BREACH OF ANONYMITY-Groups dealing with individuals disclosing illegal activities

The comments below were given by various members of the Conference Steps, Traditions, and Concepts Committee and do not represent a group conscience of the entire committee. The opinions expressed here are solely that of the person giving them. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The Question:
At a meeting in my area, a man shared about having sexual activities with very young children, including one relative. Although he had never been arrested for his activities, he did reveal to the pastor of the church where he is employed regarding his attraction for young children.  Because he shared openly regarding his activities both during and after the meeting with some members, one member who is bound by the requirements of his profession to report sexual or physical abuse was very troubled with what he had heard and feared for the future possible victims. This member felt that he needed to report what had been shared to the police.  Is this a breach of anonymity or is it a member doing what he is duty bound to do by trying to protect possible future victims?

RESPONSES- (edited for sake of anonymity and location)
In my own case, many in the program and my own lawyer (writing me stating very strongly that I should not report myself to the authorities) advised me against turning myself in.

Page 77 of the AA Big Book, bottom of the page: “…we will never get over [acting out on our addictive patterns] until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.”

I had entered into a romantic relationship with a client, serious enough in itself. But this person had a dissociative disorder, and a child personality loved and trusted her therapist, me, as a substitute parent. My ethically and legally forbidden lapse amounted to child molestation. I did to another what had been done to me. I could only make that right, at least in part, by being sure the perpetrator did not go unpunished. Even so, I am sure the harm I caused was irreparable.

Page 78: “Perhaps we have committed a criminal act that might land us in jail if it were known to the authorities…..Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given the strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything.” What follows is the reasoning for not doing that, if harm to others would occur when I made my amends.

I could see no way, after much prayer, meditation, and consultation with Program friends who knew me and cared about me, to make any significant amends with anything less than turning myself in. I was terrified. I would never suggest to another S.L.A.A. member that they should follow my example. I did not go to jail, but everything else happened. I lost my job and 2 subsequent opportunities to work. I surrendered my license to practice my profession. S.L.A.A. people shunned me. (I suppose they really, really, really didn’t want what I had.) For myself I believe it saved my sex and love addiction sobriety. That was 22 years ago sometime in April (my new beginning at the First Step was February 2nd, 1988 when I clearly and finally ended the relationship. My career never recovered. Just for myself, I believe that I had to do it, and I have no regrets. If I am subject to arrest even now by revealing this to you all, knowing I could be found and would not hide the details from the authorities, I would go willingly, if not happily, with only a little less terror than I faced back then. I did pay substantial financial reparations at the time as well. The humility of having unfinished amends has been enough of a barrier for me regarding different kinds of wrongs to be a very strong barrier to acting out on my other or similar character defects as well.

I hope that in some way my experience can benefit others, to bring strength and courage, or humility in choosing another way that does not risk incarceration. The people who carry this kind of burden are already greatly punished. The promise is that we will find a new freedom and a new happiness. I believe whatever an individual chooses to do in recovery, done sincerely for spiritual reasons, should bring self-forgiveness, strengthen one’s own bond with their own Higher Power, Higher Self, and the Fellowship, and bring to them all the gifts of sobriety and recovery. It is between the individual and God.

In the state where I live, and possibly in some other states and countries, sponsors and therapists are legally required to report this information to the police. So perhaps these should not be used as examples. I would advise, but do not know how to put this into clear writing for this project, that the person seek someone who does not have legal responsibility to protect. Maybe go to another town some distance away and go into a Catholic Church confessional and tell a priest who does not see you. Use a made up name and change some identifying details so that you could not be tracked down even if someone had the information and wanted to.
If turning one’s self into the police is part of Step 9, I think that is more appropriate than revealing secrets of the past which are not current problems. So Step 9 activity might be treated differently than Step 5. Also, it might be advisable to do this part of Step 4 only in secret in the mind and not write it down as someone might find it if it is written down.

This is a difficult issue for all those concerned! Of course, if the individual sharing that information is talking about “in the past”, and adds that acting out is no longer a choice, it seems easier. But members in general in S.L.A.A. need to be aware that the promise of anonymity is not a promise from one’s attorney or a priest or a doctor who have some legal right to not contact the police. Even in those professions, however, there is a legal duty to warn those who may be at risk of direct harm. If I hear someone share this kind of thing at a meeting, I generally will not know enough to prevent harm, because I will not know the person’s last name, where they work specifically, or how to get the police involved except by setting up some kind of sting operation, or surveillance of the meeting, which violates everyone’s anonymity.

It is my belief that when someone starts to share information about acting out that puts their social well-being at this kind of risk, the chair or someone else at the meeting should stop the individual, remind them that details of acting out need to be shared with a sponsor or a therapist, not in a general meeting, where some people may be obligated by law to report ongoing criminal activity. Anonymity should never be used as a way to avoid meeting honestly the consequences of our addiction. Equally important is that those S.L.A.A. members as a group need to be focused on our primary purpose, helping each other live in recovery from our addictions.

I was in a similar position once several years ago, and the man revealed at a meeting that he had stopped preying on children in general, that he now had just one young teen “lover” whose parents knew about the arrangement, and who accepted generous gifts of money and goods to look the other way. I spoke up immediately afterward, saying that he must understand that the promise of privacy in meetings does not mean we can confess crimes and then continue them. I said that I assumed that by sharing this disturbing information at a meeting he was asking for help to stop, and offered to go with him to the police or to a mental health professional to get this acting out stopped. I added that while I respected his effort in coming to S.L.A.A., that in my own opinion, acceptance did not include enabling his behavior, so harmful to the child involved, to continue. If he did not take immediate action to report and/or stop his own behavior, that I would feel morally and legally responsible for reporting the danger to this child to some authority.

I don’t know if this was an appropriate response or not. I have had to tell others I was sponsoring at times not to give me details of a crime they had committed unless they were now willing to turn themselves in for it. I never saw that man at a meeting again, but he could easily have avoided running into me by attending a men’s meeting. I remain troubled by the incident, and concerned about how we should respond as a Fellowship to this kind of issue.

I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself, but I do believe there is one requirement for S.L.A.A. membership, and that is a desire to stop acting out on our addictions. I must not use the meetings to get forgiveness from others without the pain of direct amends, nor to intrigue with other S.L.A.A. members in ways that seem to give me ‘permission” to continue acting out.

I committed a grave ethical mistake in sexual behavior seven years into S.L.A.A. recovery, for which I could have been arrested in several states (not the one where it happened). My sponsor told me in no uncertain terms to stop the behavior and report myself to the appropriate authorities. He could not report me, because he did not know where I worked, or how to identify the details of the act. Even though I took some reasonable action, I was not ready to go all the way in amends until almost 3 years later. Ultimately I did report myself, paid reparations to the other person involved, and put on record my confession and willingness to go to jail if I had to, and enlarged my commitment to sobriety. In my experience, the clarity of my sponsor’s response is one we need to have as a Fellowship for those who are currently breaking the law. His clarity is why I believe I am sober today, and enormously grateful to be so.

Where I live we started to wake up to this type of abuse during the court case against a pedophile priest in 1994. [99 % of the people did not know the word pedophile – although it was going on. And the idea of a priest doing such things was inconceivable]. Our Intergroup had to respond to this issue, as there was a government proposal, in 1996, that such abuse would need to be reported, to the appropriate authorities, by counselors and other such groups. In fact, the proposed law mandating the reporting of such behavior was not passed.

However, our Intergroup, having discussed the problem over a number of business meetings, did pass a resolution advising our groups on a possible response to future sharing of such behavior. We obtained a resolution, which was sent to us by a contact from California, who was also in another S-fellowship. We adopted this for the sake of the abused and the abuser, on the one hand, and our own group and individual safety on the other hand.

As I understand it, our resolution requires the group to act on behalf of the members. This safeguards the individual members.

As I understand it, our resolution requires the abuser to do the steps and therefore, in Step 9, make amends, even if that requires him/her to submit to handing him/herself to the police.

As I understand it, our resolution requires the group to report the individual to the authorities if the person does not do the steps, culminating in making amends.

As I understand it, our resolution intends to help the abuser to change his/her behavior. {We should not stand idly by after such a share}.

As I understand it, our resolution, if it brings about a change in behavior, would reduce the possibility of the person recidivating even if the person has been incarcerated.

I hope this is of some help in this matter, which is a difficult area in which to balance anonymity with responsibility.

************************************************************************************

This is probably the most difficult question which we have come upon, because it deals with not only the legal and moral implications but also the traditions of anonymity.

I believe that it is important that we not attempt to hide behind Traditions 11 and 12 to claim that we could not report a person who is committing illegal acts or is contemplating doing something illegal. I believe that Tradition 11 is in place so that we do not seek publicity from the media and to keep the identity of our fellow members unknown from the public. Tradition 12 tells us that we are to place principles before personalities; that is, we are all equal in S.L.A.A. regardless of our position in the community or in the event that a member is well known in his/her profession.

I have been in a situation like the one described in the question and one of my sponsees came to me very troubled the next day because of fears for the small children who might be involved. He is a professional caregiver and is required to report any type of abuse to the authorities. He is also the father of two small children and as a father has fear regarding what someone might attempt to perpetrate on his children.

My advice to him was to first of all pray about it and ask for guidance as to how he should proceed and then the next day if he felt that he was directed to make a report that he should do what he needed to do. I also suggested that most police departments have anonymous tip lines where you do not have to leave your name or number, which would not only protect him but the group where such a situation was shared.

We can also have the situation where a member who has been incarcerated as the direct result of their acting our might share in a general way regarding their past actions. In those cases, the debt to society has been paid and the member is practicing honesty in their sharing. This is a different situation from the person who is actively practicing their addiction, and although it might be uncomfortable to hear, sometimes it is necessary for us to hear just how far down the addiction can take us if left unchecked.

I would recommend that everyone seek their Higher Power regarding clarity in these and all other situations and then seek that guidance. I recognize that there are those who are bound by a higher ethic than others among us and they have to be true to those requirements.
Summary Editor’s Note:

In July, 2003 the BOT approved a statement regarding Anonymity, the Law and S.L.A.A. and distributed it at the ABM that year. The entire document is available on the FWS website. I am attaching an excerpt from that document which is read at some meetings.

THE FOUNDATION OF ANONYMITY
“Anonymity is the foundation of our program. It is essential if we are to continue the 12 Step work of S.L.A.A. However, even this basic principle may give way to the pressure of individual consciences or legal requirements. Therefore we, the members of this S.L.A.A. meeting, make clear to newcomers and old timers alike that speaking of any potentially illegal activity, especially relating to minors, endangers the speaker and lays a burden of knowledge on others that they might not be willing to assume. When it is necessary to speak of such activities, whether they are happening now or only contemplated, sharing with our sponsors is valuable and important, but we must acknowledge that sponsorship is not a legally protected relationship.”


What do you think?
The CSTCC is a group of volunteers, some of whom were ABM delegates, and others who volunteered out of interest. We do not represent a group conscience of S.L.A.A., but are committed to bringing thoughtful discussion and study of 12 Step Fellowship literature and experience to the questions that are brought to us. We offer this summary as the results of our discussions. We present the major points of concern in the hopes that wider discussion in the Fellowship will help us evolve our customs and practice of the S.L.A.A. program of recovery to better represent the loving guidance of a Higher Power. Always, we affirm the autonomy of each group and the need for each individual to follow her/his own conscience. No decision of this group, or any other, is ever forced upon another, even when we believe a practice is clearly in conflict with the Steps, Traditions, or Concepts.