Tayla Harris: How 'repulsive' social media comments sparked outrage in Australia

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Tayla Harris, a star Australian footballer, says comments on a photo of her captured in the air having kicked the first goal of a game were "sexual abuse."

Posted: Mar. 21, 2019 11:10 AM
Updated: Mar. 21, 2019 11:10 AM

It is a picture which has been described as showing a "great athlete at her most powerful." Tayla Harris, a star forward for the Australian Football League women's side Carlton is captured in the air having kicked the first goal of the game in a match between her side, the Blues, and Western Bulldogs.

The picture of the 21-year-old was posted on Australian broadcaster Channel Seven's AFL Facebook page, but what followed has become all too familiar -- "repulsive" comments of a sexual nature posted by trolls which have left the athlete herself saying she felt she had been "sexually abused" on social media.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called those responsible "cowardly grubs."

Speaking to reporters in Melbourne Thursday, he said: "I think they're grubs. I think they're cowardly grubs, who need to wake up to themselves.

"Trolls on social media, they're nothing new these days, sadly, but I think what's horrible is those trolls tend to target women and they tend to be the target for an inordinate share of the abuse that happens online.

Kelly O'Dwyer, federal minister for women, has also added her voice to the chorus of condemnation of the trolls, saying that she was "disgusted" by the comments.

READ: Footballer banned for racial abuse quits the sport

O'Dwyer -- and many on social media, including prominent Australian athletes -- also condemned Seven's handling of the situation, with the network initially deleting its post, citing "reprehensible" comments, only to later reinstate the photo with an apology.

Erasing the picture, rather than moderating the comments, had caused even more damage, many argued on social media.

On her Facebook and Twitter pages, O'Dwyer said: "@taylaharriss is a superstar. She should be celebrated for her talent and athleticism as we celebrate any male footballer. I'm disgusted by the trolling that has taken place."

She also told Australian broadcaster Channel 10: "I was pretty frankly disgusted by Channel Seven's response in actually taking down her picture rather than dealing with the trolls."

Australia's celebrated Olympic champion Anna Meares tweeted: "How this incredible image of Tayla Harris was (1) seen as negative and drew trolls to comment and (2) that the @7AFL took it down as a result ... ASTOUNDS ME!"

The network later reposted the picture, admitting that "removing the photo sent the wrong message."

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'Remarkable photo'

What next for the AFL and the social media platforms? In an interview with RSN radio Wednesday, Harris called on the AFL and possibly the police to take action.

"If these people are saying things like this to someone they don't know on a public platform, what are they saying behind closed doors, and what are they doing?" she asked.

"These people need to be called out by the AFL, yes, but also taken further. Maybe this is the start of domestic violence, maybe this is the start of abuse.

"The comments that I saw were sexual abuse, if you can call it that, because it was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable so as soon as I'm uncomfortable with something like that that's what I would consider sexual abuse on social media.

"So, whether it's Victoria police, whatever it is, need to at least contact these people, some sort of warning, Facebook delete them, something needs to happen. We can talk about it as much as we want but they're not listening and they are probably smiling about it."

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said: "It's more a challenge with the platform, social media, because this is not an isolated incident.

"But when it's unacceptable commentary, more and more people are calling that out and that is what has happened here."

Adding that he hoped the picture would become iconic, McLachlan continued: "It is, I think, a remarkable photo which shows a great athlete at her most powerful, doing what she does, which is kick the ball 50 meters."

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