulnerable to predators. Unfortunately, predators tend to target those who genuinely need a safe space.

Sometimes called “13th-Step predators” or similar, these predators will offer help, shelter, sponsorship, or other favors in exchange for a romantic or sexual relationship, taking the culture of meetings from safe to toxic. Those who are new to the 12-Step program may feel trapped or like they need to accept any offers of kindness, even if they find out later that the kindness has a price. This is never okay — this is predatory behavior. Other predatory behavior can be openly aggressive or even violent. 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offers a guide to appropriate and inappropriate behaviors at meetings. Behaviors to avoid include: 

  • Promises of shelter, sponsorship, money, food, or other kindnesses in exchange for a romantic or sexual relationship. This includes offering sympathy and “understanding” in hopes of leading to a romantic or sexual relationship. 
  • Imposed or constant flattery, often immediately followed by imposed judgment or negative opinions 
  • Constant encroachment of physical space, especially after a verbal request to maintain space
  • Constant talk of a sexual nature when it is not warranted or brought up organically
  • Asking for personal information that is not warranted 
  • Racial intolerance
  • Stalking
  • Intimidation
  • Threats or bullying
  • Pressuring other members to agree with certain points of view 
  • Inappropriate outbursts
  • Declarations of love/ownership that are not reciprocated

Even if you are not the “target” of predatory behavior in a 12-Step group, it’s important to speak up for the other members of the group. Maintaining a healthy culture within a 12-Step program is vital for everyone’s success in their sobriety. If you do feel that you’re a target, be firm about your boundaries and talk to the group leaders about your concerns. If the group leaders do not help, talk to your local police about further action you can take.


Why Do They Do It? 

There is no clear motive for why people choose to prey on others at AA meetings. According to the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering & Tracking (SMART), there is no clear reason why anyone engages in sexual or otherwise predatory behavior. However, there are a combination of internal and external conditions that make sex offending more likely.

  • Negative experiences with caregivers stemming from poor attachment issues and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can contribute to sexual offending behaviors. Many behaviors, like sexual abuse, are learned behaviors. 
  • Many offenders have a cognitive distortion that allows them to believe the learned behavior is okay. This can include the delusion that the victim “likes it” or “will be fine,” which is not true. Predatory behavior is traumatic and detrimental to a person’s health and safety.
  • Some offenders (primarily men) who display these behaviors may show hostility or hatred toward women. This is often reinforced by violent or abusive pornography and the fear of sexual rejection. Men who hold a negative perception of women may have numerous casual relationships and act more on aggressive feelings than on feelings of empathy or connections.
  • Many offenders have issues with self-regulation, impulsivity, and emotional control. 

If any of these conditions apply to you, help is available for you. You can change these patterns and learn how to engage in healthy relationships and social interactions. If you encounter these predatory behaviors in 12-Step meetings, always remember that you are worth protecting, and your recovery should not be disrupted due to the behavior of others. Seek help right away so that you can continue on your recovery journey safely.

You never owe anyone an explanation as to why you don’t want to engage in a romantic or sexual relationship. It can be frightening when someone doesn’t seem to understand your refusal or simply won’t accept it. If you face predatory behavior in 12-Step meetings, remember that your sobriety is more important than anyone else’s feelings. You are allowed to focus on yourself without the threat of another person’s desires. At RECO Intensive, we offer a safe space and healthy, healing climate for you to continue to work through recovery. RECO Intensive’s specialized staff and experienced alumni understand that your sobriety is your journey and no one else’s. We can help you get back on track with your sobriety, work through any mental health concerns, and give you strategies for boundaries that keep you safe. If you are struggling with sex addiction, RECO Intensive offers porn and sex addiction treatment that can help you too. To learn more, call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533


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