The 13th Step

The 13th Step

A Film by Monica Richardson

a Review by Steve Bergier

This documentary on the well established phenomenon of sexual predation in the rooms of AA was ultimately inspired by the murder of Karla Mendez Brada. She was killed in a domestic violence incident in Santa Clarita in 2011. Killed by a man she met in AA.

The filmmaker documents numerous anecdotes of rape and abuse in AA, including larceny and pedophilia. They make the point that many people are forced by the courts to attend AA. People with criminal records and some not even having alcohol problems. These people are mixed in with newcomers that may be desperate for help and acceptance and are vulnerable to predators. They also point out that many AA old-timers are 13th step predators. Another point that the filmmaker attests is that AA is very resistant to doing anything about it. She is literally kicked out of the world service office while trying to talk to officials there. The effect is to make you feel that the rooms of AA are very unsafe.

AA cooperates with the law and a valid point is that along with people with alcohol problems, other criminals, without alcohol problems are put on court cards. The courts seem to rely on AA for giving parolees a way to document compliance with conditions of parole. Many are not problem drinkers or if they are, are not interested in sobriety. The rooms of AA may just give them a fertile playground to ply their craft. Perhaps a more judicious use of court cards could help with this problem.

It would be daunting for AA to attempt to ban people from coming to meetings. It’s a program open to all and the groups function autonomously. Over a decade ago AA in the UK and Australia adapted a code of conduct with a moral imperative to call out inappropriate behavior. AA in America voted down a similar proposal in 2009. – Not a good move.(1)

The movie also spends a lot of time pointing out the ineffectiveness of 12 step recovery. Jim Christopher, who founded SOS, Tom Horvath, president of SMART Recovery and Stanton Peele, long time critic of 12 step, along with others make appearances in the film. The point being that people are being put in a program ostensibly to help them but it’s ineffective. Then members may be placed in harms way. Sexual predation and harassment could happen with any program and isn’t unique to AA. However, they point out that the AA philosophy of turning it over to a higher power and not resisting the counsel of others with more sobriety can play into newcomers vulnerability. Many people come to recovery broken and vulnerable and unfortunately many people have learned to exploit that.

I think this is a good film if you are an addiction counselor of other professional. Counseling people on the pitfalls that are possible in recovery meetings is important. It’s also useful to see if you are a participant in recovery meetings or are considering attending. Community involvement and support can be helpful in recovery. I think the film can help people who choose to participate in 12 step to at least go in with their eyes open.


(1) Article in the Fix: “Is AA at Fault for the Murder of one of it’s Members” by Zachary Siegel


Movie site:

Karla’s Story:

SMART Recovery:


Jim Christopher’s webpage:

Stanton Peele’s website:

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