Last Saturday night, CBS’s 48 Hours devoted an hour-long segment, “The Sober Truth,” to the murder of Karla Mendez Brada by a man she met at an AA program which maintained and supported their relationship—it certainly didn’t interrupt or interfere with it.

The show’s moderator, Maureen Maher, repeatedly described the success of the AA program.  But, according to 48 Hours, AA has one little problem.  Courts sentence felons to the program where they prey on unsuspecting women. 

Of course, not mandating felons into AA would reduce the probability of a woman encountering a violent, potentially homicidal person there.  But this step would hardly eliminate it.  Moreover, AA does nothing to restrain those persons, and its social norms instead put the responsibility on the victim.

Karla’s murderer, Eric Earle, wasn't attending AA by court order.  Earle liked AA: he had been going to AA for 20 years.  He often found romance at AA.  Karla was there because the rehab she had entered (her second) after previously failing at both AA and NA bussed her to more AA and NA meetings.  These were held at “The Recovery Room,” which the ministry at the sober house where Earle was living also required him to attend.

Here are the truths about Eric Earle, Karla Mendez Brada, and AA individually and collectively.

Eric Earle

1.  Attending AA over 20 years had never stopped Eric Earle from drinking.

2.  AA gave Earle no information about curtailing harm while he was drinking.  Thus, at his trial, Earl defiantly announced what alcohol made him do:

"When he was under the influence of alcohol, he was a very abusive person. And he would attack anyone," said (Deputy District Attorney) Abramson.

Eric Earle: Alcohol does that to me. Yes.

Could Earle have learned to take steps to prevent his rage while drinking from harming others?  Not at AA, he couldn’t.

3.  Eric Earle assumes no responsibility.  Notice Earle’s phraseology: “Alcohol does that to me.”  Listen to him crying in his 911 phone call that his fiancée had “passed away” in an accident while he was in a drunken slumber.  Eric Earle to 911[crying]: “I woke up this morning and my girlfriend passed away. . . . She's got like bruises like down the side of her. I like...I don't know if she fell last night. She did drink and she's been taking some pills.”

Throughout the trial, Earle portrayed himself as a victim, and also blamed Karla for her own death, saying she was slurring her words and fell down the steps.  Police video showed Earle was crazily, viciously, angrily drunk at the station.  The jury took two hours to convict Earle of first-degree murder.  He was sentenced to life.

Karla Mendez Brada

1.  AA never taught Karla to abstain.  Going to 12-step rehabs twice and attending two separate stints of AA and NA didn’t cause Karla to abstain—she tested positive for methadone and methamphetamine at her death.

2.  Karla didn’t learn to protect herself through attending rehab, AA, and NA.  A month prior to murdering Karla, Earle had, in the words of a friend of Karla’s, “beat the crap out of her.”

Tonia Walsh: He just beat the crap out of her. ... And she's asking him to leave and he won't leave.

911 Dispatcher: Put her on the phone please.

Karla Brada: Hello?

911 Dispatcher: Where is your boyfriend?

Karla Brada: Inside the house.

In front of Karla's family, Eric Earle went up against Prosecutor Elena Abramson, claiming he was dozing in an armchair when 120 pound Karla hit him in the nose.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: Well, let's talk about August 5th ... So you were drunk on vodka?

Eric Earle: I was under the influence.

Notice that Earle insists that he “was under the influence,” not drunk.  Notice that Earle claims his tiny girlfriend, whom Earle dwarfed, assulted him.

But Karla didn’t leave Earle as a result of the beating she took. She paid $8,000 to bail Earle out the next morning.  Indeed, in the brief period between this assault and her death, Karla became engaged to Earle.

Meanwhile, she continued to attend AA and NA with him, where seemingly her facial bruises, cuts, and stitches bothered no one.  And, certainly, nothing she learned at AA taught her to care for herself.  Rather, it did the opposite, as Ilse Thompson and I show in our book, Recover!  In it, we emphasize the value of accepting yourself (radical acceptance) and acting in line with this self-love, as opposed to the powerlessness and self-blaming women learn by attending AA.

Less than a month later after this abuse incident, Karla was dead.

AA

1.  AA disrespects women.  No one has done more than Juliet Abram, a former AA participant, to show that AA is abusive, and particularly so towards women.  Abram details how she repeatedly complained about sexism in AA, and was told both by other woman at AA, and by AA headquarters, to cool her complaints.

48 Hours describes the same process of members protecting AA abusers:

It was 2010 when the wife and mother walked into her local AA meeting. She found support. But when she went downstairs to use the bathroom, she also found a longtime AA member waiting.

"He's like, 'Come here and gimme a hug,'" she said. "And he kept tryin' to kiss me, and I'm struggling with him."

The woman says she was groped, but managed to break free. She went to police and got an order of protection against her attacker. But it was the response she got from her group that really shocked her.

"You know, you need to stay away from him," she said she was told.

When the woman first spoke to 48 Hours on camera, she was eager to tell her story. But just a few weeks before this story was set to air, she became concerned, saying some members of her AA group had strongly advised her that speaking to the media is against AA traditions.

This comment is added (December 2).  Notice, it is not about predators, but about a pervasive atmosphere of harassment and disrespect for women:

I went to A.A. several years

Submitted by orion1222 on December 2, 2014

I went to A.A. several years ago and it sounds like it has gotten even worse. We women were scolded for not wanting to have sex. We were accused of trying to be "born again virgins" just because we didn't drink anymore.

I finally met what I thought was a nice man and after a few weeks of friendly talk we got together. He showed up with baby oil in his hand and was shocked I didn't want sex even though none of our previous conversations had been flirtatious or seductive. After he left he gave my private number to several male members and they came to my house uninvited.

It was scary but I was strong enough to put a stop to it and quit A.A. but a lot of women (and maybe men) are vulnerable and lonely and I shudder to think how many have been a victim. Plus as another person said they're bringing convicts or parolees into hospitals, churches, rehab centers and other institutions.

I think maybe it's the anonymous they need to get rid of. Doctors keep patients info confidential unless they are legal problems. Why can't A.A. have some type of accountability system? It's ridiculous to invite and coerce vulnerable people looking desperately for help into this system that has absolutely no safeguards. Thank you Dr. Peele for continuing to reveal the dark side.

2.  AA takes no responsibility.  Other AA members knew Earle was beating Karla:

Dos Santos had lived at Eden Ministries with Earle. They attended NA and AA together.

"I heard her tell Eric, 'You need to leave.' And I can hear the punches through the phone," said Dos Santos.

"Eric punching her?" Maher asked.

"Yeah," he replied.

"How did you know he was punching her?"

"'Cause I've had a lot of punches myself," Dos Santos explained. "And I know what a punch sounds like."

"Did you call the police?" Maher asked.

"No. We don't call the police. We handle it ourselves," he said.

But how do they handle it?  AA’s management claims it has no responsibility for Karla’s death. AA states it "has no authority, legal or otherwise to control the behavior of AA members."  In a bizarre, eerie scene, AA allowed 48 Hours to record on camera empty corridors in its New York headquarters, but not a single person!  No AA representative would speak to CBS.

3.  AA doesn’t work.  It would take too much space to review here AA’s lack of success—how no controlled study has ever found AA to be as effective as other treatments, or no treatment at all, and how only 5 percent of those who attend AA stick with and succeed at the program.  However, consider that 48 Hours, while repeatedly evoking AA’s success, never cites any data in support of this claim. 

Instead, it quotes a judge who regularly sentences people to AA:

Judge Flores served in the leadership of AA, as what the organization calls a Class A (non-alcoholic) trustee. "I have so many friends and colleagues and family members who got sober in AA," he said.

4.  It is illegal to coerce people into AA.  Not only is this not a scientific or clinical basis for “sentencing” people to AA, it is an illegal one.  Many appellate courts (US circuit courts) have ruled AA is religious in nature and courts MUST supply a secular alternative.  For this reason, US Department of Justice guidelines make clear it is not permissible to use federal resources to compel, or even to conduct, AA meetings.

5.  Why not require informed consent from AA?  Rather than supporting Judge Flores’s claims of its effectiveness, this episode of 48 Hours depicts in chilling detail two people who repeatedly failed at AA, NA and 12-step rehab, and end up a murder victim and a murderer.

Why not show this episode to every prospective AA member as a part of informed consent—as pharmaceutical manufacturers are required to list the potential dangers of consuming a medication, or a surgeon is required to inform a patient of possible negative outcomes of a surgery and potential alternatives?

But, then, the 12 steps aren’t really a medical treatment, are they?

I make explicit here how AA makes harm reduction and self-responsibility impossible, by reference to commenters here and to that post.

Listen to Stanton's interview with Drug Policy Alliance, "Reconsidering Addiction and Addiction Treatment."

Stanton Peele, a columnist for Substance.com, has been at the cutting-edge of addiction theory and practice, including uncovering natural recovery, identifying addiction as being not essentially linked to drugs, and focusing on social forces and individual choice in addiction since writing (with Archie Brodsky) Love and Addiction in 1975. He has since written numerous other books and developed the online Life Process Program. His latest book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. His website is Peele.net.

P.S.:  Here is the "official" AA response (I know, there is no official AA response):

AA is not responsible for Karla's tragic death

Submitted by Anonymouson December 2, 2014

As someone who has been been in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous for decades, one of the most tragic things I have seen time and time again is the number of preventable deaths that occur. These deaths are preventable because, if the deceased people had followed the suggestions given to them and became clean and sober, they would not have had to die.

One recent example which has recently made the anti-AA blogosphere is one Karla Brada Mendez whose death has been detailed elsewhere. This death is especially tragic because, if Karla had made other decisions (such as, for example, following the suggestions most meetings give newcomers), she would still be alive today.

To wit:

1. Most people in the fellowship suggest that men stick with men, and women stick with women. Many sponsors suggest that newcomers do not get in romantics relationships (classically, the suggestion is "no relationship in the first year"). Karla, instead, got in a relationship with another newcomer (one Eric Allen Earle).

2. Most people in the fellowship suggest that newcomers get a sponsor. Karla chose not to do that.

3. One common saying in the rooms is that "winners stick with the winners". Karla, for whatever reason, did not choose to associate with women with long-term sobriety.

4. There is not one oldtimer in the fellowships I have been to who would suggest that a newcomer drink or use drugs again. Karla starting drinking and using again with her boyfriend.

5. When Karla's boyfriend was arrested for domestic violence, instead of going to a shelter and/or getting a restraining order against him, Karla instead chose to pay some $8,000 to bail him out.

6. Finally, in another drunken fight between Karla and her boyfriend, she is killed from injuries consistent with a violent struggle.

The bottom line is this: In the rooms of AA, newcomers are given suggestions. Karla, for whatever reason, chose not to follow those suggestions. If she had, she would be alive today.

These events happened nearly three years ago. Karla's family felt the need to blame AA for their daughter's death -- despite the fact that she would be alive today if she had followed directions given to her in the meetings.

Don't get me wrong: I grieve very deeply for Karla's tragic death, just as I grieve for the countless other people who have gone through the rooms and died drunk. But I just can not see how AA is responsible for her death, since she was undoubtedly repeatedly given suggestions which would have saved her life. But she chose, for whatever reason, to not follow those suggestions.

Read Amythist's reply here.

Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers:

How to Make a Support Group Safe is a reply by Stanton Peele Ph.D.

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