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Sexual Assault and the Fourth and Fifth Steps: Blaming the Victim?

When we do our fourth and fifth steps of a 12 step recovery, that’s when we take a look at our part in things and then share those things with another human being, our sponsor. Specifically, we look at four main areas: fears, resentments, sex, and harms to others.  For the purpose of this blog, we’re going to focus mainly on resentments – and maybe fears and sex. And this is where things can get a little hairy.

Many people who go on to develop an addiction have unresolved trauma, such as sexual assault, at the heart of their problems. That being said, the fourth, and then fifth, step is when we bring that sort of stuff up. And this is why a lot of people dread doing these steps. In fact, so many people fear this step, so much so that it’s often the defining moment of whether the person continues their program or goes back out.

When we do our fourth step, we write down all of our “faults and mistakes” – that we can remember –to see in black and white the truth of our behavior. The purpose of our resentments inventory is to discover that our troubles are not because of someone else but instead, as mentioned on page 62 of the Big Book, our troubles are of our own making; therefore we are accountable.

So, when it comes to sexual assault and the fourth and fifth steps, where is the line between taking responsibility and perpetuating rape culture by blaming the victim?

After writing a fourth step, the sponsee will then meet with their sponsor who serves to show them how they played a part in the events listed, as a result of their character defects and of their drinking and drugging. Some sponsors might say something to the effect that, because of their drug use, the person (victim) was intoxicated and therefore left themselves vulnerable to the sexual assault. Regardless of if you are in a program or not, everyone has the right to expect that they will not be taken advantage of while intoxicated or at any other time. Blaming the victim for their assault because they drank too much or were too high is a reflection of rape culture at work.

I get it. The purpose of our fourth and fifth step is to really see how our lives had become unmanageable as a result of our substance abuse as well as to become aware and really connect with the fallout that resulted. But there are better, more sensitive ways to handle instances involving when a sponsee confides being the victim of sexual assault.

One way to do this is to point out that, although it’s not their fault that the assault happened, it’s their responsibility to find a way to forgive and let go of the anger and resentment they feel towards the person or persons and the event(s). Otherwise, it’s like continually drinking poison as a way to punish the person or people who victimized them.

We are each responsible and accountable for our recovery and healing process. As they say, recovery isn’t for those who need it nor is it for those who want it; it’s for those who do the work. If you are truly committed to healing and improving your life, there will come a point where you have to decide that you are willing to let go of past transgressions. You will need to forgive yourself and others if you are going to get better.

“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” – Tony Robbins


“Forgiveness is not something we do for others, it’s something we do for ourselves so that we can heal and move on.” – Anonymous


“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi


When you find that you can’t go a day without a drink or a drug, even if it’s prescribed, because you have difficulty coping with past trauma and with life, in general, you can call us. We’re here to help. Call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist who can answer your questions as well as give you some resources for support. You are not alone.

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