Can Domestic Violence Offenders Like Ray Rice Actually Be Rehabilitated?

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Korin Miller
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Ray Rice told ESPN that he’s a “rehabilitated man.” (Photo: Corbis/Patrick Semansky)

Ray Rice became the unwitting face of domestic violence last year after surveillance cameras caught him punching his then-fiancée, Janay (who is now his wife), in the face.

Now, he says, he’s learned his lesson.

“I’m a rehabilitated man,” Rice, a former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, told ESPN in a new interview.

Rice, 28, was charged with third-degree aggravated assault but avoided going to jail by entering a pretrial intervention program for first-time domestic-abuse offenders.

After the videotape of Rice was released, the NFL suspended him indefinitely (he was reinstated after appealing the ban) and the Ravens terminated his contract.

“Some people will probably never forgive my actions,” says Rice. “But … over time, I want to be able to rewrite the script to tell my daughter that Daddy made the worst decision of his life, but this is what I did going forward.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 percent of women and nearly 12 percent of men have experienced sexual or physical violence or stalking by a current or former partner. That violence resulted in 1,336 deaths in 2010 (the most recent year for which data has been collected) and made up 10 percent of all homicides.

Related: “This Was the Beginning of My Fear”: 8 Truths About Stalking You Need to Know

But is it possible for domestic violence offenders to actually change their ways — especially in such a short time?

“I believe that people can change their behavior, [but] it takes a very long time,” Ruth M. Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tells Yahoo Health. “I’m not convinced that 10 months is the appropriate time frame for someone to have the treatment and focus that they need to not offend again.”

Glenn says the best chance an offender has to change his or her behavior is by undergoing intensive long-term treatment in weekly or more frequent therapy sessions for up to 72 weeks.

During treatment, a therapist addresses the abuser’s violent behavior as well as how to help the offender maintain emotional control. “It’s a step above anger management,” she explains. The therapist also looks out for signs that an abuser will backslide, intervening if necessary.

Unfortunately, treatment for domestic violence abusers isn’t consistent from state to state. Says Glenn, “It’s a bit of a problem because we don’t have a standard.”

Related: 13 People Who’ve Gone to Therapy Share Their Unexpected Results

In most cases, therapy for domestic violence is court-ordered and can be very expensive, Glenn says. And as with any attempt at behavior change, offenders can relapse.

But not everyone thinks therapy is the best course of action.

“There is no research that suggests therapy works for domestic violence abusers,” domestic violence expert and lawyer Barry Goldstein, author of The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion, tells Yahoo Health. “The only thing that has been shown to change an abuser’s behavior is accountability and monitoring.”

Goldstein says that abusers will stop only when they know they will face “significant consequences.”

However, he says, it’s possible for domestic violence offenders to change their behavior. But there is no way of knowing whether things really have changed, since domestic violence often occurs behind closed doors.

Glenn admits the current treatments aren’t flawless. She says there’s still work to be done to create effective interventions to ensure that domestic abusers don’t cause further harm. “Until we do that,” she says, “we’ll always question if the offender is going to offend again.”

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