Does Adrian Peterson Represent a New Trend in Child Abuse?

Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, is currently facing child abuse charges for using a switch (a tree branch) to discipline his 4 year old child.  The personal lives of professional athletes, famous actors and important politicians are intensely scrutinized today and often provide glimpses into new trends that are starting in the general population.  Almost all the media reports have focused on this particular case but little attention has been paid to the bigger question, “Is child abuse increasing in the USA?”

A couple of years ago I wrote a research paper with Dr. Bob Sege, a pediatrician working to end child abuse.  The paper (found here) investigates the impact of unemployment on child abuse.  The first graph in the paper, reproduced below, shows clearly that the Peterson case is not an indicator of a new trend.  Instead, child abuse has been falling since the early 1990s, not growing.  While Adrian Peterson’s case has received such wide attention, this is more a result of his celebrity than an indication that child abuse is rampant.