I woke up on Oct. 5 to see that #KaşarEceRonay (”slut Ece Ronay”) was a trending topic on Twitter. I have been following Ronay’s career for the last couple of years. She is part of the TikTok-to-rapper pipeline of Generation Z influencers. Like many of her peers, Ronay went from being a high-earning social media phenomenon with millions of followers to being an even higher-earning musician with millions of views on YouTube. With a keen marketing sense and her finger on the pulse of youth culture, Ronay (a young Kurdish woman from Diyarbakır) has single-handedly made herself a household name across Turkey, at least for people under 25.
Looking closer at the “slut Ece Ronay” hashtag, it became clear that most of the posts were defending Ece Ronay against a well-organized defamation campaign. Slowly the story began to emerge. Ronay had been sexually harassed by an older, powerful man in the entertainment industry. When she asked him to stop sexually harassing her with texts, DMs, and voice messages, he responded by saying that she already exposes her body in her TikTok posts and music videos. So why was she playing coy now? When this approach didn’t work, he threatened to release compromising videos of Ronay. With no other recourse left, Ronay shared the man’s inappropriate and threatening messages with her social media followers. Tweets of support began to pour in, both from her fans and people who have never in their lives scrolled through TikTok. “Ece Ronay is not alone,” they wrote. “Harassment cannot be legitimized.”
It’s a story as old as time, or at least as old as Hollywood. It was American producer Harvey Weinstein’s blatant pattern of promises, harassment, rape, threats, and intimidation against young women in the film industry that helped catapult #MeToo into a global movement. But the case of Ece Ronay shows the uphill battle that women in Turkey face when confronting predators. There has been a coordinated campaign to discredit Ronay and absolve her harasser—on social media, on television, on the news. In such a country, we see once again how difficult it is to bring down an abuser. If Ece Ronay, with her money and media clout, is unable to get justice, what chance do women without fortunate and fame stand? As she wrote on Twitter on Oct. 5, “Even if you’re famous or a [social media] phenomenon, you cannot escape sexual harassment.”
The name of 22-year old Ece Ronay’s harasser is Mehmet Ali Erbil, a 64-year-old comedian, actor, and talk show host. He comes from an influential family, the son of a famous theatre and film actor. Erbil himself worked at the Ankara State Theatre in the 1970s before beginning his television career in Istanbul in the 1980s, becoming a TV doyen with a Donald Trump-like reputation for insulting minorities and harassing women while the entire media establishment bent over backward to justify his behavior: “he’s just joking” or “he’s a flirt, but he’s harmless.” A few years ago, singer Seda Sayan accused Erbil of raping his housekeeper between 2005 and 2010 while married to Tuğba Coşkun. But Sayan eventually backed down from these accusations, which shows just how much power Erbil has—even over other celebrities.
Ronay’s first contact with Erbil came during the wildfires that ravaged Turkey’s Mediterranean forests in summer 2021. While Ronay joined millions of other concerned citizens on social media to beg the world to “Help Turkey” fight its fires, Erbil took the pro-government line and posted that Turkey didn’t need any firefighting planes. Ronay criticized Erbil publicly for this on Instagram, which gave him the opportunity to “slide into her DMs,” as they say.
This initial Instagram meeting led to cordial messages between the TikTok celebrity and the daytime TV mogul. Ronay invited Erbil to act in her newest music video, “Git Çatla.” She thought a cameo from an established media personality would drum up good publicity for the song. Erbil agreed to appear in the video. But Ronay would soon regret this decision. She wrote to Erbil after the shoot to thank him again and ask about his health, as he suffers from a rare blood vessel disease. His response was, “I want to sleep with you tonight.”
Ronay explained what happened next in a Twitter post on Oct. 5, accompanied by photographic evidence of the text messages in question: “After the music video, the improprieties grew each day. I tried to ignore it. Out of respect for his age and position, I tried to stay quiet. But because he is today saying unspeakable things to me and threatening me for no reason, I had to write this post. Maybe this post will hurt my career and my professional life. He is someone who has been in the industry for years. But I’m not going to be silent because I feel tricked and worthless. I fell into the trap but I’m writing this post as a warning so that no one else falls into it.”
As Ronay continued to seek help in the only place she could, social media, the full story emerged. Erbil propositioned Ronay for sex. When she told him politely that this was inappropriate, he responded by saying that someone who “shows off her body” in music videos shouldn’t be offended. When this slut-shaming didn’t work, he threatened to release compromising videos of her. He followed through with this threat. The videos released online were all previously shared by Ronay online, but they show a 17-year-old girl drunk or in her underwear. Excavated from past social media posts, these images are now being shown all over daytime TV.
It gets even worse. The same gossip shows that frequently host Erbil have now launched a slut-shaming campaign against Ronay. On the daytime program Söylemezsem Olmaz, actress and singer Seren Serengil discredited Ronay: “She’s only [taking about sexual harassment] for press coverage. This is a girl who shows her breasts and shakes her butt.”
The irony is that Serengil and the other hosts of this show, who were objects of the same sexist scrutiny in their youth, now spend the afternoons on TV passing moral judgments on today’s young women. But men like Erbil get a free pass, even though this is a man who once threatened Söylemezsem Olmaz’s host Deniz Akkaya with the words, “I’ll show you what it’s like to be hit below the belt.”
Ronay is now clearly exhausted from the defamation, but she is not backing down. She has asked Turkey’s social media watchdog RTÜK to punish Söylemezsem Olmaz for publishing “obscene images of a minor”: her 17-year-old self. She has also quit engaging with gossip programs and has decided to seek justice in the courts. Her lawyer has filed a lawsuit against Erbil for “defamation with a voice or video message.”
Will this case finally show harassers in Turkey that there are consequences for their actions? Is Turkey’s #MeToo moment of reckoning finally here? Likely not, but what Ronay’s struggle for justice shows is a serious generational difference when it comes to social awareness. Erbil described Ronay’s accusations as an example of “being caught in Gen-Z’s trap.” I suppose this is the familiar boomer complain about “wokeness” and “cancel culture” for men angry that they can no longer harass with impunity.
But Ronay is explicit about time being up for men like Erbil: “The days of the 1990s patronage system, that impunity system, are over.”