Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Behind the Scenes with Samantha McCoy
Meet Samantha McCoy. An incredibly driven woman who is a quiet warrior winning legislative battles in the background! She’s a licensed Mental Health Therapist, Activist, Attorney, and the lead Legislative Coach at the National Domestic Violence Collaborative.
We travelled behind the scenes with her to learn a little about her passion, her journey and to learn the basics of changing public policy.
1. How old are you?
I’m 28, with a birthday creeping up on me!
2. What made you want to become a lawyer?
Before I ever thought about becoming a lawyer, I was determined to become a licensed mental health therapist. Once I obtained my license, I had the wonderful opportunity to work for organizations that combined the legal field and my therapist background/training. For example, I worked as a crime survivor counselor in the protective order division. I would attend hearings with individuals who experienced violence and provided mental health support as they navigated the justice system. After seeing the incredible need for more trauma-informed practices within the legal processes, I felt the inspiration and drive to pursue law school.
In addition, my personal experience as a survivor of violence also played into realizing there were gaps in our justice system. After my own attack, I had my protective order attorney tell me “well, there is no justice in the justice system.” To this day, I remember that statement so vividly because it was puzzling how people who were in and working for the legal system had no faith in that same legal system nor did they have hope for justice. I mean, if they didn’t have belief in a system that they influenced, how would those who experience violence as outsiders ever have faith?
3. What type of law do you currently practice day-to-day?
I currently work as a civil appellate lawyer.
4. I recall seeing pictures of you at the state capitol in Austin, Texas. What made you choose Austin?
I wish there was a better story for this. I was living in upstate New York after completing my Master’s and was so tired of the cold that I decided to start applying to jobs in places where it was warm all the time! Austin kept coming up in my searches and I was eventually offered a position to work as a child advocate specialist. I just couldn’t refuse!
5. What made you want to advocate against domestic violence?
You know, I think it was a combination of experiences and observations. In my early 20’s I began volunteering for a local domestic violence shelter after looking for ways to be more active in the community. The women and children I met in that shelter were, to this day, the most inspiring and wonderful humans I had ever met. I had the privilege to learn about each of their experiences and become aware of the abuse cycle. At the time I was volunteering, I sadly found myself in a domestic violence situation. The power of community and support truly saved me and I like to think it did the same for the many residents I’m fortunate to have met. As a therapist, I met and interacted with some individuals who ultimately lost their lives to domestic violence. I just felt such heartache for those individuals and their families, and it sparked the passion to step up and fight for changes, instead of passively accepting the status quo.
"At the time I was volunteering, I sadly found myself in a domestic violence situation."
Wow, Samantha. This reminds me of a time I had the true honor of meeting a woman by the name of Linda, who was a loooong time advocate. Like 40 years long. At the time, I was about a year out from what I call “the fire” and I was a brand new advocate. That day, she invited me into her office and shared with me that she had been abused by an ex-husband for 10 years. I felt terrible and couldn’t imagine being abused for that long. What she said next forever changed my perspective on those impacted by domestic violence. She shared that while she was being abused, she was the Executive Director of a shelter. Can you imagine my surprise? Wait! I thought to myself… you were the Executive Director and you were being abused? She was still the E.D. of that same shelter the day I met her. What I learned from Linda were two lessons that I hope will resonate with you as well.
First - Nobody is exempt from abuse. It doesn’t matter how educated you are, where you work, how much you make, who you know or don’t know, what faith you are, or anything else for that matter.
Second - There is sunshine after the storm. Regardless of how much shame and guilt we feel or how dumb we thought we were for not recognizing the abuse or putting up with it, we don’t have to hold onto that shame or guilt and we can inspire someone else along the way while also doing tremendous advocacy work.
Linda, God rest her soul, is a legend in the advocacy world and I truly believe that her experiences only made her better at her life’s work.
6. We’re so grateful to have you serving as our Legislative Coach at NDVC. Could you share more about what we’re currently working on in terms of legislation?
We are working on improving and expanding the Crime Victims’ Compensation Act, which currently significantly limits the options of what can be reimbursed for someone who has been harmed in a crime. After someone experiences violence, there are significant financial needs, such as medical appointments, mental health counseling, and property loss just to name a few. As it stands now, the Act is so narrow that it does not include reimbursements for more holistic and naturopathic methods of healing. Meaning that it only really covers western medicine and approaches. What we hope to do by improving and expanding the Act is ensure people harmed by crimes are empowered to choose their preferred healing modalities for themselves and their families.
7. What are your thoughts around those changes?
When someone experiences a crime, the power to make their own choices is imperative to healing and we should be empowering the individual to choose their treatment of choice in their healing journey vs. disempowering them by removing agency, similar to the person who abused them. To limit and exclude reimbursements for valid treatments harms the individual financially, emotionally, and physically. I truly believe a change to this existing statute can change lives and ensure those who unfortunately experience violence can at least have access to healing at no cost.
I feel you Samantha! I always think about how crazy it is that we have systems and policies that disempower those impacted by violent crime when the entire movement against domestic violence aims to empower those impacted. I also think about how health care is a basic human right and I think about how people are less likely to repeat abuse or experience it again if they have been given the full opportunity to heal. It’s prevention as far as I am concerned.
8. Writing Bills is a pretty BIG deal! Have you written Bill's before? If so, what were they about and where and did they pass? How old were you when you did this? And was this before you were an attorney?
I have successfully lobbied for and passed two laws in two states! I started lobbying in my home state of Indiana during my first year of law school at the age of 25. The bill ensured basic human rights for survivors of violence, including the right to a trauma-informed counselor during law enforcement interviews after reporting an attack, the right to a copy of one’s own police report, and the right to a trauma- informed counselor at the emergency room. That bill was signed into law in Indiana in 2020.
My third year of law school, I lobbied for similar rights in Texas, including the right to be informed of one’s own rights when reporting violence. This bill was signed into law in 2021 in Texas.
I recently drafted and am working on a campaign in Connecticut to ensure the ban of forced pelvic examinations on unconscious patients. I am incredibly hopeful about those lobbying efforts this upcoming legislative session in 2022!
Sista, you are a ROCK STAR for people’s legal rights! We are so proud of you and honored to call you a member of our Courageous Crew! I know there are many people who will read this and become inspired to change laws in their states. Which brings me to my next question.
9. If someone wanted to change a law in their state, what are the basics of what they would need to do?
First, identify the issue or gap in the system and brainstorm how you would change it. What would be different? What would you add or take away?
Second, find out if there is an existing law on the issue. Sometimes it is a matter of altering legislation that already exists. Other times you are starting from scratch.
Third, regardless of whether there is an existing law, you will need to draft YOUR ideal language. This requires a lot of thought and research. Sometimes it makes sense to partner with someone who has experience in drafting legislation, as this is what you will later propose to your representatives. The better and more thought out the language is, the more chance of success you will have.
Fourth, find voices of people who have experienced the injustice or gaps in the system who are willing to join the fight, if possible. Having a story behind your bill makes the issue more relatable when you are pitching to legislators.
Fifth, do your research! Know your deadlines for the legislative sessions! When does the session begin? When does it end? Are there filing deadlines? Is it a short session? Are the sessions annually or bi-annually? What committee would your bill be heard in? Who are the chairs of that committee? Who are the legislators who support your issue, or likely would support your issue, the most based on their past work?
Sixth, a few months BEFORE the legislative session starts, REACH out and begin lobbying to representatives. This can be cold-calls, in-person meetings, or emails. Either way, come prepared with a copy of your draft, practice answering questions about the bill, and bring any other research studies, petitions, or news articles that support your position.
From there, your goal is to get a sponsor! You continue to lobby, meet, confer, advocate, and keep the conversation going until you lock in a representative who wants to sponsor the bill. Even if they do not want to sponsor, remember you are building relationships with people who are voting on your bill ultimately. Getting representatives to say they will voice their “yes” on the issue is just as worthy of celebrating as getting a sponsor. The sponsor is one person. You need multiple votes to pass the bill.
Once you have a sponsor, states vary, but there will likely be hearings on the bill and an opportunity to testify publicly on the issue. If you receive the right number of votes after these hearings, your bill will be sent to the governor for their signature!
10. How relevant do you think policy is to seeing change in the number of people being impacted by domestic violence?
In a society that is structured by policy, policy influences community-based services provided to individuals and determines legal processes. When there are gaps in policy, individuals fall through the cracks of our systems, experience a lack of support or community, do not have resources to seek out, and often continue to stay in danger. However, if there are resources and support available to those impacted by domestic violence and effective policies implemented, the sense of community and the ability to choose how to proceed can be enough to encourage someone to leave an abusive relationship or provide support to stay out of an abusive relationship.
We all know that the most dangerous time for an individual experiencing domestic violence is when we decide to leave. As such, there needs to be solid, supportive and trauma-informed processes that an individual can seek out. Policy shapes a significant portion of the systems that those who are impacted by domestic violence interact with. Most importantly, there have been studies that found that policy does deter would-be offenders from harming their partners, assuming such policy is properly implemented.
You’re so right Samantha and this is exactly why we’re committed to pursuing legislative change. We have BIG and BOLD plans to advocate differently and part of how we will do that is by changing policy that will demand things are done differently.
Okay, last question.
11. If there was one law you could change, what would it be?
If I just had to choose one law, in an ideal world, I would implement universal health care to eliminate the burden of medical care on families and individuals around the United States. For example, those who suffer with chronic illnesses are crippled with debt at no fault of their own. I believe this is horribly unjust. Along the same lines, this would include free mental health treatment with options extended to those individuals that our society often overlooks, such as youth in transitional housing facilities or inmates. I believe everyone should have access to free and top-quality mental health treatment. Healing should be an option for anyone and everyone.
It seems like a basic human right to me. As you know many of us have stories for days and days on this one.
Thank you for letting us behind the scenes with you. As we move forward in pursuing our first piece of legislative change I want you to know again how grateful we are for you and I can’t wait to walk the steps and testify with you on capitol hill in Austin, Texas in 2022!
P.S. If you or someone you know are looking to escape abuse please visit domesticshelters.org to search for a local shelter near your zip code location.
Love and Light,
Audrey May Prosper