Escaping abuse

Law school helped domestic violence survivor start of a new life

Alexandra McCabe arrived in Seattle with a new name, a young daughter and $40.

Running from a violent and predatory ex-husband, McCabe had changed her name and Social Security number and found shelter at a domestic violence safe house in Washington.

Alexandra McCabe"We were women from all different professional and ethnic backgrounds, but we had so much in common she said. "We all felt displaced. I was kind of like a refugee in my own country I could not use my real name or social security number. But I was getting free from domestic violence."

In Seattle, she began volunteering with victims of domestic violence through the police departments and prosecutor's office, and was eventually hired as a victim advocate in the King County Prosecutor's Office. One day, the late Norm Maleng, the longtime county prosecutor, called her into his office and complimented her work. He asked if there was anything he could do for her.

"I told him I wanted to go to law school," she said. "He made the initial call to Seattle University School of Law and helped me navigate the process to apply."

She had previously been accepted to a law school in California, but she gave up her spot to go into hiding from her violent ex-husband and spent a year-and-a-half living in the obscurity of safe houses. But Maleng's call led her toward her goal and she was accepted through the Alternative Admission Program. Paula Lustbader, director of the Academic Resource Center, became a strong support.

"If it weren't for her and other supportive professors, like Professor Dave Boerner and Professor Tom Holdych, I don't think I would have made it through the first year," said McCabe, who graduated in 2004 and is now the executive director of Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove, California, which is dedicated to finding permanent homes for animals and preventing pet overpopulation through spay and neuter programs.

McCabe said she was always interested in law school and hoped to use her degree to work for a nonprofit organization.

"The law degree opened doors for wonderful opportunities like my current position at AFRP," she said.

But it was a long road to get to law school. McCabe said New Beginnings, a nonprofit agency dedicated to ending domestic violence and providing support to survivors, helped her, as did many people at the law school.

"It took a lot of people, a lot of support to get through law school and I made some great friends in the process," she said.

A decade after her horrible descent into domestic violence, McCabe is speaking out. McCabe, an educated and articulate woman who served on the staffs of then-Sen. Joe Biden and Leon Panetta, recently wrote a poignant and intensely personal account of her experience as a victim of domestic violence - and her transition into survivor.

She said she feels safe now that so much time has passed and because her daughter is older. She is compelled to share her story, to dispel stereotypes about domestic violence and to empower women.

"It was a big step for me to be public like that," she said, "but I have had very good feedback."

During law school, McCabe volunteered with the Unemployment Law Project and the State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and testified before the state Legislature.

Today, she speaks to college students and testifies in criminal cases as an expert witness about domestic violence. She is not paid for that, but feels it's important to help juries understand the dynamics behind abuse and why some people stay with batterers.

"All my education and training have really helped me," she said. "These are ways I try to help others."