Washington, DC group with a focus on young people is said to limit members' contacts outside the group and to encourage sex with older members. Churches that host the group have discontinued meetings pending an investigation, but the local association of AA groups has taken no action.
A story in Newsweek (Nick Summers) reports on complaints by a number of former members of the Midtown Group, a large AA group with an unusually high number of members in their teens and early twenties. The critics say that the group exerts too much control over members, encouraging them to break off all contacts with family and friends (even non-drinking ones), discontinue use of medicines, and have sex with other members of the group. They say that the group applies heavy pressure to keep people from leaving the group or attending other AA meetings.
Following on the Newsweek story, a local television station has run a series of stories about the group, providing first person accounts of the accusations in the Newsweek articles (with disguised names and faces in shadows to protect the anonymity of the individuals).
On the heels of these stories, the churches that host the meeting have barred the group.
The Newsweek article and some of the televised news stories note that the AA office in New York (General Service Board of AA, EIN 23-7282071 Form 990) has no comment except to note that AA is completely decentralized and that each group is autonomous and follows its own conscience.
But that is not the whole story. There are local associations of AA groups, like the Washington Area Intergroup Association (EIN 23-7243400 Form 990), which are responsible for publishing local lists of AA meetings, in print and on-line. WAIA could exert peer influence on an errant group and can exercise the ultimate sanction of excluding the group from published and on-line directories of meetings. However, Midtown remains a group in good standing, even maintaining its listing in the online directory while the host church has suspended their meetings.
As with other charity groups, including churches, a failure of internal checks and balances leads to abuses. But it is noteworthy that these abuses can occur both in highly structured and centralized organizations, like Catholic archdioceses, and highly autonomous and decentralized ones, like AA. This suggests that the structure itself is neither the cause nor the cure for the problem of sexual exploitation within organizations with lots of young people and a strong fellowship component.
Instead, the challenge for these groups is whether they can honestly admit the potential for sexual exploitation and come up with ways to deal with it when it does occur, ideally before it becomes the topic of a televised news segment. Oddly enough, for-profit organizations seem to be better able to do this than are spiritual fellowships.