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Legally Blonde, Brave, & Brilliant

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!